I was somewhat raised on comic books. Much of my early and teen development was shaped by panel to panel illustrations. As such, the directness of communicating with pictures has always held a special power in my life. My observation, raising three kids and having tons of comic pals, is that I am not alone.
In fact, many people are visual learners and are pulled and retained into stories where there are more pictures. Pictures also can cut across language barriers and tend to be more universal. That combined with a lifetime of drawing Silly Daddy comics made the decision to make illustrated books a very natural progression.
– How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?
Since I became a Christian in 1998, I started making works that were safe for all ages. However, anything before that period I cannot vouch for–I was pretty out there. All my eBooks have a pretty wide appeal. Star Chosen, my sci-fi space opera novel, can be appreciated by readers from 10 to 110. It’s basically Battlestar Galactica meets the Bible. Along with the sequel, Power Pendant of Planet Pizon, they’re the only books of mine that are not illustrated.
All my other works are illustrated by me and cover slightly different genres. Silly Daddy in Space has the widest appeal as a sci-fi cartoon book. It’s for ages 6 and up.
Also heavily illustrated is my book Armed with Intergalactic Weapons. That is actually my life story, but told as if it were a science fiction story set 1,000 years into the future when outer space gets colonized. I actually consider this a new genre: autobiographical science fiction.
The Back Pain Avenger, my newest release is a non-medicated memoir of my rehabilitation from decades of chronic back pain. That’s also a mix of comics and straight text narration, for ages 16 and up. It reads like a “how to get healed of back pain” book as well as a warm and funny slice of life story.
In drawing the covers for Star Chosen and it’s sequel, Power Pendant of Planet Pizon, I had to picture real people and blast them into futuristic styles and planets. It helps me to have a real voice and image in mind to launch out from when creating characters. That the fun part of writing fiction.
– How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?
I try to have at least one in each chapter, but often it ends up like 6 comics in a chapter. Plus my chapters tend to be short so the books are full of comics and illustrations, hearkening back to my do-it-yourself zine days. That’s sort of an intuitive area for me. It’s not an exact science, but more about adding value and helping readers remember more. People tend to retain the visual stuff.
– I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this?
That’s one of those opinion matters where there’s no real right or wrong. Debating about it seems a bit silly in the larger scheme of things. If the creators want to define the look of the characters, great. If not, that’s fine too. It’s just a different experience. I like to define most of my characters so I can more easily picture them moving forward. I need something concrete.
– Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?
Since I’m known as a cartoonist with over twenty years in the industry, many of my readers expect illustrations. So I deliver. As for how the illustrations enhance the book, I can say this: Formatting eBooks is a relatively new trade. And I have seen some poorly formatted eBooks from others with illustrations that were definitely not designed for the small screen eReader experience. So I have an advantage in that I am specifically creating comics and illustrations that I prefer to be viewed on small screen eReaders. It’s a quality control issue. My wife and I proof my books on a Kindle. If the illustrations and cartoons don’t pop, then I know somethings wrong. So I make sure they pop.
– What has been the response from your readers? Did you notice your fan base increase dramatically?
My fan base has been increasing every year for quite some time, and it is neat to see my work reaching audiences that I hadn’t imagined. For example, I have about ten chapters of Star Chosen available for free online and that’s been read over 50,000 times. The book hasn’t even been out two years yet. That’s not bad.
The usual stuff. I send out press releases, highlight it on my blog http://joechiappetta.blogspot.com, use social media, send review copies out, and offer free samples.
– Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book?
I write most of the books in HTML code as part of the creative process. I know that sounds bizarre, but that really helps me make sure I am thinking about end user experience if I know what code is there. Images take a little time to figure out for Kindle. Reading up on the Amazon Community image file specs for Kindle, it quickly becomes clear that there is not one standard. So you have to experiment a little. I find that 520 pixels wide by 622 high images work best, but 450 pixels wide by 550 pixels high is safest. It depends on what an author wants to do with the illustrations.
– Do you offer a print version or digital only?
Star Chosen has print and digital versions. All other books are digital only–for now.
– How did you determine pricing?
I try to equate pricing with time spent on the project and quantity of content. For instance, Star Chosen is over 60,000 words and took five years to complete. So that eBook goes for $4.99. However, shorter works sell for 99 cents.
– How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?
I have published about 30 books over the years, almost all of them have been heavily illustrated. Five of the most recent works are available as eBooks on Amazon, B&N plus my own site.
– What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?
Keep the illustrations fairly high contrast. Make sure your blacks are solid blacks or they might get converted into a washed out look on Kindle’s black and white E Ink screen. If there is text lettered into the illustrations (like in my comics) make sure the lettering is very large. Zooming in is not a pleasurable reading experience.
Lastly, I would think through why you want to put out a book. Write your reasons down on paper, and then discuss it with people you trust. Then see what they have to say.
Joe Chiappetta is an American author and cartoonist, grateful to be happily married with three children. Currently living in North Riverside, Illinois, his formal education was from Northern Illinois University, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in painting.
While trained in the more traditional visual arts, his lifetime creative focus has been in writing and cartooning. As one of the key members of the Independent Comics Movement of the late 1980s and 1990s, Chiappetta’s work is respected around the globe. He is best known as the man behind one of the longest running autobiographical comics, SILLY DADDY, which has been a rewarding creative endeavor since 1991. The series has received the following professional recognition:
Xeric Award Winner
Ignatz Award Nominee for Outstanding Story
Harvey Award Nominee for Best New Series
While the bulk of Chiappetta’s work has been within autobiographical comics, he has also maintained a focus on science fiction writing. SILLY DADDY plots are notorious for taking off on sci-fi themed subplots. As a natural progression, Joe’s 2010 release, STAR CHOSEN, is a science fiction space opera for the whole family. That book is his first full length novel without pictures.
In 1998 Joe became a Christian, which is often evident in the world view represented in his writings thereafter. Due to personal experience with a number of health impairments, Joe also writes about disability issues in his work, combining humor with the intent to help others have more compassion for those in need.
From his stories, one can tell that Joe enjoys spending time with God, family, other people with disabilities, science fiction geeks, and corny jokers. Also, at a moment’s notice, he’s usually up for a good game of chess, bike riding, building forts in the woods, wrestling, foam sword fighting, and Bible study.