Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
These are the questions I get most often when I speak to students, teachers and parents:
In what order should the comix be read?
When parents buy the set of all the Chester Comix, they often e-mail me to ask in which order they should be taught or read. Each comic has four stories, and I’ve tried to order them thematically (Wonder Women, Founding Fathers, etc.) but because each story was written to exist on its own as a week-long episode in a newspaper, there will be some overlap in the timeline as you read book to book. Chester’s adventures weren’t written to be a clearly sequential storyline, as you would see in a textbook that carefully marches students through American history.
Reading down the Chester Comix order form is a good guide (oldest part of the timeline starting up top), but I’ll restate the groupings here:
For CIVICS, you can read:
The ancient civilizations leading in to the Colonial period grouping would be (in chronological order):
Then you get a good grouping that covers the American Revolution (in chronological order):
Then I would read Constitution Construction; Lewis & Clark Transportation; and Heroic Folk to fill in the time between the Revolution and the Civil War.
The Civil War period books to be read in order are:
Then you read:
When did you start drawing?
When did I STOP?! I think all kids come to kindergarten happy to use a box of crayons. I did, too, and just kept drawing and drawing and drawing! By fourth grade I was drawing for the school newspaper. By fifth grade I was making my own comix – Dyno-man and the Army of Justice! I kept drawing my own books through high school. I also drew for the school newspapers in high school and college; In college I syndicated my political cartoons to small newspapers across New England. After school I found jobs reporting and drawing for newspapers and got the chance to create Chester the Crab for the Daily Press in Newport News in 1995.
Why do you draw a crab?
The 1995 assignment for the Daily Press was to draw four days of a cartoon explaining Earth Day to kids. I suggested a turtle with the recycling symbol on his shell. The editors wanted a narrator more specific to our part of Virginia. I looked around the Chesapeake Bay and found Chester in the tall grass! The Earth Day series was such a hit that I asked to keep drawing him in a weekly feature about . . . about lots of stuff! How do gas pumps know when to shut off? How tall was George Washington? Which came first, crunchy or creamy peanut butter? I’ve been drawing him ever since.
Why do the student characters have numbers on their shirts?
It’s a hint! Chester’s history adventures began as a trip through Virginia’s Standards of Learning. Each story is pegged to a standard, so sometimes I have a student along who would be studying that standard in his or her grade. The student with a 3 on her shirt is a third-grader, for example.
How long does it take to make one of your books?
It’s hard to know when the clock starts on this – because I’m ALWAYS reading and learning things that may become a new Chester story! But if I’m starting from scratch for a new book, as I did for one on Ancient India recently, let’s give two weeks for research and reading in the library. Then another week or 10 days to turn those ideas into a rough draft of a comic book story. Other people get to review and edit that draft for me. Then drawing the story in nicer form would take about a week per chapter (roughly one page a day, so a 24-page book takes a whole ‘nother MONTH!). Then coloring and cleaning up those pages takes another week per chapter – another MONTH for a 24-page book! What are we up to now, almost 12 weeks? Wow, it’s a good thing I love what I do!!
What kind of training did you get to become an author and cartoonist?
The only classes I took were public school art classes like kids take today. That and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! I didn’t even take an art class in college – my major was History and Literature at Harvard University, to teach me how to think, not how to draw a horse’s leg. I did take a great watercolor painting class as a grownup, but that’s it!
What kinds of pens do you use? Paper? Computer programs?
There is no “right” tool to use. Each artist is different – whatever works for you is what you should use! I tried using paintbrushes like the classic cartoonists, but that slowed me down. I like control and speed, so for my comic stories I use pencils and some nice acid-free archival pens: Zig Millennium. I draw on Bristol board with a vellum finish. I scan those hand drawings into my awesome MacBook Pro and color them with Adobe Photoshop and add words with Freehand.
Do you get paid good money?
Getting to do what you want for a living is priceless!
When will Chester be an animated cartoon?
That would be exciting. I look forward to learning how to do that with Flash animation and posting those cartoons on my web site for you all to view. It would be fun to make them choice cartoons so you could pick what the cartoon characters do! But so far there haven’t been enough hours in the day to do my books, speak to students AND start animating Chester! Soon, soon . . .
What do you like to read?
I READ EVERYTHING – thick history books for grown-ups, chapter books for kids, newspapers, magazines, web sites, comic books, cereal boxes . . . You can see a list of history comic books I recommend here.
Can you draw my teacher?
No. YOU should!