Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the December edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which you can sign up for here.
My two-question Q&A this month is with author Scott Peterson, a transplant to the Pacific Northwest, and with illustrator and lifelong Mexico City resident José García.
Scott and José are the creators of the new dystopian YA graphic novel Truckus Maximus, which smashes together monster trucks, the Roman Empire, and a high-stakes reality TV competition and was published this fall by First Second.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, in recommending Truckus Maximus, summed up the book this way:
With its action-packed visuals, tricked-out cars, and edge-of-your-seat racing stunts, this sci-fi graphic novel holds plenty of tween and teen appeal. The plot reads like an alt-world action movie, complete with training montages and climactic race to the finish, but the story never loses its heart or its humor. Readers will be drawn to Axl, stubborn Piston, and the rest of Team Apollo’s crew. Give this broadly likable novel to fans of … Lowriders in Space, NASCAR, racing video games, and The Fast and the Furious franchise.
I’m giving away a copy of Truckus Maximus to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want to be that winner, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on New Year’s Eve , and I’ll enter you in the drawing.
In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Scott Peterson and José García.
Chris: How does Truckus Maximus fit in with what you yourselves read when you were in middle school and high school? Is this a book that would have been up your alley at that time in your lives, or does it reflect interests that you’ve acquired since then?
Scott: Well, on one level, it’s nothing like anything I was reading in high school, because unlike most of my comics-creating peers, I didn’t read comics in high school.
I loved comics when I was in younger, but the small town I grew up in didn’t have a comic book store (not many did, back then), so it was only when I could convince my mom to buy one off a spin rack in the grocery store that I lucked out.
Fortunately, my oldest brother, Jay, got into comics for a few years, courtesy of our more sophisticated New Yorker cousin Dominic. But once Jay stopped collecting, I was out of luck. So I read and re-read that three-or-so-year period of comics over and over again. But I didn’t read any new comics from about 1978 to about 1988 or so.
Then I happened to see a spin rack of comics in a 7-Eleven one night in college and thought, hey, I haven’t read a comic book in forever! I picked one up — it was a Batman, naturally — and was instantly hooked. Then I discovered the work of the great writer Alan Moore and realized comics could actually be literature. A year or two later, my then-girlfriend/now-wife (children’s novelist Melissa Wiley) helped me to realize I might just want to try to make this my career.
But when it comes to the larger picture — the kind of story, and not just the medium — then yes, it fits in with what I was passionate about, the kinds of stories toward which I gravitated. I loved what’s now known as speculative fiction, but which back then was simply called sci-fi or fantasy, with some horror thrown in. (I don’t think I had yet read anything which could be called alternate history, which is very much part of the larger speculative fiction banner, and which is probably where Truckus Maximus fits best.)
But even within those genres, it was the type of story that attracted me most: I was drawn toward tales of the underdogs, the misunderstood, the outcasts — especially when they banded together (perhaps being forced to do so) in order to achieve something vitally important but which none of them could ever do on their own. The idea of a small group fighting against forces much bigger and stronger than themselves, and willing to make tremendous sacrifices, for some utterly imperative goal really resonated with me in a way I don’t think I fully realized for many, many years.
José: Yeah, totally, as a young reader I was introduced to comics with the Death of Superman and Batman: Knightfall. I don’t think I understood them all that well at the time, but the drawings were cool so I got hooked into comics that way.
As great as those comics were, I wasn’t all that invested on following those gritty, more mature comics just yet. That’s were I found Uncanny X-Men. For me, Joe Madureira’s art was the hook! His drawing style, combining the best of American comics and manga, got me right away.
Once I got to read the adventures of the X-men, a bunch of underdogs trying to save the world while they were never really accepted was an appealing idea to me and my situation.
If I had seen Truckus Maximus back then, I would totally have picked it up. The one thing I never really liked about comics was how briefly action scenes would last. Sometimes an epic battle was cramped into one or two pages at best, but Truckus takes its time for the emotional and action scenes thanks to Scott’s awesome writing skills.
And of course, I’d pick a book written by Scott Peterson. At that time, Scott’s Batgirl was my favorite comic!
And the best thing is, Truckus Maximus is all in just one book — no need to hunt down every single issue or wait one month to get to another cliffhanger.
Chris: While you were working on Truckus Maximus, did either of you have other projects in the works that you can talk about, or are you one-project-at-a-time creators and/or secretive types?
José: I’d love to be able to work on just one project at the time, but that’s financially impossible for me. I’m usually drawing three or four books at the time, and I’m not secretive at all! (Unless the contract says otherwise.)
While I was working on Truckus, I finished three issues of an indie comic called Broken for Neat-O Comics, a mix of Pokemon battles and robots and teenage shenanigans. In total I believe I made 100 inked pages for that.
I inked, drew, colored, and lettered another 150-page comic called Comics in Academics Chapter One: The Discovery, an educational comic which I don’t really know if it was published or was a digital release.
Then I worked on two books for French publisher Ankama Editions called Death Road, Tome 1 and Tome 2 (art, colors, lettering), each 65 pages about a parent trying to keep her recently deceased daughter’s spirit from entering to hell, and one personal book called Egoista — around 90 full-colored pages for a contest I won in Mexico.
I might have missed a book or two in the middle, my first months drawing storyboards for Dreamworks TV, lots of commissions, and opening online art courses, but yeah, those were busy times.
Scott: I have to laugh, because I KNEW José and I were going to be giving such radically different answers to this one. :)
I’ve always had a tendency to go deep into something I’m into. So for a few years after I first went freelance, for instance, I listened to pretty much nothing but jazz. Then I listened to nothing but classical music for several years. Before I knew it, it’d been a decade since I’d listened to pretty much any rock and roll, any of the stuff I’d grown up obsessing over.
So when I work on one project, I tend to go deep. If I’m in Gotham, I’m in Gotham. Even visiting Metropolis or Tatooine or the Roman Empire or Oz or wherever will be jarring, so if I can help it — and I’m a freelancer, so I can’t always — I try arrange to work on things sequentially and not concurrently.
When I started writing Truckus Maximus, I think I worked on it and nothing else for about six months. I sent the first rough draft off to our editor at First Second and while I was waiting on her notes, I wrote a miniseries set in Mumbai. When the notes came in and it was time for my second draft, though, I still had a few issues of the Mumbai series left, so I just had to let Truckus sit until that was done.
A similar thing happened later when Jose started sending in Truckus pages. I was so excited to get them, but I was nearly done writing the Batman: Kings of Fear miniseries, and for about five months, that was all I did or could do: 100% Batman, 100% of the time. So I took a few days to finish up writing that and then took weeks and immersed myself in José’s amazing pages.
I wish I were more like José. :)
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