What happens when two aspiring artists meet in college, shoot a film in a bar, and reunite over a decade later to publish a children’s book? They create the critically-praised, new graphic novel Giants Beware! and then become the coolest dads in town. The writer Jorge Aguirre and the illustrator Rafael Rosado, both in their 40’s, met as undergrads at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Given the scarcity of Latinos on campus at the time, the two gravitated to each other instantaneously. Rosado, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, caught the Ohio native and Colombian-American Aguirre’s eye with a student film Rosado made based on Gabriel García Márquez’s Eyes of a Blue Dog. Then destiny did its magic; a script Aguirre wrote for class was picked to be produced and Rosado was selected to direct it. They spent over a month shooting it on weekend mornings at a local bar. “The bar was dark and it reeked of the previous night’s beer. To this day, the smell of stale beer reminds me of Rafael,” says Aguirre. “Thanks buddy,” adds Rosado.
For a good part of their adulthood—post marriage, kids, and Aguirre’s moving to the East Coast—they tried to figure out a way to collaborate again. Come 2007, the two had started talking about some characters bouncing around in Rosado’s head. “I went off and wrote and drew up the ideas I had, gave them to Jorge, and told him to run with it. And he ran,” says Rosado. While telling stories on film had originally brought them together, Rosado became a storyboard artist for TV Animation (he’s currently boarding the Transformers cartoon), and Aguirre took the writing route, penning tales for kids’ shows like Dora the Explorer and Handy Manny (he’s currently developing a show for Disney Channel).
One suspects the graphic novel’s overnight success is not only due to its ultra-hip textual and visual humor, but because of the allure of its strong female protagonist, Claudette, an aspiring giant slayer. With her best friend Marie (an aspiring princess), and her brother Gaston (aspiring pastry-chef ), Claudette and friends embark on a quest to defeat the local giant before their parents find out and drag them home. Apparently, the duo’s creative yin-yang, also applies to child rearing. Aguirre has two boys: Diego, 5, and Pablo, 2. He calls them his “Arepapas,” a tribute to Colombia’s arepas and his Peruvian wife’s papas. Rosado has two girls: Amelia, 9, and Avery, 5. He calls them Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchette because, according to their dad, “they’re total drama queens.” Currently at work on book two starring Claudette, Gaston, and Marie, the dynamic dad duo took time from their busy work, family and giant-hunting schedules, to talk to Mamiverse.
Mamiverse: Did your family have any say in what the characters should say, do or look like?
Rosado: I showed the work to my father as we went along. He’s a big Science Fiction and Fantasy fan, and he always had good suggestions. He’s also an artist, so I shared a lot of my designs with him. I also sought my wife’s advice when we were doing color design on the main characters’ outfits. And of course, if my daughter laughed at a visual gag, then I knew I was on the right track.
Aguirre: When my mami was alive, she often complained that there was too much cussing in my writing. ‘¿Por que tienes que ser tan grosero?’ I don’t cuss much any more, so I think my mami would be happy that I wrote something that’s not in the least bit grosero. Okay, there are vomiting and poop jokes in our book so maybe I’m still, un poquito grosero.
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Mamiverse: What were some other graphic novels that inspired you? What are you favorite children’s books or graphic novels?
Rosado: Bone by Jeff Smith, a lot of European graphic novels. I like Miguel Covarrubias—not a graphic novelist, but a cartoonist nonetheless. I read Condorito as a kid, that probably influenced me to some degree.
Aguirre: I like the Hernandez Brothers’ work on Love and Rockets, and I like Latino USA: A Cartoon History by Ilan Stavans and Lalo Alcaraz. And I still think about George Pérez’ art on Crisis on Infinite Earths and Teen Titans. I love his stuff. The voice of Claudette was inspired a great deal by the great Argentine artist, Quino and his Mafalda cartoon. Rafael and I love Mafalda. Jeff Smith’s Bone of course was a big influence on us too. And like us, Jeff’s from Ohio.
Mamiverse: Did you have a tough or easy time selling the idea to a publishing house?
Aguirre: Finding gigs, selling ideas, etc. It’s all really hard. However, finding a publisher for this graphic novel was relatively easy.
Rosado: We put nine months of work into a pitch document. It had like 58 pages of thumbnails. The story was all there. We did research on publishers; picked ones we liked, and got our pitch into their hands.
Aguirre: We had a favorite publisher, First Second Books. We hoped that of everyone we approached, they would be the ones to accept it. And Mark Siegel, the editor of First Second books did. We were thrilled. We’re still thrilled.
Mamiverse: How much of the plot details and visuals were based on experiences with your own kids?
Rosado: My girls were still quite little when we started the book. But Avery, my youngest one has turned out to be a feisty one, much like Claudette. Amelia, is much more like Marie, clever and refined. We had a pug a few years ago, so Valiant is definitely based on him.
Aguirre: The writing part for me was more influenced by my own childhood than my kids. My kids are still pretty young, but I know that sooner or later, I’ll start mining their experiences for my writing. That’s the price of being related to a writer.