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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five Choice Books of Small Press Expo Book 3: The Secret Science Alliance

By Max Evry

It is fun to imagine the whir of hundreds of printing presses and, yes, Xerox machines working tirelessly in the days and hours before the Small Press Expo kicks off each year. The two-day celebration of independent comics in Bethesda, Maryland attracts the many brave souls who put their hearts, minds, and cold-hard cash into getting their cartoon visions out to attendees.

With so many titles to choose from, it can be difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff. Is it a beautifully drawn title, or merely one with a nice cover? This series will shine the spotlight on five authors who represent the most promising emerging talents on the indie comics scene, including exclusive interviews where they discuss their process, their inspiration, and their joy in creating these works.


“THE SECRET SCIENCE ALLIANCE” by Eleanor Davis

Probably the least “indie” of all these titles is this graphic novel aimed at children by Davis, who along with her husband Drew Weing has produced some gorgeous looking self-published work aimed more at the hipsters in years past. The full title is actually “The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook”, which indicates that this is to be merely the first of many adventures featuring the nerdy Julian, adventurous Greta, and athletic Ben, all young middle schoolers with brains to spare. After these three team up to create inventions like “Glue Bombs”, “Stink Meters”, even their own helicopter, their invention book is stolen by an older scientist who plans to use their inventions for evil, unless they can stop him first…!

While the concept may seem cliché, the artwork is anything but. With inking by Weing and colors by Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester, the 150-page book is bursting with invention, from the gorgeous layouts, word bubbles and panels that literally point, poke and prod, as well as Davis’ painstaking attention to the most minute details. Readers of all ages could probably pour over all fun bric-a-brac in the backgrounds for days on end, and the humor is good natured and energetic enough to appeal to its target demographic. As this book was put out by the American wing of Bloomsbury, which is responsible for, among other things, being the original publisher of “Harry Potter” in the UK, it is certainly the most commercially accomplished of all the books on this list. Whether the “SSA” becomes a viable enough property to propel Davis permanently out of the self-published beauty of earlier comics like “Bugbear” remains to be seen, but her enthusiasm for her work is undeniable.

What was the genesis of creating this book, which is somewhat of a departure from your earlier independent work?

ELEANOR DAVIS: I had the opportunity to pitch a children's GN to Bloomsbury, and I just tried to come up with the most exciting story I possibly could; the kind of comic I would have wanted to read when I was a kid. Because I had never done anything for kids before I started working on “SSA” it was a real learning experience!

How did your time spent at the Kino School inspire certain aspects?

DAVIS: Thanks for asking about Kino! Kino's an alternative school in Tucson, Arizona of only about 100 students, ages 5-18. My sister and I went there from when we were little, and my parents both teach there. The educational philosophy is based around students choosing for themselves what they want to learn, and having fun learning it. It's a philosophy that respects the intelligence of children. I wanted to write a book about smart, motivated kids who build things and invent things and DO things, just like we were encouraged to do at Kino. My experiences at Kino also affected Ben's character. Ben is basically a genius, but because he gets bad grades he has terribly low confidence. This happens to smart kids every day all over the world; because they aren't good at taking tests, they're told, and often believe, that they're dumb. Kino doesn't have tests or grades, and I think it helps students figure out their own strengths and motivations.

What is the collaborative process between you and Drew like? How long did it take to create this book?

DAVIS: Oh, man, it took about two years of work on my end, about seven months for Drew to ink, and lots more time for Joey and Michele to color. It was a real process! Drew helped a lot all along the way. From the beginning I would bounce ideas off him constantly, through the thumbnailing process he re-read everything again and again, and then I checked with him on each final page of pencils. He basically edited the whole thing five times over, and provided tons and tons of support! When it came to the pencilling/inking, the process was more technical. I would pencil a page at-size on copy paper, scan it into the computer, make a bunch of small fixes, then print it out larger onto bristol in blueline. Drew would ink it, I'd scan it, and then send it to Joey and Michele to color and Bryant Paul Johnson to letter.

The layout of both the panels and the letter bubbles is very creative. How painstaking was this to figure out for a given page?

DAVIS: The layouts were really fun, kind of like an exciting puzzle. What got tricky was editing such tightly laid-out pages. Taking a panel or two out here or adding them in there was no laughing matter; sometimes I'd have to redesign whole scenes to get things to fit again! I tried to do a different, fun layout 'trick' for each page. In addition to being a fun challenge, I was hoping to give the book a scientific feel.

How have young readers reacted to the book so far?

DAVIS: The feedback I've gotten has been good! I think young people really respond to work which they know has had someone's heart put into it; they can lose themselves in the details and re-read it again and again. At least, that's what I'm aiming for!

Check out Eleanor Davis HERE: http://www.doing-fine.com/

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