Chad Sell’s middle-grade graphic novel debut, The Cardboard Kingdom (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers), is an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2018 selection and a Summer 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.
Sell is a Chicago-based comic artist best known for his illustrations of drag queens based on the reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race. The Cardboard Kingdom, which Sell collaborated on with a number of fellow authors and illustrators, follows a group of neighborhood kids through their summer break as they create cardboard alter-egos with intertwining storylines.
“This delightful graphic novel is a game of Dungeons & Dragons, a superhero story, and a kaiju match all in one,” said Destenie Fafard of Cellar Door Books in Riverside, California, who served on the bookseller panel that chose Sell’s book for the Indies Introduce program. “Any nerdy, imaginative kid will get a kick out of this read; plus, it boasts a truly diverse set of characters that deal with all sorts of problems but find solutions through their friendships and cardboard craft.”
Here, Fafard and Sell discuss the development of his idea for this graphic novel and the collaboration that went into creating the characters.
Destenie Fafard: In the age of parents who rely on cell phones and tablets to keep kids entertained, the stories told in The Cardboard Kingdom are about kids using their creativity and imagination to make elaborate worlds and costumes out of cardboard. Do you see the book as a response to this tech trend?
Chad Sell: I see the book as a celebration of creativity rather than a statement against anything. I think a lot of the characters’ creativity stems from my own childhood experiences and those of my collaborators, and we’re all old enough to have grown up in a world before smartphones!
DF: As a self-identified nerd, I loved the allusions to tabletop games (like Dungeons & Dragons), video games, comic books, and kaiju films. How much were you inspired by nerd culture? How do you hope kids who are a little nerdy will react to these stories?
CS: I am absolutely a nerd, too! And since I had a team of 10 other writers, they were all able to bring their own geeky interests into the mix. I wanted the Kingdom to feel like a patchwork world where superheroes, monsters, and every kind of fantastical creature could team up for wild adventures. And I’m hoping that kids respond to that and run with it — I would love to see cosplay, fan art, and custom cardboard creations!
DF: The Cardboard Kingdom has a list of contributing writers from many different walks of life, and the diversity of the book’s characters and the issues they navigate are hugely alluring. What was the process of writing this breadth of diversity like? And how did working with a team inform that process?
CS: The collaborative element behind The Cardboard Kingdom provided countless moments of pure creative magic throughout the years of making this book. It might sound corny, but it’s true! Each creator came to me with a short story pitch, and I was surprised how autobiographical some of them were. In the early stages of developing each story, I would have long phone calls and e-mail exchanges with the creators, asking them questions about their own experiences and their ideas for their stories. They brought so much perspective and emotional weight to the book, whether it’s from the point of view of a young boy wrestling with his parents’ scary separation, or a young girl struggling with conflicting advice from her Dominican father. And then, of course, they were able to offer valuable insight on each other’s work, too, and share in the enthusiasm and excitement of seeing the book make it out into the world!
DF: Graphic novels are not only gaining popularity but are crucial to literacy. What would you say to someone who has never picked up a graphic novel or to parents who are unconvinced of their merits?
CS: Although graphic novels might not cram as many words onto a page as a prose book, the combination of imagery with text can convey all kinds of complicated meanings and emotions. Comics aren’t necessarily simplistic or juvenile. The act of reading a comic can be a fairly sophisticated process, and I hope that readers find the stories in The Cardboard Kingdom to be moving, rich, and impactful.
DF: What would your cardboard alter-ego be?
CS: Oh, trust me, I’m fully expecting to show up at events dressed up as a variety of different characters from The Cardboard Kingdom — it’s too hard to pick just one! I’m excited to dress up as the superheroic Gargoyle, the scholarly Professor Everything, and the towering titan of terror: The Robot! I’ve even been working on a design for a cardboard bow tie to wear to formal events! (Hey, I already told you I’m a nerd!!)
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9781524719371, Middle Grade Graphic Novel, $20.99) On Sale Date: 6/5/2018.
Find out more about the author at chadsellcomics.com.
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