Monday, June 18, 2018

Eight Minutes with Howard Shapiro, Author ot the Graphic Novel Queen of Kenosha

This past week I received a review copy of Howard Shapiro's Queen of Kenosha, a soon-to-be released graphic novel about a young woman from the midwest who moves to New York City in an effort to make it as a rock star. Inasmuch as the story takes place in 1963, Dylan resonance is clearly apparent. This, however, is but the backdrop against which a much larger story takes place.

Though I've been aware of the graphic novel form for some time, I only started reading a few this past year or so, primarily because our Duluth Public Library has a shelf of them. The storyline for Queen of Kenosha runs like this: "A coming of age tale, this is the first installment of the Thin Thinline Trilogy, the fiercely independent Nina Overstreet has an axe to grind. A talented singer-songwriter slogging her way through the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1963, the Queen of Kenosha, Wisconsin, realizes that standing on the cusp of stardom gets her little respect and barely a cup of coffee in New York City. A chance encounter...."

Author Howard Shapiro lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two sons. Shapiro is a Controller for the Pittsburgh-based Visual Effects firm, Animal Inc. He has also written four children’s books, The Stereotypical Freaks being his debut Graphic Novel. His 2008 book, Hockey Player for Life, has been the #1 downloaded children’s hockey e-book on Amazon’s Kindle chart since its arrival as an e-book in November of 2011.

EN: What was your motivation in writing this book? 

Howard Shapiro: When I did my first graphic novel, The Stereotypical Freaks the protagonist was inspired by an 18-year-old kid (John Challis) from my area who was in a battle with liver cancer which, sadly, he succumbed to. But in his last year his bravery and message of hope and living every day to the fullest was incredibly moving and inspiring and I wanted to honor his memory by basing the Jacoby character on him. When I did The Hockey Saint next, I wrote it during the Jerry Sandusky trial here in Pennsylvania and I was struck with how sports and teams in this area had caused people to lose all perspective on right and wrong. So, the book detailed how out of control sports culture and the idea of celebrity had overtaken us. Now, with “Queen of Kenosha” I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be a true, and also, safe American citizen. Does that mean that the ends justify the means to keep us safe or do we always hold sacred the ideals that the nation was founded on? Is "my country right or wrong" just a saying? The story takes place in 1963 but the questions that the characters discuss and argue about in the story are just as prevalent today and those questions were my motivation in writing “Queen of Kenosha.”

EN: And why this particular form of storytelling rather than a straight novel? 

HS: Excellent question! I find it best to write in a quasi-script form and graphic novels lend themselves to this incredibly well. I more or less sketch out the story, visually, in my head and then put together a synopsis from the scenes I envision. I then work with my editor, Christina Hickey, to flesh out the story.

Opening panel establishing time and place.
EN:  In your acknowledgments you tip your hat to a whole team of people who made this book possible. Was Erica Chan the illustrator or did she head up a team of illustrators? 

HS: Yes, Erica was the sole illustrator for the book. She did an amazing illustration job and was a wonderful creative partner throughout the process. She also did the coloring, some illustrators prefer that someone else do the color work but Erica did double duty, doing both the illustration and color work.

EN: Is this your first book together? 

HS: Yes and I hope that Erica will illustrate and color the sequels as well!!

EN: How long does it take complete a project like this? It’s clearly a lot of work. 

HS: The total was about a year and a half for the book which is a total of 176 pages. To give folks an idea, a good week will mean that we got three pages completed. That will help give you an idea how long it takes to complete a 150+ pages graphic novel! Add in the time to have it lettered and printed and your looking at a close to two year process.

EN: What is the mission of Animal Media Group? 

HS: Animal Media Group is looking for stories that can, hopefully, be turned into a TV series or a film. The company only publishes four to five books a year and they take a lot of time and put a lot of effort into the design and production of their books.

EN: The way you open each chapter with a picture of a record with song titles is clever. Can you elaborate on where this idea originated and how you use this device? 

HS: I started with the recommended listening songs at the beginning of each chapter when I did “The Stereotypical Freaks” mainly because that book was about rock music and how a shared love of music can unite people. It was a pretty natural thing, I thought, to list the songs that were inspiring me to write each chapter or the songs listed were the songs that the guys in the band were playing in that particular chapter. I got such a good response to that listing at the front of each chapter that each subsequent book has had a similar list of songs.

EN: When will Queen of Kenosha be available for purchase? 

HS: Thanks, it releases on October 9, 2018

EN: And when will the second and third books of the trilogy be completed? 

HS: Hopefully In October 2020 and we’ll wrap things up in October 2022.

EN: Though the book is fiction, it begs the question: were there Nazi cells working within the U.S. in the early Sixties?

HS: Well, not in the 60’s but before World War 2 there were cells in Los Angeles which we allude to in the book. I found this out from a great book that came out last year titled “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews and Their Spies Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America” by Steven J. Ross. And during the war there were Nazis sent to get into America thru Canada and into upstate New York and that plot was called the “Operation Pastorious.”

EN:  It’s actually an interesting concept to have a rock star also being a spy. Numerous authors have been spies or secret agents (Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, etc.) It would not raise many questions to have a performer do undercover work. Do you think this actually happens?

HS: Great question, but no I don’t think it happens. Interestingly though, another influence or inspiration for the book was the “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” book and movie. The book was a memoir by Chuck Barris who was a Game Show producer starting in the 60’s. He created and produced “The Newlywed Game”, “The Dating Game” and then created and hosted “The Gong Show” which I watched religiously back in the late 70’s. In the book he claimed to be a CIA spy and when the CIA shot that down Barris later said that the book was how he imagined his life would have been had he worked for the CIA.

EN: Howard, thanks for your time as well as these insights on your new book.

Related Links
The Hockey Saint
Pittsburgh's Coolest Offices: Animal Inc.
Animal Studio

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