From the drawing table of Odd Duck author Sara Varon
Initially Odd Duck was supposed to be a chapter book, and I got hired to do just a few spot illustrations. Cecil and I were each working only with the editor, and things were not going well, so we asked if we could work together. What a great idea! We decided it should have full page illustrations, half picture book and half graphic novel. After that the project came together very smoothly.
For me, this was the first time I’d ever illustrated a book that was not from my own story. The difference in working with another author’s story is that you have to find your way in, which is no small task. When writing my own stories, I always start with a character in mind. That character is already part of me; I know what he or she looks like, what her world looks like, what she thinks about, who her friends are, etc. So it takes some time to figure out how to identify with someone else’s character. With Theodora, it wasn’t so hard because, of course, I like animals (especially ducks) and I am an odd duck and a loner myself.
I didn’t know what her world looked like, but the story told me she lived in a house with a big yard and a pond. I usually take inspiration from things around me, and there are no houses with big yards in New York City. However, I was going to visit a friend in Seattle, and I thought Theodora could live in (what I think of as) a Pacific Northwest style house, one made of wood and painted bright colors with a lush yard. I am a runner, so I ran for miles up and down the streets in Seattle looking for the house Theodora might live in. And I took a lot of reference photos during my visit.
Next I thumbnailed the story. Timing is always an important part of storytelling. The spaces in between the words are really important, and I always like to have parts where the story is told only in pictures, a sort of silence where the reader has to take in information only by images. So the 11 page prose story became a 64 page set of thumbnails which eventually became 96 pages. Another important idea in translating a written story into a graphic novel/picture book is that the words and pictures should never say the same thing. So I took out all Cecil’s verbal descriptions and conveyed that information with pictures.
Then Cecil looked over the thumbnails, we made some changes together, the editors made some changes, and voila! It was a book! I am pleased with the result. Cecil and my ideas were complementary. We worked well together, and Odd Duck is something neither of us would’ve been able to make working solo.
Odd Duck is written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Sara Varon; it’s on sale May 14th (tomorrow)!