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The POW! of the turning of the page

joe hillI was super-stoked to attend a live taping of The Nerdist Writers’ Panel podcast at local indie bookstore Brookline Booksmith on Saturday. The special guest was Joe Hill, one of my favorite adult authors. He’s published three horror-ish novels (including Horns, which in 2013 was made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe), a short story collection, and the phenomenal six-year-long comics series Locke & Key.

Joe and host Ben Blacker chatted about creative process, how horror works on the page versus the screen, their favorite comics, what it’s like to be a writer as the kid of writers (Joe’s dad is, um, kind of a big deal), and lots more.

hill_locke & keyTheir conversation about writing comics versus writing novels was especially fascinating. Working on comics is “fun and easy” for Joe and collaborative in the way playing in a band might be — “that’s why [he] stopped doing it.” Writing novels, on the other hand, is incredibly hard and lonely work, but more rewarding. (I was glad to hear that he plans to continue both types of writing, though, with another Locke & Key story to come in the next year or so.) “Like a haiku or a sonnet,” comics present an inherent structure to work within — typically twenty-two pages, broken into sequential panels — whereas an author must impose structure onto a novel or other prose.

What does any of this have to do with kids’ books? Well, when writing his first comic, Joe had to learn the “secret rules no one tells you.” One of these learn-as-you-go rules is about how to break up the story into panels so that it both flows and has a rhythm. And, as Joe learned the hard way in the first issue of Locke & Key, you never put a full-page panel for a big reveal on an odd-numbered page, because the reader can see it from the second they turn the previous page. Aha! I thought. Comics writers think about the drama of the turning of the page, too! Actually, a lot of what Joe had to say about working in comics made me think of Elisa and Patrick Gall’s intriguing article “Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea” from the November/December 2015 HB Mag.

When I got to the front of the signing line, I nerdily babbled about this connection to Joe himself — and was rewarded with the tidbit that he once wrote a picture book, although it hasn’t been published. It’s about goblins, of course, because this is Joe Hill we’re talking about.

The episode will be available to download in May 2016, to accompany the release of Joe’s new novel, The Fireman. In the meantime, why not listen to a few Nerdist Writers’ Panel episodes, or check out pics from the event on Twitter?

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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  1. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    This podcast episode is now available: http://nerdist.com/the-writers-panel-266-joe-hill/

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