It tells the story of a little girl named Mimi who wants to prove that she’s more than just cute. She uses the magic of her friend Penelope, a talking toy dog, to transform into several outfits to explore different personas as Mimi comes to learn more about herself.
What I’ve learned after making a few different graphic novel pitches is that it’s important (and fun) to make sure your whole pitch conveys the feeling of your story. I wanted the acquisitions team to look at my idea for Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe and feel overwhelmed with cuteness from the cover page, to the sample art, and to the artist’s bio, and walk away fully understanding what Mimi was meant to be. I loved shoving pink and hearts everywhere!
The funny story behind this pitch idea is that I didn’t start it with the intention of making a graphic novel, let alone one meant specifically for little kids! I had experience with Middle Grade comics (ages 8-12) as I am working with First Second on other projects, and with my webcomic Princess Love Pon I wrote with 14-year old Shauna in mind, haha! But this time I wanted to make a simple children’s book, but when my agent showed it to her peers at Scholastic they asked if I would be interested in turning it into a comic instead for early readers (ages 6-8.) That’s how I ended up working with Graphix.
From start to finish, I wanted to make a story that felt reminiscent of the magical girl shows that I grew up on, and it was important that the story centered on a young Black girl being shown as joyful and adorable. I think it’s very important to stay true to the types of stories you want to tell as you’ll be working on your book for several months (in some cases even several years!) So make sure you’re bringing to life a story that you love, inside and out! I think with that kind of passion your story will make it to an editor who is just as enthusiastic about it. Just always be open to criticism and suggestions. That’s part of working with an editor, and your story will be stronger for it! My editor and publisher were really awesome to work with, even before Graphix picked Mimi for publication. They were very hands-on in helping me polish my vision for Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe.
I have always loved drawing cute characters and making colorful art that tickles people’s sweet tooth! But the fun part of drawing comics, especially comics for kids, is drawing funny situations and getting super expressive. With reading comics, you don’t have an audible voice to convey feelings like in movies or more detailed words to express them like in prose, so you really have to show things through facial expressions and body language. Having read a lot of Manga growing up, one thing a lot of it does well (especially shoujo Manga) is taking time to sit with the characters as they go through their feelings. When I draw Mimi happy, I like her to be jumping for joy with her arms stretched out. When she’s upset, you can see it in how she scrunches up her face or how she throws her arms all over the place in frustration. And when Mimi is feeling sad and alone, her body shrinks up and the colors around her darken. You really have to think, “How would I have felt about this when I was a kid?” and just push it. I want kids to see my art and go, “Wow! I feel like that, too!”
And as far as writing for kid’s comics, I honestly believe it’s important not to take your story too seriously, haha! Just let your characters be themselves and go with it. For my Mimi books, I don’t bother writing a script since the page count is so short. I have an outline of the full story and everything that’s meant to happen, and then when I draw my thumbnails, I write the dialogue as I go. Mimi is very spunky, headstrong, and a little dramatic. Penelope is gentle and kind but often raises an eyebrow at Mimi’s antics. Their friends have their own personalities. I constantly keep this in mind, so it’s like: “If Mimi says this, how is Penelope going to react? Oh my gosh, look at the face she’s making. What should she say?” I mean really it’s kind of like a dance. The art has to work with the words, and the words have to work with the art, so I feel like writing the script and planning out the art at the same time just helps mold everything together more organically.
That’s what’s so special about making comics for kids. You’re getting them excited to read, but also you’re teaching them how to better understand other people and themselves. Visual literacy is fun and important! It’s easy to lose that when you overfocus and overthink the writing. You don’t want your comic pages to be too bloated with words or too much information, especially for young readers. Guide your readers through your pages with a good panel flow, keep your characters expressive, and tell a story you feel excited about! Make it as fun for yourself as possible. If you’re having a good time, it’ll show through your work, and your readers will feel it.
Also, if you’re really having trouble thinking of stories to write for kids then try to remember what you enjoyed growing up. Think about life experiences you went through that are worth sharing. I loved Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura growing up, so Mimi is her own kind of magical girl. Many girls go through a phase of rejecting cuteness because of how society tends to treat girls, so that is the journey Mimi is on. What do I want to share most with my readers? It’s what I want to share most with myself– that being who you are and loving yourself is the most powerful thing you can do.
And it’s with that that I tell you, no matter where you are in your comic journey, just draw and share your work with the world. I’ve only managed to get to where I am today by deciding to draw comics that I felt passionate about and sharing them online and at anime and comic conventions. That’s how I grew an audience, that’s how I met editors and sold books, and that’s how I met my agent! Everyone’s journey is different, but if there’s anything I wish I did differently in the past, it’s believing in myself and putting my comics out there sooner!
So go draw, make friends with other people that draw, and good luck with your pitches!
-Shauna J. Grant
Buy Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe!
To win a copy of Shauna’s Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe (those with US mailing addresses only), please reply with your name below. If you share on social media, reply to your first comment with the link where you shared it for extra entries. The contest will end by the end of the day on Oct. 3, and the winner will be selected shortly after. Thank you, Shauna! THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY.