During PiBoIdMo in November, I met the author/illustrator duo, Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman – the creators of  Joey Fly Private Eye. (I’m actually quite looking forward to a caricature I won during PiBoIdMo – Neil’s buggy interpretation of me. :P)

Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome Neil and Aaron to my blog, where they will very clearly and cleverly demonstrate HOW they craft a graphic novel. Neil and Aaron are going to be buzzing around for a couple of days – and they have some goodies to share. Check back in tomorrow for free masks to download… AND… everyone who leaves a comment on this blog post goes into the running to WIN a personalised buggy caricature – by Neil. There will be one winner for every ten comments on the post. So stick around – look and learn – and leave your comment!

Fly past next week for my review of ‘Joey Fly Private Eye in Big Hairy Drama’.

For now though, it’s over to Aaron and Neil… (This is excellent!)


by Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman

(Interior. Aaron Reynolds, a writer of children’s books and graphic novels, is sitting at his writing desk. He’s typing, but suddenly stops when a shadow falls over his screen. It’s a kid, about ten or eleven.)

Aaron: (looking up) Hey.

Kid: Hey. Whatcha doin’?

Aaron: Um…writing. Who are you? What are you doing in my writing room?

Kid: I’m just some random kid.

Aaron: Ah. A random kid in my writing room. Okay.

Kid: Yeah. Act like I’m not here. (pause…Aaron starts to get back to work, but is interrupted) Aren’t you an author?

Aaron: (turning back around) Ignore you, huh? That’s gonna be tricky. Yeah. I write kid’s books and graphic novels.

Kid: Graphic novels? Like comic books?
Aaron: Kinda.

Kid: Whatcha writing now?

Aaron: An article about how a graphic novel gets made, but I wanted to write it LIKE a graphic novel, so that’s what I’m doing.

Kid: But…there’s no pictures. A graphic novel has lots of pictures.

Aaron: Not at first. Not mine anyway.

Kid: What?

Aaron: Seriously. I don’t draw.

Kid: I must have the wrong house then. I thought the dude that lives here makes graphic novels.

Aaron: I do. But I don’t draw them….I write them.

(Kid pauses while he thinks about this, then…)
Kid: That’s messed up.

Aaron: No, it’s not.

Kid: You can’t make a graphic novel without being able to draw.

Aaron: Well, I do. Like my new graphic novel…it’s called Joey Fly, Private Eye…

Kid: Way to work that in there. Nice plug. Smooth.

Aaron: Yeah, thanks. Well, Joey Fly starts out like this. A script, just like this one.

Kid: Just the stuff people say?

Aaron: Mostly. I also write in what I see happening in each scene.

(Kid flops into a big cushy chair and puts his feet on Aaron’s writing desk, makes himself at home. He looks at Aaron like he’s lost his mind.)

Aaron: See? Like that. It’s called “stage directions”.

Kid: Oh cool! Like actions and stuff!

Aaron: Yeah, exactly.

Kid: Do it again.

(Kid gets up, kind of excited now. He’s putting it all together in his head, but then he notices a fresh sandwich on Aaron’s desk. Goes over, lifts the bread…he’s kinda hungry…but decides he doesn’t like tuna. Flops back down in the chair.)

Kid: Hey, that’s awesome how you made me do all that stuff! And I do hate tuna.

Aaron: It’s a script. In the graphic novel, I write the story. I come up with the characters. In Joey Fly, Private Eye, I create what happens, what characters are in it, all that stuff. Then I put it into a story…a script like this.

Kid: But it’s not a graphic novel. No pictures.

Aaron: Not yet. It will be soon. But first, I break it into panels.

Kid: Panels?

Aaron: Like this. Chunks. How I imagine it will get broken into boxes in the finished graphic novel. This helps me figure out the flow and pacing of the story, helps me cut extra junk that’s not needed, and helps the illustrator figure out how he’s gonna lay out the pictures on the page.

Kid: Cool. I notice you use lots of words like “gonna” and “whatcha” and stuff. My Language Arts teacher would go nuts on you for that.

Aaron: Yeah, well… I try to write how people really talk. I think that’s important, especially for a graphic novel. It all depends on the character. Like, Joey Fly says some gonnas, but he also uses lots of detective-y phrases…

Joey: Life in the bug city. It ain’t easy. Crime sticks to this city like a one-winged fly on a fifty-cent swatter.

Aaron: Like that. That’s his opening line in the book.

Kid: Okay, that’s pretty funny.

Aaron: Well, I try.

Kid: But it’s still not a graphic novel.

Aaron: Man, for a random kid who shows up in my writing room, you’re seriously pushy.

Kid: Do you know many eleven-year-olds? We’re all like this.

Aaron: That’s right. Not being one, I forget sometimes.

Aaron: Well, now that it’s all broken into panels, I give it to my publisher. And once she’s happy with it, she sends it off to the illustrator and he starts drawing.

Kid: You tell him what to draw?

Aaron: No.

Kid: You tell him what the characters should look like?

Aaron: No.

Kid: What do you tell him?

Aaron: Nothing. Most of the time, we never even meet.

(pause…the kid’s mouth is hanging open.)

Kid: That is seriously messed up.

Aaron: That’s how it works. Unless you are the writer and the illustrator (which I’m not…I don’t draw, remember?), that’s how it works.

Kid: So what happens then?

Aaron: The illustrator looks at it and begins to sketch out what he thinks the characters look like.

Aaron: Like, for Joey Fly, Private Eye, the illustrator is a guy named Neil Numberman.

Neil: Hey kid. What’s up? Hey Aaron.

Aaron: Hey Neil. So, Neil might decide after reading this script that you look like this:

Kid: That’s me?

Neil: Yep.

Kid: You made me a bug!

Neil: Well, we’re talking about Joey Fly, Private Eye, so I’m thinking in bugs. It’s my job to use my imagination, to come up with my ideas of what Aaron’s characters and story look like.

Kid: Cool.

Neil: And as I start drawing and figuring out what it all looks like, Aaron’s story moves away from being a script and I start creating real characters…

Neil: …and pretty soon, I take Aaron’s written words and begin to put them into the mouths of the characters I’ve created.

Aaron Reynolds is a human, not a bug, but he often writes about bugs. He is the author of Chicks and Salsa, Superhero School, Buffalo Wings, and, of course, the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novels.

Neil Numberman is a termite currently residing in New York City. Joey Fly, Private Eye is his first graphic novel, but he is also the author/illustrator of the picture book Do NOT Build a Frankenstein.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for Aaron and Neil. For every 10 comments, we’ll randomly select one winner to receive a bug caricature by Neil. You have until Wednesday, 15 December to comment and be in contention for a caricature.

What do you think?


  1. Thanks for this awesome post, Kat, Aaron and Neil,

    I have to admit you make writing a graphic novel sound a lot easier than I thought it was.

    I’m looking forward to the next instalment.



  2. This is amazing! Big kudos to Kat for snagging y’all and to Neil for such an amazing example. I am highly interested in creating graphic novels myself, and only wish I could draw. I’ve read that it’s possible to write and submit graphic novels without the artwork. Could that really be true? I’ve bookmarked this post, and will re-visit it when I get some time to myself to really THINK.

    As an aside, I’m thrilled to have won a caricature by Neil of my son Joe. Oh, and I saw Joey Fly at my library the other day displayed prominently with some other graphic novels.

    Congratulations on your success!


  3. Wow, thanks Kat, Aaron and Neil for the great read. Your blog is informative, entertaining and funny. I’ve wondered how graphic novels are created. Now I know. Thanks. Plus, I felt so at home, seeing as my favourite character is a cockroach. I want to be in your graphic novel too.

    Congratulations on your success. I wish you plenty more. You deserve it!



  4. Super post! And you make it look so easy! Would you say that writing a graphic novel is like screenwriting, and would you say that a class in screenwriting would be a good idea for someone who wanted to write a graphic novel? Or are they actually quite different from each other?

    Thanks for the informative and entertaining read.


    • Hi Ishta,

      I would say that writing a graphic novel is very much like writing a screenplay or a play script (a little more like a play script than screenplay, simply for formatting reasons). As far as learning about screenplay writing being helpful in the process of writing graphic novels…absolutely! My background is theatre, and I was writing plays long before I started writing for kids, so when the opportunity came to do a graphic novel, I felt well prepared to dive in. As a writer of plays, I struggle much more with long-form narrative (traditional novels) than I do with graphic novels, because I naturally think in terms of dialogue, action, stage directions, and all the rest, which are perfect fits for graphic novel writing.


  5. Thanks all!

    @Heather…it absolutely is possible to submit a graphic novel manuscript and not be the illustrator! It’s exactly how it worked for me on Joey Fly #1 and #2, as well as my other graphic novel series, Tiger Moth, Insect Ninja. I write the complete manuscript, which looks very much like this article did before the illustrations joined in, and Neil was added to the equation later on.

    The same process was done for this article you just read. I wrote the entire script for it, then Neil illustrated the sections that called for illustrations in the article itself. It’s very much how the process works when you’re not the one writing and drawing it all. 🙂

    As a side note, thanks a mil (should that be million or millipede?) to Kat for having us as guests over the next several days! We’ll be around, popping in, and happy to be part of the conversation if you have questions or comments you want us to respond to along the way.

    ~Aaron Reynolds


  6. That is an amazing lesson in how to create a graphic novel. Thankyou Kat for inviting Neil and Aaron to share that fantastic lesson of how it all happens. And thanks to Neil and Aaron for being so generous… (and the random kid!) too. Guess I should add a thanks to the ‘fly’ too. 🙂


  7. Thanks all for visiting and leaving your comments. It is a brilliant post from Aaron and Neil – and one that I will be referring back to if and when a graphic novel idea brews… Certainly you’ve got me thinking!

    Ishta – I didn’t moderate your comment until after Aaron visited – so he wasn’t ignoring you! You were still in cyberspace.

    And I realised that I hadn’t added links to Neil and Aaron’s blogs – so I’ve done that now too. (Sorry guys!!) Flick across and check them out.


  8. Nice work. It must be a tricky business keeping track of the graphic component as the story lengthens when the graphics are only a set of instructions. I remember reading a series of graphic novels that were each probably a hundred or more pages. The whole set was so complicated it blew me away. Imagining something that complex without the actual pictures is a great skill.


  9. So who’s our winner in the comments section?! I’m getting ANTsy (oof) to buggerize someone! And thanks everyone for taking the time, and especially Kat, for hosting us multiple times thru multiple platforms this month!!


  10. The pressure. The pressure! Okay – we have our winner… The winner of the buggy caricature by Neil Numberman is…

    *Neil thrums his fingers on the desk to create drumroll…*


    Congratulations Meryl. If you can email your photo through to me, I will forward it to Neil and he can put his ANTS to bed – with the bed bugs that DO bite, as I know from reading Joey Fly – and everyone will be happy.

    Thankyou to all who left comments. If we have any more comments before Wednesday, we may yet be able to find another winner – just to keep Neil on his toes!

    And tomorrow – look for my review of Joey Fly 2.


  11. Guys, I love the way your sense of humour shines though in the work and thoughout your post as well – you also make the drawing look effortless, even thought I can imagine how long this all takes. Thanks for the post Kat, Aaron and Neil. (PS I reckon a cartoon of Kat wouldn’t be hard to recognise!)


  12. Guyes!, love the way you use real life people and change them into a different character. The way you use inthusiasum to express characters fealings is awsome. Just from reading your cartoon it has enspired me to now write cartoons as well as having a go at writing my own OUT THERE! stories.

    P.S Neil, your drawings are funny and well done.


  13. Oh yay! There’s another 10 comments – so I can give another prize away!! (I love the fact that Neil’s creativity allows me to be so generous!)

    Congratulations Tara – an enthusiastic young writer who will surely be inspired by Neil’s caricature. I will be in touch by email…

    And thankyou everyone for leaving your comments. It’s been fun. Also huge thanks (again) to Aaron and Neil, for sharing your creative process in such a unique way. AND for coming up with the goods for the masks and the competition.

    Long may Joey Fly rule the insect underworld!


  14. Kat emailed me privately, so I didn’t realise it had been announced here so excitedly with drum rolls and all… thank you so much. Kat can tell you I was jumping out of my skin when I heard. I’m so looking forward to recieving the caracature… If Kat can ask to not be a hairy huntsman can I ask that I don’t be any sort of squirmy wormy sort of thing… I have a real phobia toward earthworms and snakes and anything like that… hopefully they’re not classed as bugs, even though they ‘bug’ me.
    Thank you again… so much.


  15. Pingback: Kat the Neil Numberman Caricature « Kathryn Apel

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