One of my few regrets in life was never having had the chance to meet my childhood idol, Charles “Sparky” Schulz, creator of the iconic comic strip, Peanuts. Maybe it was for the best because I might have just been another gawking fan. Still, it would’ve been nice to have had the chance thank the man who unknowingly catapulted me into the world of cartooning.
Like many others, I first read Peanuts in the funny pages when I was a little kid. Not long after, I started reading the strips in book collections. In fact, I still have my first beloved treasury of his, published before I was even born.
I always had a knack for drawing, but Peanuts was what drew me to humor and storytelling. Not only was Peanuts so masterfully drawn, it had the most charming combination of humor and humanity, and I think that really struck a chord before I was even aware of it.
Charlie Brown especially captivated me. Neurotic, sensitive, insecure, conflicted, but ever-hopeful, he was my alter ego. But it was Snoopy I fell hopelessly for as a kid…maybe because I never had a dog growing up, or maybe because he had all the charisma and self-confidence I felt I was lacking.
I drew Snoopy all the time. Funny enough, my dad co-owned a paper supply company. He’d bring home beautiful, bright-white scratch pads that I would fill with Snoopies galore. I got so good at drawing Snoopy, other kids would demand my sketches, and I’d gladly comply, wanting to be liked and admired just like Charlie Brown.
As I got older and started making up my own comics, Peanuts was always on my mind. I loved creating similar ensemble casts and giving the characters distinct personalities. And when I got serious about making cartooning a career, consciously or not, I always had a main character who was neurotic, sensitive, insecure, conflicted, and ever-hopeful. No dog in my strips, but I finally got one in real life.
When I first visited the Charles M Schulz Museum in 2009, I got to see Sparky’s recreated office setup. Aside from his personal drawings and paraphernalia which blew my mind, it resembled such a typical cartoonist’s studio, I felt reconnected to both the man and the profession. It reminded me that Charles Schulz wasn’t just a legend, but a human being with stories to tell, just like the rest of us. As a little homage, I later named my digital drawing tablet “Sparky.”
Although I never got to meet Charles Schulz in person, I’ve been lucky enough to befriend his wife, Jeannie, as well as many creators who were meaningfully transformed by his art. Sparky, you’ve inspired me and so many others to bring our inner worlds to life. Happy birthday from one of your millions upon millions of admiring fans.
Introducing the seventh book in the Emmie & Friends series, coming out May 2, 2023…
It’s finally sweet Sarah’s turn in the spotlight! The story kicks off as Sarah Reyes tries to decide if she should ask a boy to the school spring dance. But he’s not just any boy — he’s her best friend Leo’s buddy, Ben! The chapters switch back and forth between Sarah’s and Leo’s POV and showcase two “what if” scenarios: whether Sarah asks Ben and whether she chickens out…and what events unfold based on each of those decisions!
As always, relationships, self-doubt, feelings galore, and hilarity take center stage in this latest installment about mustering courage and facing decisions.
Sarah and Leo have been best friends since they were little. They share everything… until Sarah starts crushing on Leo’s friend Ben. Then one day Sarah is suddenly faced with a big choice — ask Ben to the school dance OR chicken out. Either way, Sarah and Leo’s friendship will be put to the test.
To pre-order SURPRISINGLY SARAH, click here.
by Terri Libenson
Growing up, the “graphic novels” I read were comic strip anthologies – collections of Peanuts and B.C. cartoons, as well as one well-loved, worn-out copy of Momma by Mell Lazarus. My “graphic novels” were the newspaper funny pages, which I devoured every Sunday morning (full color, woo!) over breakfast. My “graphic novels” were the MAD magazines and Archie comic books I snuck from my older brother’s room and always forgot to return.
To sum up, my graphic novels weren’t technically graphic novels. They were old school comics and they were the only things I loved reading at the time. (Had I today’s wide selection of kids’ graphic novels, I would’ve never left my room!)
Without those comics, I may never have become a newspaper cartoonist myself, or have gone on to pen my own graphic novels (okay, technically, hybrids). Comics of any sort can be so important to non-traditional readers. They can inspire, teach, and show that there is more than one way to tell a story. In fact, I was a huge storyteller as a kid, and all my made-up adventures were told through comics. When I married writing and drawing, I was in my element.
When “adult” graphic novels began to emerge, I got hooked. Most importantly, they became my gateway into books of all kinds. As a kid, I hated history. But reading Maus sparked a curiosity of the past and a visceral connection to the material. Now I can’t get enough of historical books of any sort.
I never really thought of the importance of comics, though, until college, when I discovered underground cartoonists like Lynda Barry. She inspired me to experiment with narrative-style cartoons. Eventually when I got syndicated, and then later when I tried my hand at writing books, her work resurfaced in my mind. I approached my writing similarly -- from an authentic, autobiographical place.
Many people think that graphic novels are inferior to prose books. I disagree wholeheartedly. As someone who writes both prose and GN stories, I would argue that graphic novels aren’t inferior, they are just different.
They are uniquely nuanced. The author must often condense the story, whittling it down to its most important elements; meanwhile, the artist (either the same person or someone else) must convey emotions and actions accurately. All this takes serious skill. Plus, many graphic novel illustrations are stunning works of art that you can spend hours dissecting. The plots and character development can be creative and complex, and through visual means, have the ability to break the confines of traditional prose. Funny enough, stories in boxes can truly be “out of the box.”
For the reluctant reader, the play between images and writing is a serious break for the eyes, especially if it’s hard to focus on text alone. Or if a reader is just more visually inclined (someone who likes comics, animation, etc.), these stories are truly engaging. And there are so many choices in genres now, from historical fiction, to biographies, to fantasy, to re-told classics, to reality-based novels. Moreover, it’s wonderful to see (literally) the range of diverse characters.
Whether graphic novels are all a child reads or just part of their reading stockpile, a parent needn’t worry. As screenwriter and novelist John Ridley once said: “There are still some people out there who believe comic books are nothing more than, well, comic books. But the true cognoscenti know graphic novels are - at their best - an amazing blend of art literature and the theater of the mind.”
Recently, I was asked to create a page for the new(ish) and wonderful book-discovery website, Shepard.com. On this site, many authors have penned uniquely categorized "best of" book lists. This is one of those. To view it, click here. Enjoy!
(note: I have many other favorite middle grade books, but these fit well into this specific category)