When Dave Roman had first announced the forthcoming release of the collected Teen Boat for Clarion Press, I was a bit dumbfounded to realize that we’d never set up an official interview. Sure we’d spoken countless times and even been on the odd panel together, but for some reason or other, we’d never sat down for a formal Cross Hatch Q&A, and while his new book is still more than half a year away, now seemed as good a time as any.
After all, Roman has been working virtually non-stop since losing a full-time editorial position after the untimely demise of Nickelodeon Magazine. He contributed to anthologies like Flight, collaborated with wife Raina Telgemeier on an X-Men manga series and celebrated the release of his first Astronaut Academy collection for First Second this summer.
Like that series, Teen Boat began life as a web and mini-comic. While maintaining the cartoonist’s long-standing focus on younger readers, the latter series skews a bit older, combining, as the tagline goes, “the angst of being a teen with the thrill of being a boat.” In this first part of our conversation, we discuss revisiting older work, Roman’s tendency toward long storylines, and why making comics for kids is important.
When’s the new book coming out?
Teen Boat? Teen Boat is going to come out May 8th. I think we’re going to do a debut at TCAF.
Do you have multiple things coming out?
I’m working on Astronaut Academy book two right now. I’m completely in that headspace. But we’re always talking contracts for Teen Boat #2, and we just did a short story for a book called Explorer, that Kazu Kibuishi is putting out. That comes out a little bit before Teen Boat—maybe two months before.
Teen Boat isn’t coming out until May and you’re already talking contracts for the second one?
That’s a good spot to be in.
Yeah, hopefully. They’re totally into it. I think the advance buzz on it is pretty good, so they don’t think that it’s too risky to start talking about book two, and I think that the idea is that these books take so long to make that if you’re doing a series, you want to close the gap between books. With Astronaut Academy I was actually contracted for two books all at once, which is good, because it means that, as soon as I was finished with the first book, I was already working on the second book. And since the books take a long time to come out after you’ve finished them, it gives you a little bit of lead time, so that by the time you’re out promoting book one, you’re already halfway into book two.
You’re not at the point anymore where you’ll work on something independently of whether or not there’s a contract?
I don’t know the answer to that question, to be honest.
Both of these books started off as minis, but now it seems as though you’ve got so much on your plate that you’re waiting to see if someone is interested in something before devoting too much time to it.
Sort of. I don’t view it exactly like that, but I guess that’s fairly accurate [laughs]. I just see it as making books. And it has to be about what books are paying or are going to see a path to money, just because, ever since I lost my job at Nickelodeon, I’m trying to survive off of just doing books, collectively with Raina.
We see it as working in tandem. So we’re alternating books between the two of us. Right now Raina’s next book is due in December and then Astronaut Academy is due in May. It’s alternating schedules and times when the books come out.
But you’re both constantly working on stuff.
Absolutely. We’ve had no gaps between us. Especially Raina. She did the four Babysitters Club books, one after another. And by the time the fourth was done, she was already halfway through Smile, and that become the full-time project. Pretty much the minute I ended my job at Nickelodeon, I’ve been working on Astronaut Academy non-stop.
These long series are default mode for you.
For some reason, I tend to think in series.
Books for younger readers tend to be structured that way.
Yeah. And I think by the time I create something and spend a lot of time developing ideas in that world, the ideas tend not to stop. I keep getting more and more excited to see where they can go. I was contracted for two Astronaut Academy books, and the second definitely has an ending, and you feel like that could be it, but I definitely have enough ideas to fill up a third book. It’s more just about whether there’s interest in doing a third.
Teen Boat will feel like a self-contained book, but we have all of these ideas for what to do afterward. If people are interested, we’re happy to keep making them.
You’ve been working on both of those projects for a while. How long has Teen Boat been around for?
Teen Boat’s been around for 10 years, I think [laughs]. The first mini comic came out around 2002 or 2003. And I’ve been doing Astronaut Academy for at least six years.
Will the mini comics work appear in the book?
With Teen Boat, yeah. It’s everything that was printed as mini comics, but fully-colored and we’ve added 30 more pages of content.
Did you end up redoing it?
With Teen Boat we didn’t. It was pretty much good to go, and believe me, no one was more thrilled about that than John and I. With Astronaut Academy, I did end up redrawing a good half of the book. Most of the material that appeared was redrawn for the book. But with Teen Boat, we managed to keep it almost entirely intact. There were three panels that were redrawn, total. And that was just to address some content issues.
What’s the difference there?
I think it’s because John drew Teen Boat, and John is very happy with his finished art, and I’m insecure about my art and tend to want to revise it and improve upon it. Just general insecurity.
[Continued in Part Two]