Giant Steps: Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado on Their Book Giants Beware!
A dynamic duo in the graphic novel and animation worlds, Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado recently published Giants Beware!, a new young-adult graphic novel that will engage every member of your family. For more information on their work, interested readers can follow them on their insightful blog at http://chroniclesofclaudette.com/. From inked animation, color, and black-and-white sketches, interviews with famous animation and other graphic novelists, their blog is a treasure to be found for any graphic novel enthusiast.
From the cover to the final page, I found myself smiling while reading about the adventures of Claudette in Giants Beware! She may be little, but oh, boy, is she mighty! So I have two questions to begin, one for Rafael and one for Jorge. Jorge, as the writer, could you offer GNR readers some insight on the origin story behind the character of Claudette?
JORGE: Thanks for the nice words about our book. Claudette was born from a drawing Rafael did. He drew a picture of three French street urchins. In fact, I think Claudette had been bouncing in his head for a couple years. He had an idea that these kids went off to kill a giant based on a misunderstood story they heard. Rafael and I had been talking for years about trying to collaborate. One day we talked about that idea and I went off and developed the characters and an arc to the story and off we went.
Rafael, as the illustrator of such a mighty but young and small heroine, what was it like to give Claudette a visual persona?
RAFAEL: As Jorge mentioned, I’d been sketching a version of Claudette for a while. The crazy red hair and the attitude was there from the beginning. She was a character in search of a story, which Jorge fleshed out based on my kernel of an idea. Claudette was a blast to draw. Jorge’s dialogue really brought her to life, and I could totally picture her expressions as I read the script. I’m used to acting out a character’s emotions on paper; it’s part of what I do as a storyboard artist.
One of the primary themes behind this story is bravery, especially in regards to Claudette. Instead of interpreting Claudette as brave, however, many of the townspeople initially see her as troublesome and stubborn. What do you feel happens in the story—especially for Claudette—to show her true nature as a brave heroine?
JORGE: Claudette’s no saint and she’s probably alienated a number of people in town with her brashness, so some of their opinions of her have some justification. But when the story begins, Claudette thinks she’s not scared of anything. She’s convinced that nothing can scare her. And of course Pascal the Elder (the storyteller at the start of book) says something to her like “You never know what you’re made of until you’re staring eyeball-to-eyeball into the face of fear.” And that’s what happens to Claudette when she goes up the mountain. She’s scared witless—without giving too much away—you see her fear, she admits it, and it’s the first time she’s felt that. But Claudette keeps going up the mountain to face the giant anyway, with the help of her friend and brother. That’s how she learns bravery.
RAFAEL: I think the choice she makes at the end (SPOILER ALERT) to forego her fame in order to save the baby giant’s life shows a genuine kind of bravery, one that is based on self-sacrifice.
Each of the three main characters (Claudette, Marie, and Gaston) in this story desires something specific. An author friend of mine once mentioned that it was really important for her main character—especially in a book that would be read by children—to really desire something. “What,” she asked acting out her retelling, “did my character really, really want?” Claudette, Gaston, and Marie all really desire something unique. As the writer and the illustrator of these three characters, I wonder: A. What do you see as each of the three primary characters’ desires? and, B. What do you see as critical to conveying each of their desires?
JORGE: I agree with your friend. It’s important that everyone wants something, and it’s important that they try to get it. This being our first book, we tried to keep things simple but interesting and fun. So, Claudette wants to be a world-famous warrior; Gaston wants to be a world-famous chef; and Marie wants to be a princess. From a writing perspective, I kept asking myself how would a wannabe warrior, chef, or princess react in this particular situation. The characters convey their dreams quite a bit, both verbally and through their actions. And we tried to use that for humor and make it serve the plot (like Marie getting wrapped up in the River King’s plan to seek a princess for his son, Fishface).
RAFAEL: We talked about the characters’ dreams and motivations early on during our story development process. I think Gaston and Claudette want to please and impress their father in a way, just like any kid that age would. Same with Marie, probably.
Such a successful collaboration between the two of you, this story has a natural charisma about it. The art and the words both draw the reader deeper and deeper into the story. The word that comes to my mind most often when thinking about this story is engaging. What was your collaborative process like? In other words, and in analogy, what came first? The words? The images? Or were they simultaneously created?
JORGE: I’d say they were simultaneously created. First Rafael had drawings of the characters. Then I went off and wrote an outline. Then Rafael drew some more sketches based on the outline. Then I wrote the script. Then Rafael drew the pages. I made cuts and changes to the script along the way. Then, when Rafael was done with all the drawings, I went back one more time and rewrote/tweaked the dialog. Things went back and forth the whole way.
RAFAEL: Jorge’s correct. There was a constant dialogue. Pictures would inspire words, and vice-versa. I was always looking for opportunities to add more humor and visual gags as we went. That in turn would inspire Jorge to come up with gags or verbal humor. It was a very organic process, one we hope we can repeat as successfully in the next book.
One of the most creative monsters I’ve ever encountered, the “Baby-Feet-Eating Giant” is quite an impressive character. But despite his role as the supposed villain in the story, the reader finds him endearing. What is his origin story? What was it like to work with him, both in prose and in art, as such a loaded, potentially dangerous character?
JORGE: (SPOILER ALERT) Rafael had the idea that the giant in the end would be a baby. From there, I tried to think about how a baby giant would talk and how he would act, what would make him laugh, that sort of thing.
RAFAEL: (MORE SPOILING) We always knew he’d be cute and innocent, and not a threat. His look was something I came up with very early on in my design process. His proportions and the way he looks is sort of based on Alley Oop. I don’t know why that is. That design just popped into my head fully formed. He was one of my favorite characters to draw, actually. I like his lumpy shapes and the big round head.
Giants Beware! offers readers a unique, modern opportunity to discuss, and perhaps rethink, what constitutes a myth or a legend. Do you feel comfortable describing Giants Beware! as a contemporary myth or legend-like story? Why or why not?
JORGE: Yes, I think we both see Giants Beware! as a contemporary myth. Rafael and I started off with common characters from legends, fairytales, etc.: the warrior, the giant, the king (in our case, the Marquis), the princess (in our case, the wannabe princess). Everyone knows these characters from traditional myths and legends. Our goal in the storytelling was to take the familiar and explore it from a little bit of a different angle. We’re not the first ones to do this or the last. This is just our take on the old myths.
If you could offer parents, librarians, and teachers one “behind the scenes” tip on sharing this story with their children and/or students, what would you want them to know?
JORGE: Well, one way to talk about this story, and this is related to your question above, is that if you think about the tales from the Grimm Brothers or old Greek myths, our story tries to keep one foot in those worlds and one foot in something more contemporary.
RAFAEL: I would also direct them to the activity kit we created for the book: http://firstsecondbooks.typepad.com/mainblog/2012/04/giants-beware-claudette-is-here.html
. It’s got how-to-draw instructions for Claudette, Gaston and Marie, puzzles, etc.
What can readers look forward to from either of you in your upcoming work? Is there a particular project or two you are excited about?
JORGE: I was in Columbus, Ohio, recently and Rafael and I outlined the entire second book. I just began writing the script this week and Rafael has begun designs. We’re so excited to be back in Claudette’s world. Can’t wait to share with everyone. We’re writing and drawing as fast as we can.
RAFAEL: We’re also developing other projects outside of Claudette, though it’s still too early to disclose any details. All I can say is that you’ll see plenty more work from us in the future. So stay tuned.