Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors: Cece Bell

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Welcome to the start of Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors Blog Tour, a celebration of cartoon artists for Children’s Book Week! This year, Free Comic Book Day (May 2, 2015) will kick-off the longest-running literacy initiative for young people, Children’s Book Week (May 4-10, 2015). Diamond Comic Distributors and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have combined forces with Every Child a Reader and the Children’s Book Council to call attention to all the ways reading comics has a positive impact on kids.

And what better way to kick-off this terrific blog tour than an interview with the 2015 NEWBERY HONOR WINNING author of El Deafo, Cece Bell?!

Jorge Agurrie and Rafael Rosado, authors of Dragons Beware!are interviewing some of the most respected and talented graphic novel artists of today starting with Cece Bell!  Bell’s recent graphic novel, El Deafo, is an autobiographical account of a girl who overcomes obstacles by imagining her hearing impairment as a superpower, transforming into her superhero alter ego, “El Deafo”. El Deafo quickly became a bestselling graphic novel and the first book ever to be awarded a Newbery Honor Medal, an award given to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This was a huge stake in reaffirming the important role comics have in the reading lives of children. Her books are funny, empowering, and so easy to love that it’s no wonder Cece Bell has a world of readers in the palm of her hands.

Let’s get to it!

  El Deafo

JORGE/RAFAEL: Congratulations on the Newbery, Cece.  We thought “El Deafo” was fantastic.  It was amazing how you visually represented hearing loss. And besides that, as kids who grew up in the late 70s and early 80s, we appreciated all the touches that brought us back to our childhoods.  You even had a Hostess Cherry Pie in there – that takes us waaay back!

CECE BELL: Thank you so much, Jorge and Rafael! I still can’t believe my book got a Newbery Honor. That was never on my list of things to accomplish—I’ve always been fixated on the Caldecott even though I’m clearly not the greatest illustrator in the world. But wow, it is cool! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book, and that you got all the references to what sadly can only be called “Yesteryear.


QUESTION (FROM JORGE):  One of the themes in “El Deafo” is the idea of being the “other” and not wanting to stick out, which I could really identify with as a guy who grew up in the Midwest as the only Latino around. In my case, being an “other” turned me into an observer of other people, which probably led to me becoming a writer.  For you, did feeling different play a part in turning you into a writer/artist?

CECE BELL: I think it absolutely did. For one thing, I was constantly trying to make myself “different” in ways that I could control, since I couldn’t control the fact that I was/am deaf. I threw myself 110% into academics so that the other kids would think of me as the smartest kid in school instead of simply as “that deaf kid.” And when we were assigned projects in which creativity was encouraged—well, look out! I really pushed myself to come up with creative solutions to these projects, and I continue to push myself to do that in my book projects today. Like I said earlier, I know that I’m not the best illustrator in the world—I don’t have a natural ability for it—but I certainly do try to do the best work I can.

For another thing, and this is a bit weirder: I watched a LOT of TV in the days before closed-captioning. I couldn’t understand a word of what was said. But I would watch the images on the screen and then try to figure out what the story was, based on what I was seeing. I’d make up the story in my head—including what the characters were saying—if I couldn’t figure out the real story. I totally think that has helped me pair pictures and words fairly successfully in my books.


QUESTION (FROM RAFAEL): Why did you decide to anthropomorphize your characters in “El Deafo”?  My children love that aspect of the book, and of course we’ve seen it used successfully in books like “Maus,” and now yours.

CECE BELL: This is the most popular question I get from readers, and I don’t blame ’em! Here’s the copy-and-paste version of my answer (and my apologies if you’ve read this version before):

I wanted to show what it felt like to be the only deaf kid in my elementary school. I needed a good visual metaphor, and rabbits, with their big ears and amazing hearing, were perfect for that. Essentially, I felt like the only rabbit whose big ears didn’t work—I had the ears for show, but little else. Also, drawing the cords of the hearing aid so that they went above my head into rabbit ears (as opposed to having them go into my actual ears) perfectly captures how conspicuous I felt as a kid.

RevisedChapter4Panels QUESTION: In an interview with Geek Dad you said, “I’d love to do another [Graphic Novel], but gracious, the work.  I’m definitely considering it.” We (in particular Rafael) can attest to how labor intensive producing a graphic novel is, however I’m sure we’re not alone in wanting to see another one from you. So have you decided if there’s a graphic novel in your future?

Graphic Novels Get Awarded! Interview With Newbery Honoree Cece Bell – GeekDad

CECE BELL: All I can say is, I hope there is another one! There are a lot more childhood/middle school stories rattling around in my head as I consider a sequel to El Deafo. And I think about non-El Deafo graphic novel ideas all the time—nutty fictional ones, that is. But I have a bunch of actual projects with actual deadlines that I need to finish first!


QUESTION: Knowing they present different kinds of challenges, do you prefer making picture books or graphic novels?

CECE BELL: That’s a tough one. In some ways, you could see a picture book as a very short graphic novel. Both picture books and GNs have words and pictures that work together to tell a story. You could almost imagine that each page, or each spread, in a picture book could represent a panel in a GN. I guess I like the fact that a picture book feels more finite while you’re working on it—with approximately 32 pages to complete, you can see the light at the end of that tunnel. When you’re working on a GN, the tunnel is extraordinarily long and there’s a feeling of I’m-never-gonna-finish-this-puppy that haunts you as you plow your way through. BUT I think I’m a better storyteller when I use the GN format, and I found myself having quite a bit more fun while working on El Deafo than I have on my picture books. Whether that was because I was retelling stories that I knew so well, or because of the format, I’m not sure. It’s a toss-up, clearly.


QUESTION: What are you working on now?

CECE BELL: I have a picture book coming out in June from Clarion called I YAM A DONKEY. It’s complete yuk-yuk and is basically just an argument between a donkey and a yam about grammar. I just finished the art for a picture book for Candlewick called CHUCK & WOODCHUCK, yet another Cece Bell friendship story (I mean, how long can I milk that theme?). I’m currently working on a second RABBIT & ROBOT early reader book for Candlewick, and I’m supposed to be doing a fourth SOCK MONKEY book for them, as well (let me know if you’ve got any ideas for Sock Monkey, ha ha ho). And finally, I need to get started on the illustrations for a series of early reader books for Abrams (about a Venus flytrap detective) written by my husband, Tom Angleberger. Good times! Except for the fact that it feels like there’s no time for graphic novels….

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my book and for crafting such thoughtful questions. All the best to both of you. I can’t wait to see what you do next!


Join us in celebrating these incredible artists and youth literacy advocates throughout the month with Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors blog tour!

Find a comic book store in your neck of the woods participating in Free Comic Book Day, this Saturday, May 2, 2015!

Looking for a good read?

Here’s where you can find official Children’s Book Week festivities and ways to celebrate, including casting a vote in the Children’s Book Choice Awards!

Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors Blog Tour: 

Monday, April 27
Cece Bell interviewed at Sturdy for Common Things
Tuesday, April 28
Kazu Kibuishi interviewed at Geek Dad
Wednesday, April 29
Joey Weiser interviewed at The Brain Lair
Thursday, April 30
James Kochalka interviewed at Bumbles & Fairy Tales
Friday, May 1
Mariko Tamaki interviewed at A Book and a Latte
Saturday, May 2
Jorge Aguirre interviewed at The Windy Pages
Sunday, May 3
Luke Pearson interviewed at Mr. Schu Reads
Monday, May 4
Jeffrey Brown interviewed at For Books’ Sake
Tuesday, May 5
Cecil Castellucci interviewed at WinterHaven Books
Wednesday, May 6
Frank Cammuso interviewed at Reading with ABC
Thursday, May 7
Hope Larson interviewed at The Book Wars
Friday, May 8
Eric Orchard interviewed at Alice Marvels
Saturday, May 9
Kean Soo interviewed at Jenuine Cupcakes
Sunday, May 10
Dave Roman interviewed at Amy the Frog Queen
Monday, May 11
Gene Luen Yang interviewed at Finding Wonderland
Tuesday, May 12
Nathan Hale interviewed at Kid Lit Frenzy
Wednesday, May 13
John Allison interviewed at Supernatural Snark
Thursday, May 14
Maris Wicks interviewed at The Roarbots
Friday, May 15
Jenni and Matt Holm interviewed at The Busy Librarian
Saturday, May 16
Craig Thompson interviewed at The Book Rat
Sunday, May 17
Chris Schweizer interviewed at Panel Patter
Monday, May 18
Sara Varon interviewed at Sharp Read
Tuesday, May 19
David Rubin interviewed at Teen Lit Rocks
Wednesday, May 20
 Adventures in Cartooning interviewed at Word Spelunking
Thursday, May 21
Mike Maihack interviewed at Bookish
Friday, May 22
John Patrick Green interviewed at Haunted Orchid
Saturday, May 23
Rafael Rosado interviewed at Shae Has Left the Room
Sunday, May 24
Faith Erin Hicks interviewed at Good Books and Good Wine
Monday, May 25
Dan Santat interviewed at SLJ Fuse #8
Tuesday, May 26
Andy Runton interviewed at The Hiding Spot
Wednesday, May 27
Colleen AF Venable interviewed at Graphic Policy
Thursday, May 28
Jay Hosler interviewed at My Bookish Ways
Friday, May 29t
Eleanor Davis interviewed at Love is Not a Triangle
Saturday, May 30
Ben Hatke interviewed at YA Bibliophile

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