Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Mark Leiknes Interview - Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold

Photo Content from Mark Leiknes

Mark Leiknes lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and three kids. He produced a nationally syndicated comic strip (Cow & Boy) for eight years and now he writes and illustrates books for kids. Mark studied graphic design in college and honed his comedic chops studying improv and sketch comedy at the acclaimed Groundlings School.


Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories are how we make sense of the world. We can’t help but see ourselves as the main characters in our own stories. Not all of us write our stories down, but we often share them with those around us. Being able to tell a compelling story helps us relate to one another. It connects us.

Greatest thing you learned in school.
I apologize in advance for my answer. I learned a lot of things in school, but I couldn’t really remember one specific GREATEST thing. But I did learn NOT to eat Frankenberries before reading group in first grade. My teacher wasn’t a huge fan of my disruptive belching, which I found very difficult to stifle while reading aloud. After the third day, she told me to knock it off or I would be knocked down a reading level. Needless to say, I found a new breakfast cereal and I now read slightly better because of it.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Hearing stories about other people’s kids picking up my book and connecting with it. My own kids HAVE TO like my books, or I cut off their allowance :) But when I hear that other kids are enjoying something that I wrote, well, that’s just pretty cool.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
My writing career came from me just wanting to draw. I love comics and visual storytelling. So, I initially wrote things just to give myself something to illustrate. But now that I am a writer, I find IMMENSE joy in the writing process itself.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Right now, it’s all about Quest Kids. I am in the middle of the second book, which should be out next fall. Then, a third Quest Kids should be coming out the year after that. And, hopefully, even more Quest Kids books will follow until people just tell me to knock it off.

In your newest book; QUEST KIDS AND THE DRAGON PANTS OF GOLD, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
It’s about a group of 11-ish-year-old questers that live during the middle ages and roam the countryside looking for adventure. These “Quest Kids” have ATTEMPTED many quests, but they have yet to COMPLETE a single one. Plus, people are super reluctant to hire children to handle their delicate questing needs. But when a dragon threatens to destroy an entire mountain village unless he gets a stylish golden track jacket to go with his golden lounging pants, it’s the Quest Kids who step up to the challenge.

Quest Kids roll call…
Ned - Fearless leader who took up questing to track down his missing parents.
Gil - Ned’s fake-beard-wearing best friend who’s a wizard-in-training.
Terra - 700-year-old elf who still looks 11 and is a crack shot with a bow and arrow.
Boulder - Sensitive rock troll who prefers cooking dinner to crushing folks.
Ash – Fiery, flatulent pig-dog-thing.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Hopefully, they’re just laughing ’til their sides hurt. I don’t necessarily try to instill themes or messages in what I write. Those just sort of become apparent once I get the words on paper. This book seems to be about overcoming failure and embracing who you really are. So if someone takes anything away besides sore abdominals from laughter, I guess it would be that.

What part of QUEST KIDS AND THE DRAGON PANTS OF GOLD did you enjoy writing the most?
I like just being present with the characters. In a way, I feel like an unofficial Quest Kid who sort of accompanies them on their journeys. I don’t really know where any particular story is going to go. So being surprised with them along the way is definitely the most joyful part.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing QUEST KIDS AND THE DRAGON PANTS OF GOLD?
The most unforgettable moment was getting to share with my wife that Quest Kids had just been picked up for publication. I had just gotten off the phone with my agent, Stephen, who had delivered the good news. I quickly called my wife and the second I heard her voice, I choked up. I nervously told her to sit down, I think she thought someone had died. Then I somehow, through a weird combo of half crying/half hyperventilating, relayed what had just happened. It was one of those surreal standing outside of yourself moments.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Ned to Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. They’d love swapping stories, and Ned would learn a ton from Gandalf’s experience and just overall wizardly wisdom. Gandalf would get a kick out of Ned’s youthful enthusiasm and stick-to-itiveness.

Last thing you made with your own hands?
 Other than drawing a picture, or bending a wire hanger to retrieve something that I had dropped behind the sofa, I would say that I must have built something from Legos. Most likely some kind of a robot, which I’m sure my kids proceeded to make fun of.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Write a book! You don’t need to publish it or anything. Just coming up with something that never existed before is the fun part.

What is your greatest adventure?
This sounds corny, but it’s my family. Meeting my wife and having kids has been my greatest adventure by far. Waking up everyday surrounded by people that seem to enjoy my company and sometimes laugh at my jokes makes my life worth living.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
Probably just being 10 or 11 years old, and it’s the middle of summer. I’m hanging out with my brothers and we’ve enlisted the neighborhood kids to make some homemade sci-fi action movie with our oversized 1980s video camera. We’re all cracking each other up, and no one has anywhere else they’d rather be.

What was the most memorable toy you played with from when you were little?
The Green Machine! It was like a big wheel, but also sort of like a recumbent bike, and you would steer it using a couple levers. I never had one, there was a kid down the block who did. So it was a sort of a forbidden fruit type thing. I just remember really, REALLY wanting one for some reason.

What were you doing at midnight last night?
Dreaming, I suppose :)

  • 1 Performed sketch comedy in college
  • 2 Favorite movie is Jaws
  • 3 Named own child after a character from Jaws
  • 4 As a child, I was the last of my friends to stop playing with toys
  • 5 As a grown-up, I still sort of play with toys
  • 6 Sold cars and furniture while coming up with Quest Kids
  • 7 Drew a syndicated comic strip
  • 8 Eat M&Ms everyday (I try not to, but it just happens anyway)
  • 9 Worse at bowling than almost everyone reading this right now
  • 10 Have way too many streaming services and freeze up when I think about canceling a single one
Your journey to publication 
Publishing Quest Kids came about from a personal failure. I had grown up dreaming of becoming a cartoonist, which came true with my comic strip, Cow & Boy. But after eight years of living that dream, my comic strip was dropped from syndication. I wasn’t sure what to do after that. I didn’t want to create another comic and have it meet a similar fate in an ever-shrinking newspaper market.

Instead, I looked to what my kids were reading. Which turned out to be A LOT of graphic novels. The one that created the biggest impression on me was Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Kinney’s combination of comics and prose was just so inventive. When I discovered that Jeff had also strived to be a syndicated cartoonist, that sealed the deal for me and I started down this new path.

I had a degree in graphic design, but I took up jobs selling cars and then furniture so I could funnel ALL my creativity into making books. I submitted numerous proposals to agents, self-published a few things, and then I eventually came up with the idea for Quest Kids. Soon after, Writers House signed me and we shopped a manuscript around until Union Square Kids picked it up.

It took about 8 years to complete this journey, with a lot of starts and stops along the way. And, like I mentioned, I never try to write intentional messages or themes in my books, but it’s not lost on me just how much failure I had to endure to before writing a book about overcoming it.

Comics artist Mark Leiknes delivers a laugh-out-loud story set in a fantastic world of dragons, rock creatures, and golden loungewear.

The Quest Kids are ready for their first real quest. This time, they won’t oversleep, they won’t be put off by a little rain, and they won’t accidentally burn down the village that hired them. All they have to do is find the Golden-Fleeced Rage Beast, shave it, and make a really nice golden tracksuit to appease a furious dragon. Simple, right?

Meet the Quest Kids crew: Gil, a wizard (well, wizard in training . . . the beard isn’t his); Terra, a 700-year-old elf kid; Boulder, a rock troll who is more of a cook than a fighter; Ash, a flatulent pig-dog-maybe-lizard hybrid; and, Ned, the intrepid and overly optimistic leader with his own personal quest to find his missing parents. With humor, magic, mystery, and at least one acid swamp filled with skeletal alligators, Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold is a richly illustrated saga of fantasy friendship for readers from all kingdoms!

You can purchase Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.