Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Jonathan Schnapp Interview - Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons

Photo Content from Jonathan Schnapp

Jonathan Schnapp lives in Rochester, NY, with his amazing wife and son, and two obnoxious cats. He spends most of his time painting, drawing, writing, and running around the neighborhood. He also has worked with several STEM companies but was recently promoted to the position of "Stay at Home Parent." He received his MFA in Imaging Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2008. While not his first comic, Order of the Night Jay is his first published graphic novel

In your new book; ORDER OF THE NIGHT JAY, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
Sure! Order of the Night Jay stars Frank, a timid bear, and Ricky, an impulsive and effervescent raccoon. They become fast friends on the way to Camp Jay Bird, a run down summer camp out in the middle of nowhere. They bond over their love of Mega Bunny comics, though the same thing quickly makes them the target of ridicule by the other scouts.

Frank, in particular, looks and feels very out of place at camp being the only “large animal” there. Others are initially very afraid of him until they realize that, despite his towering stature, he’s really quite shy and short on confidence.

When two of the older scouts play a prank during a compass course activity, our heroes end up in the middle of the woods where they find a cave with secret writing by the entrance. They want to explore and investigate, but they have to do so while trying to earn merit badges, not get in further trouble for running off, and deal with the peer pressure and bullying from the other scouts.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Does “everything” count as a single thing? Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but let’s face it, when you’re starting out as a writer, it’s really easy to always put your writing projects on the back burner. “Real life” doesn’t just pause so you can follow your passion project. During the writing of Order of the Night Jay, I worked full time, started a family, worked through yet another sports injury, and continued to deal with a chronic health issue. Not to harp too much on the negative, but unless art or writing becomes a priority, there will never be a shortage of things getting in the way.

I actually managed to solve a lot of my plotting and story problems while running. With my legs moving, my head can really focus. Having that tool to get around creative blocks does wonders for keeping the process exciting.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
When I was creating the cast for the story, I did a lot of sketching before I drew up a cast photo. This was so I’d have a go-to reference for the colors and details for each character. I did full character design sheets, but only for the two main characters. I had a good idea of who Ricky and Frank were going to be, but nothing for the others.

Then I did the first “Meet the Tailfeathers” section. These are quick breaks in the story to let the other characters talk for a bit with a little 4th wall breaking. (The “Tailfeathers” are the bottom rank at this particular bird-themed scout camp.) The first was just for fun, but then they became a feature of the book. As I kept writing, I realized the Tailfeathers are all me in some way.

This is both good and bad. Bad because I’m telling people all this and now I feel a bit exposed, but great because I feel more confident in their personalities. Even Jake and Spud, the two camp bullies, I feel like I can resonate with a little because I’ve found something in them that I can be sympathetic with, even if I really don’t care for how they treat others.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Ooh, I like this question!

One of the things I’ve had to learn the hard way over the years (or rather, still learning) is that everything is a story. What we believe, how we interpret events - all stories. This isn’t to imply that story=false, just that we rely on narratives to shape how we think about the world and our place in it. That crops up a bit in Order of the Night Jay. All the scouts have reasons for being at camp, what they believe about themselves, what their dreams are, who they think they really are. Frank does this through his sketchbook where he reinterprets his camp experiences through the lens of himself as the hero “Super Bear.” It’s him except he’s now strong and confident.

Storytelling, then, whether we’re talking about comics, novels, poetry, music, etc., is essential because it allows us to get a glimpse of the stories, the narratives other people are living by. This is how they experience things. And we need more of this today. That’s how we develop empathy and understanding.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I am both weirded out and excited to, even in just the past few weeks since the book came out, to get to talk with comic creators who are getting started. Especially kids. There’s so much rejection in publishing and I remember how scary and overwhelming it can be to figure out how to do things and to put your work out there. I’ve already met some very talented young artists who maybe just need encouraging nudges to keep at it.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
This one is tough - I’ve never been one to have a favorite anything. I do love Luke Pearson’s Hilda books, however. There’s just such a wonderfully colorful world that Pearson has built that’s somehow both whimsically fantastic yet somehow makes perfect sense.

Most recently I just finished reading through Kelsey Wroten’s Cannonball. That was a hard read with such a self-destructive and acerbic main character, but I still felt drawn to them. I think as someone who’s creative career has also taken unexpected turns and felt stagnant for a long time, their struggle felt, well, still narcissistic, but also relatably tragic. I’m usually a very slow reader, even with graphic novels, but this one grabbed me pretty quick.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from ORDER OF THE NIGHT JAY
Again you’re targeting my weak spots by asking for favorites! OK, I’ll do my best here:

The Mega Bunny section jumps immediately to mind. From the beginning of the story we see how Ricky and Frank bond over their love of these “girly” comics starring a rabbit that fights crime with vegetable based superpowers. A few chapters on we get to see what a Mega Bunny comic looks like, complete with a comic book cover. The rest of the book is dark and earthy (taking place at night in the woods), but here we get bright pinks and yellows and halftone patterns. Then I got to make a fun superhero word. Mega Bunny fights criminals with names like “Doctor Strangehare” with her Carrot Strength and Radish Radar. It’s equal parts Muppets and Adam West Batman.

Next up would be the montage of the scouts going through the week working on different certifications. Frank had just convinced Ricky to keep quiet about the Order in an effort to delay their inevitable trek back out to the cave, but Ricky is so laser focused he just can’t stop speculating. This was a hard section to nail down because the pacing really tended to get bogged down, but it also has some of my favorite Ricky moments, like when he decides UFOs must have parking lots so therefore “Space Quarters” must exist. Or when he mentions he saw a frog that looked like Richard Nixon.

Lastly, I’ll point out PageXXXX where Frank is having a crisis. Does he break camp rules and disappoint people by going after Ricky? Or does he jeopardize his only friendship by letting Ricky go off into a dangerous situation alone? In comics I think it’s an interesting creative problem to depict inner monologue because there’s nothing inherently visual about it. So here I decided to depict it as other characters speaking via Frank’s anxious imagination. And around him is all this mental clutter of all the frustrations and failures from his time at camp. It was a fun challenge.

What is the first job you have had?
I worked at a convention center! We did everything from concession stands to banquets. We had, I think it was, Ringling Circus there once? And a gathering of the Juggalos. I once tripped over a power cord for the big projectors while a fancy speaker was up on stage talking during one banquet. Security was not happy, but I had coffee urns to pick up, darn it!

Best date you’ve ever had?
When I first started dating my wife, I asked her to come watch a series of art films with me. I didn’t know anything about them, only that they’d been talked about in my art history classes more than once and they were near impossible to see (at the time). That was Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, which is a terrible choice for a first date, second date, one year anniversary, you name it. They are just filled with metaphors for, umm… testicles. And the series took four evenings to get through. Those are just awful to get through, but we were able to spend time making fun of them afterwards. Still not sure why we attended all four nights except to say we were just stubborn.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?

What is your most memorable travel experience?
We met up with some friends at an Airbnb outside of Cleveland a number of years ago. It was an older, once quite fancy home that had received a few too many coats of paint and needed labels and instructions to accompany the excessive number of old light switches. The place came decked out with a binder detailing in hyperbolic language the history that had been dug up on the place, like how it had been used by a bookie. (“Look in amazement at the closet with a telephone switchboard in it!”) We had a lot of fun just reading that binder in funny voices. Then when we were leaving, the house struck back. One of the marble tiles that lined the bathroom wall fell off and shattered. No one got hurt, but it was clear the house was done with us.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
Hmm…. I’m assuming this has to be from my personal history? No stopping John Wilkes Booth or anything like that? Well, I might say I think grad school wasn’t the best choice. Lots of debt. But I met my future wife by moving to Rochester, so I suppose the debt was worth it.

Oh! I know what I’d change. I’d go back and quit the manufacturing job I had here. Worked there for five and a half years even though it was clear the stress was doing bad things for my health and the pay was terrible. Still recovering from that place years later.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Always choose the things that give you more experiences. I’m a lot like my main character, Frank, in that I spent a lot of time being too anxious to try things. Hurt can be learned from, then you know more for the next thing. Avoidance only teaches more avoidance.

Making friends can be hard for a nervous bear, even at summer camp. But Frank’s about to discover a mystery… and the camp needs him to save the day!

Frank is perhaps the most un-bear-like bear Camp Jay Bird has ever seen. Actually, he’s probably the ONLY bear Camp Jay Bird has ever seen. And there are tons of bugs, he’s getting picked on, and he can’t seem to earn a single badge! But there’s Ricky, an excitable little raccoon who shares Frank’s love of Mega Bunny comics. But Ricky’s friendship might be more than Frank can handle. After breaking camp rules, getting lost in the woods, and discovering ancient secrets about the long-forgotten Order of the Night Jay, how will Frank explain all this to his dad?

You can purchase Order of the Night Jay at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JONATHAN SCHNAPP for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Order of the Night Jay by Jonathan Schnapp.


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