5 Questions With Jay Hosler, author of Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth

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In honor of Children’s Book Week’s partnership with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, I’m pleased to present a Q&A with Jay Hosle, author of Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth

Interview was conducted by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (Giants Beware)

RAFAEL/JORGE: Hi, Jay – so great to meet you. “Evolution” is an incredible book! Thanks for taking time to answer our questions.

Jay Hosler: Thanks for having me! I’m glad you liked Evolution. It was a pleasure to work on it with Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon. That was easily one of the most comfortable creative collaborations I’ve ever had. They made my words look good and for that I will be eternally grateful.

RAFAEL/JORGE: Rafael lives in Columbus and Jorge was born and raised there. And like you, we both went to Ohio State. You’ve mentioned the support you received in your early work from one of our favorite comic book shops, Columbus’ Laughing Ogre. Can you elaborate on how they were supportive?

Columbus! Lisa and I loved living there during my four years as a postdoc at the (now defunct – not my fault) Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Research Lab. Our oldest son was born in Columbus and it was a great city to live in.

The Laughing Ogre was supportive motivationally and materially. Gib Bickel was the man behind the counter and the person I talked to every Wednesday when I picked up my weekly supply of comics. He was also willing to listen to my ideas, offer suggestions and tell me what he liked and what he didn’t. His support and encouragement of my work gave me the confidence to apply for a Xeric Grant to fund the first issue of my honey bee comic Clan Apis. One form of material support came from Rod Phillips who colored my first cover. Most significant of all, of course, was the material financial support provided by Daryn Guarino. Daryn bankrolled the printing of the second issue of Clan Apis and eventually we became partners in Active Synapse comics, printing my graphic novels Clan Apis, The Sandwalk Adventures and Optical Allusions. Daryn did all of the hard work while I was writing and drawing. He handled orders and shipping, dealt with printers and got the books translated into several different languages. He is a rock star.

So, I think it’s safe to say that I owe a lot to the Ogres!

RAFAEL/JORGE: Can you discuss a little your scripting process? Since your work is science related is there a long gestation period for research?

Jay: One of the great things about doing science comics is that I’ve spent most of my academic life researching my topics. The work I did as a graduate student and postdoc was on honey bees so I was ready to write Clan Apis once inspiration struck. Evolution is structured much like the evolution course I teach at Juniata College, so I already had the basic structure and content for the book.

That said, once I start on a book, I do a lot of very focused reading and allow myself latitude when I stumble cross something new and exciting.

I usually write my scripts in the form of character dialogues and I compose explanations as I would deliver them in class. Since it’s a dialogue, I usually find myself talking to myself, playing the parts of each of the characters and typing as fast as I can. In the process, I allow the conversation to go where it will. If it works it stays. If not, I rewind my mental tape and start the conversation again. When I have the first draft of the script, I set it aside for a few days. When I pick it up again, I read it out loud and make corrections as I go to make the ideas flow as naturally as possible. Ultimately, if the reader is stumbling through a poorly worded explanation, I won’t inspire interest and they will stop reading. That’s a double fail.

In terms of the art, if I’m writing for someone else, I will provide image suggestions when it is essential and stand back and let the artists be creative when I can. If I’m writing for myself, I can usually see the page in my head, so the scripts are usually just lines of dialogue. Often as I am thumb nailing the page, I will make further revisions in the writing, expanding or cutting to coordinate the best delivery of lines and jokes with the visuals.

RAFAEL/JORGE: You are a scientist who makes comics. There are not very many people like you. How did that happen? In whose footsteps are you following? Anyone?

Jay: I have been interested in science, drawing and comics for as long as I can remember, but for most of my life those interests ran in parallel. I was a cartoonist for my high school, college and graduate school newspapers. The topics were typically pretty banal stuff like “this class is hard” and “I can’t get a date.” Simultaneously, I was getting a degree in biology and doing research on the neurophysiology of insects. It wasn’t until I was preparing for my postdoctoral research at Ohio State that it occurred to me to combine those interests. I was reading a book called the The Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark Winston and I remember thinking that someone should write a comic about bees. About a year later, the bulb finally went off over my head and I realized that someone could be me.

While I have been inspired by the work of a whole host of scientists and cartoonists, I can’t really say that I am following in anyone’s footsteps. At times, it feels as if I’m trudging down a path that hasn’t been used much.

RAFAEL/JORGE: What are you working on next?

Jay: My next book is Last of the Sandwalkers and it the story of a group of beetle scientists that discover our world. It is full of adventure and lots and lots of cool beetles. It’s being released on April 7th. After that, who knows? If the beetles are a hit, maybe I can tell more of their stories. That would be fun. If not, there are plenty of other insects in the forest…

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