We recently asked two longtime KCU members, David Quinn and Shanda McCloskey, to share the stories of how they became children’s book and graphic novel creators. Everyone has a unique path, but at the same time, you can get a lot of inspiration from other people’s journeys.
We hope Shanda and David inspire you!
Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background?
I started as a short-lived high school art teacher who actually wanted to pursue illustrating kids books. So I moved to Brooklyn, started taking continuing ed classes at SVA, and joined SCBWI. A decade later, I was a published author-illustrator.
I’ve been a writer since college, but ever since I became a dad, I’ve loved to read aloud to kids.
I invite them to howl, laugh and sing with me. Sharing joy in the power of story makes me alive in my own joy, engaged with people that matter.
I write comic books, screenplays, songs and children’s books, including Go to Sleep, Little Creep (Crown Books for Young Readers).
I’ve also written stories for adults for Marvel, DC, image and Rebel Studios and produced branded content in the financial, health care, marketing and energy industries, helping clients like Citi, J.P. Morgan, MVP Health Care and UBS tell their stories across all media.
Why did you decide to start creating comics?
I tend to lean on comics elements like panels and speech balloons in my picture books already, so the art form makes sense to me and GNs were/are really growing in popularity. When I found KCI in 2020, I saw it as a sign to give it a serious go–for art and for business!
I wrote plays and songs since Ann Arbor adolescence, leading to indie theater productions and a musical performance career with punk bands (Dolce Vita, Braineater Records) at Amherst College and in NYC. That same DIY aesthetic drove my stories from stage to comic page, finding my niche in the late 80s/early 90s surge of adult indie comics. I had always loved comics, from devouring Peanuts, Mad, Moomintroll, Tintin and The Addams Family to the quirky melodramas of 70s Marvel Comics like Tomb of Dracula, Dr. Strange and Howard the Duck, so I also enjoyed contributing my own tales to Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Midnight Sons and Carnage, Vampirella (Harris), Alien/Predator (Dark Horse), Witchblade (Top Cow) and even The Amazin’ Mets (Ultimate Sports). But by the time I became a dad in 2005, my main “work for hire” writing was in more lucrative “branded content” consulting. But still, I cultivated a secret dream… to publish raucous, noisy books for kids (Go to Sleep, Little Creep, Crown Books for Young Readers) and take them on the road.
What type of work do you create? What are you working on now?
So far I’ve author-illustrated 2 STEM-friendly picture books and illustrated 4 more. I am currently illustrating my first non-fiction story about Rube Goldberg and simple machines as well as pecking away at an early reader GN, titled PUNK ROCK, that I hope to send out on submission soon.
Right now I’m deep into TV writing – pitch materials as well as scripts. My manager, writer/producer Matt Pizzolo, sold an option for Faust, an adult animated series to SONY, and is pitching Nightvision, a dark fantasy.
The next new comics I publish will probably be The Addiction, a crime / comedy hybrid, created with Vincent Zurzolo, and Giant Size Romeros, my zombie punk monster hunter comic.
Those both target a teen reader, I say, but I also have two early reader GNs and a picture book written while I’ve been active in Kids Comic Unite! And Kids Comic Studio the last three years.
What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently? (This could be anything — an app, a plug-in, a specific brand of pen or paper, a particular software or hardware, an invigorating type of tea, whatever!)
More and more, I rely on a very lo-fi but powerful tool, and that’s…. Mindset.
• Build real connections (and it’s quality, not quantity that counts)
• Obstacles offer opportunities
• Take a chance
• Never stop learning
• Radically accept laughter
• The more you give, the more you get
• Reality is up for grabs
• Tell stories that dramatize choosing a healthier, braver, more loving world (even within the twisted, psycho horror ones!)
I gotta say that thumb-nailing, penciling, and inking on my iPad in Procreate has led to sharper line art and more speed!
What books, websites, social media accounts, or podcasts are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?
I love my KCU colleagues blogs and pages and accounts. I read Mutts, the daily comic by Patrick McDonnell. The Buddhability site is pretty useful wisdom, as are the practical, research backed books on mindset and health by my friend Catherine A. Sanderson. ALSO A house without music is a house without a soul. I walk the dog, singing. Musical improvisation inspires me to be a better listener and live in the moment.
I keep in the know of the kidlit industry by listening to the Book Friends Forever podcast. I find it informative and inspiring.
How did you find out about Kids Comics Unite? Have you taken the Intensive course and/or become a Studio member? If so, what aspects of those programs helped you?
Learning about it from social media, I think, I joined Kids Comics Unite in 2020’s first weeks – A high-powered creative Zoom-unity dedicated to focusing on storytelling in a time when everything seemed to be falling apart? That was a positive join. I found my people. I had lost several friends to Covid 19 in its earliest weeks. A Westchester town just a few miles from me was shut down, literally, they closed the streets. Lucky to be healthy, we stayed home. All I cared about was keeping my family alive and not giving up on work, because if I am not creative, that feels like a kind of spiritual death to me.
I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled into KCI during the shutdown of 2020, but I’m so glad I did! I have participated as a Studio member and Intensive student. Both made me feel immersed in the comics world and among friends. The Intensive last year was extra awesome! I learned so much.
What’s the most valuable thing that you’ve gotten from your experience in Kids Comics Intensive or Kids Comics Studio?
Through Kids Comics Intensive and Kids Comics Studio, I found my people. Together we walked the walk in the craft and business of storytelling. We are safe to learn — even to learn what we do not know that we do not know, a gift.
Tactically, important takeaways have been new ways to hone my story pitches and step outside my comfort zone to redesign my strategy my online audience engagement.
In the end, I think what attracted me in the first place – connection to a community – remains the most valuable. It’s not just hanging with your homeys, as much as it is accountability to yourself, your craft, each other. To people you care about and respect, you say you are going to share your pitch, or your plot, or your pages, and you do it. And since stories are nothing more than designs for living, this engagement has touched my entire life.
Some might measure progress by whether or not I found a new agent for kids books — I haven’t, yet. I ALSO wish I could flex, “I sold the three kids books I wrote while working with the group” – but I haven’t yet. In case you are wondering, that’s:
• I Sing the Moon (Early Reader GN)
• Oliver Gloom Vs the Bullies of Doom! (Early Reader GN)
• Sticky! 1-2-3 (Picture Book)
Still, I can’t think of any aspect of my daily dedication to my craft — communications, audience engagement, editing, pitching, and above all, mindset — that this relationship has not elevated. Thanks, guys…
Real craft understanding and like-minded friends. I still meet monthly with my critique group set up by Janna from the Studio (*I think that’s where it formed). Such a wonderful inspiring group!
What advice do you wish you could give your younger self, or other people who are just getting started as writers or artists?
Write now. Fix later.
Writing, illustrating, publishing is a loooong (and mostly rewarding) game.
Trust and try to enjoy the journey of following your curiosities and light!
Failing is a sign you’re in the game.
Small bursts of time creating add up to real progress!
Where can people connect with/find out more about you? Please list as many links as you want.
Please stay in touch via @quinn.david (Instagram) and https://inwalkedquinn.com (my blog, which also opens the door to my bio, email, signed book store, author page on Amazon and links to video and music). Those two places are the best way to connect with me. I opted out of Twitter last year, and my old LinkedIn and Facebook accounts gather dust, sorry, except when Instagram populates Facebook automatically.
Are you working on a kids or YA graphic novel project yourself? Or interested in getting started? Hooray! Kids Comics Intensive, KCU’s in-depth, 13 week course about the A to Z of creating a kids/YA graphic novel, enrollment ENDS TODAY AT MIDNIGHT on Jan 31st. Click below to find out more.