By Michele Kirichanskaya
Today we’re pleased to welcome Kathryn Ormsbee and Molly Brooks to the WNDB blog to discuss their graphic novel Growing Pangs, out since May 3, 2022!
First of all, welcome to We Need Diverse Books! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Kathryn: Hey there! My name is Kathryn Ormsbee, and I write books for kids and young adults. My first book was published in 2015, and I’ve written several Middle Grade and YA titles since, including Tash Hearts Tolstoy and The House in Poplar Wood. I live in Oregon with my wife and our dog, where I podcast, compose music, and make candles. (I’ll be opening my online candle shop, The Ginger Cauldron, later this year!)
Molly: I’m Molly Brooks, and I’ve been making graphic novels since 2017! I live in Brooklyn with my wife and our three ridiculous cats. When I’m not working on books, I draw illustrations for newspapers and magazines, and also do a lot (a LOT) of knitting.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Growing Pangs?
Kathryn: Growing Pangs follows eleven-year-old Katie as she navigates a sixth grade year packed with changes. At the heart of the book is Katie’s struggle with anxiety and OCD, as well as a major friendship breakup and its aftermath. Some other elements you can expect from the book include summer camp, Broadway musical references, homeschooling, the Kentucky Derby, and early aughts nostalgia.
Molly: And don’t forget the sister relationship! I love the scenes that show Katie and her older sister Ashley supporting each other.
Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did the two of you end up working together on this project?
My editors at Random House bought Growing Pangs as a script, without an illustrator attached to the project, and I feel lucky beyond belief that they a) took that risk and b) found Molly! They were the ones who approached Molly and brought us together to work on the project.
Molly: This is Kathryn’s story, but it’s kind of bonkers how much of it matches my own experience. Like Kathryn, I also grew up in suburbia in the late-nineties/early aughts, so most of the visuals in the book I was able to pull from my own memories and experiences. For example, Katie’s house in the book is based on my best friend’s house from middle school, and I knew EXACTLY what every character would be wearing, depending on how cool they were. I also struggled with OCD as a child, and I related intensely to the scenes where Katie is struggling to keep anyone from noticing her internal struggles. I think that first-hand experience helped me to draw those scenes in a more authentic way.
How did the both of you become interested in the graphic novel medium? What were some of your first introductions to the medium?
Kathryn: I was obsessed with newspaper comics as a kid. Every morning, when the family paper arrived, I’d snag the comics section to devour alongside my breakfast. I went on to read a lot of graphics-heavy books and magazines as a kid, but that literary diet was slowly replaced by a heavy load of more traditional novels in middle and high school.
Then, in college, a friend lent me their copy of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I stayed up until 3 AM in my dorm room bed, consumed with the story. The contents of that book deeply impacted me in a way that reminded me of the Big Feelings I’d felt as a young reader.
I gobbled up tons of graphic novel content after that, but as much as I loved the medium, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to write a graphic novel without also having illustrative skill. (And I have . . . uh, none of that.) I would’ve gone on thinking that if my agent, Beth Phelan, hadn’t suggested the possibility of pitching a graphic novel script. And I am so glad that she did.
Molly: My first graphic novels were all manga—as a kid I was absolutely obsessed with Sailor Moon, and Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 was one of the first times I realized how seamless and invisible good visual pacing can be. I read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud in middle school, and it blew my mind, then I read Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art in high school, and it blew my mind AGAIN. I’ve been fascinated by the puzzle of how to combine words and still pictures into a mind-movie ever since.
For those curious about what goes into a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? What was it like collaborating to make this story?
Kathryn: I’ve written other traditionally published novels, but this was my first graphic novel, and the process was new and different in countless ways! First, the writing. I devised a color-coded system for the Growing Pangs manuscript, which included narration, dialogue, sound effects, panel descriptions, and panel sizes. The drafting process felt more similar to screenwriting—something I did in college and my early twenties—than it did to traditional novel-writing, and it could be challenging; talk about a domino effect when I removed even one panel from a page! But the new approach was also refreshing. I was forced to think outside of the storytelling box I’d become accustomed to, and I got the chance to incorporate visual elements into my story, which was so fun.
Once I’d completed the manuscript, I initially worked with my two amazing editors—Shana Corey and Polo Orozco—on text-only revisions. Then, once all of the big picture revisions had been incorporated, my editors passed the script on to Molly. When I got the first draft of the book that incorporated Molly’s art, I geeked out for hours. Molly took all of the descriptions from the manuscript and brought them to life. She captured so perfectly what I’d been envisioning for Katie’s story, and many times, she brought even more to the panel than I’d thought possible.
From there, revisions became more collaborative as my editors, Molly, and I took into account all the ways that the text and images intersected. Molly continued to revise the art, I continued to revise the text, and both Bex Glendining and Elise Schuenke came on board to do coloring. So many talented folks worked to make Growing Pangs happen, and it was downright thrilling to watch all of our disparate parts come together in one final manuscript.
Molly: I was super impressed by Kathryn’s script, because it can be really difficult to gauge how much text, detail, and action a page can hold. Even when I’m writing scripts for myself, it’s very hard to work out the pacing and word counts so that the text doesn’t crowd the page (I always end up cutting a lot of dialogue while I pencil). Kathryn’s script was very clear and easy to draw from. It was obvious that she wasn’t thinking of this as a book-with-pictures-slapped-on, but as a story told with the words and pictures working together.
Another very exciting part of the projects was the color! This was my first time working with a colorist, and it was so amazing to see my black-and-white line art transformed by Bex and Elise’s work. They really did a fantastic job of using color to reinforce the emotions of each moment, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the final result!
Growing Pangs centers around the very important subject of mental health, specifically anxiety and OCD. Could you discuss why you made this decision?
Kathryn: I touched on this earlier, but Katie’s struggles with anxiety and OCD are based on my own experiences. I’ve dealt with obsessive thoughts and compulsions from a very young age, and for a long time I didn’t have the vocabulary to put into words what I was going through. I thought that I was the only kid on earth who experienced what I call my “buzzing thoughts” and that my compulsions, like double-checking and tapping, were embarrassing behaviors that I had to hide from others. And of course, that shame only resulted in more anxiety and feelings of isolation. If I’d been able to see my experience reflected in a book? I would’ve felt seen, validated, and reassured. My biggest hope for this book is that it provides that validation and reassurance for young readers going through similar experiences today.
Molly: I would have really appreciated having this book as a kid. There are so many things about growing up that make us feel weird and isolated, and it took me a long time to realize that one of the things that made me feel the most isolated—my intense intrusive thoughts and the compulsive behaviors to alleviate them—didn’t have to be a source of SHAME, as well as anxiety. I’ve struggled with OCD for most of my life, and a lot of trouble could have been avoided if it had been identified and addressed early on.
What are some messages you would want readers to take away from the book?
- Friendships evolve and change because people evolve and change, and that’s okay! Sometimes there are different friendships for different seasons of life, and just because a friendship fades or ends doesn’t make that relationship any less meaningful.
- If you’re experiencing anxiety and/or OCD, you are not alone, and you deserve to be heard and understood. It’s normal and okay to reach out to trusted adults—including a licensed mental health professional.
- Some haircuts can be a mistake, but they’ll always be memorable. 🙂
Molly: When you feel something intensely, it seems like that feeling will be intense forever. Like you will ALWAYS be THIS anxious, or this embarrassed, or this hurt, or this angry. But that isn’t how it works. One thing I really like about this story is that we get to see Katie’s intense emotional reactions to things, and then see her acknowledge later that she feels differently after the moment has passed.
What advice would you give to aspiring creators today, both those who write and those who draw?
Kathryn: To aspiring writers, I say . . . read and write! That sounds basic as all get-out, I know, but here’s what I really mean: keep reading and keep writing.
Read a paperback, tune in to an audiobook, listen to a podcast, watch a new streaming series, or take in any other kind of art! When I stop absorbing creative input, I often grow stagnant in my writing process. That’s why I think that it’s important to fill your creative well, open your imagination to new possibilities, and explore new mediums. There is always more to learn and appreciate about good storytelling.
Then there’s this whole writing thing. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that you have to write for X hours every day/week; I’ve gone months without writing creatively, and that’s often necessary for my own mental health. When I say to keep writing, I simply mean to keep writing in the long run. As a traditionally published author, there is so little about the publishing process that is in my control, but the one thing I can do is keep writing. And I’ve found that usually, the more I write, the more I grow as a writer, and that’s pretty darn rewarding, regardless of what’s going on in the publishing world.
My last piece of advice? If the above advice doesn’t work for you, then disregard it! In the end, you know what works for you as a storyteller.
Molly: For anyone trying to make anything, the piece of advice that has helped me the most is to *finish things.* Even if it’s not perfect, even if you already have a better idea for the next project, just getting something all the way to a finished product (instead of abandoning it in frustration because it’s NOT perfect) makes you a better creator, and more prepared to tackle the next book/story/drawing/etc.
For aspiring artists, I recommend drawing from life: Look at a thing and draw it. The act of looking, of actively trying to notice things about an object, will make your drawings better, including the ones you draw from your imagination.
Finally, what books/comics would you recommend to the readers of We Need Diverse Books?
Kathryn: So many, so I’ll keep to a short list of recently released or upcoming books. I loved Lin Thompson’s debut Middle Grade novel, The Best Liars In Riverview, which just came out in March. Without fail, Natalie Lloyd’s books make me a) ugly cry and b) feel all the feels, so I am champing at the bit for the August release of her newest book, Hummingbird. I have been enchanted by Sophie Escabasse’s ongoing Witches of Brooklyn series, and finally, you gotta check out Shortcuts, the most recent installment of the one and only Molly Brooks’s Sanity & Tallulah series!
Molly: I haven’t been able to keep up with a lot of recent releases, but I adore my friend Andrea Tsurumi’s new picture book with Jarret Dapier, Mr. Watson’s Chickens—come for the thousands of chickens causing hilarious chaos, stay for the casual queer representation.
Kathryn (K.E.) Ormsbee is the author of several Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. She was born and raised in the Bluegrass State and now lives in Salem, Oregon. Visit her online at kathrynormsbee.com and @kathsby.
Molly Brooks is the author and illustrator of the Sanity & Tallulah graphic novel series as well as the illustrator of Flying Machines and many other short comics. She grew up in Tennessee and now lives in Brooklyn. Visit her online at mollybrooks.com and @mollybrooks.
Michele Kirichanskaya (she/