David Wiesner will be at Square Books today promoting his new graphic novel, “Fish Girl,” co-authored with Donna Jo Napoli.
Wiesner is a three-time recipient of the Caldecott Medal, and was one of five finalists in 2008 for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, which honors creators of children’s books.
Picture books are his forte, but “Fish Girl” is Wiesner’s first foray into the world of graphic novels. Along with fellow author Napoli, he creates a wonderful world surrounding a mermaid and her quest for freedom.
“This is the first graphic novel I’ve done,” Wiesner said. “It’s in keeping with the trajectory of my work so far. Comic books are where I learned a lot about story-telling. It’s something I’ve been looking to do.”
Wiesner said his ideas come from visual inspiration. Images he draws in his sketchbooks eventually becomes stories.
“Fish Girl” is no exception.
“I can trace it back to art school,” Wiesner said. “The imagery of a fish in a house filled with water, where the fish lived, kept coming up. I tried to make it into a picture book, but that never quite worked. I put it aside and came back to it years later.”
Wiesner worked alongside Napoli to make “Fish Girl” a reality.
“I drew everything first,” Wiesner said. “I had accumulated a lot of visual ideas: the setting, the house, the aquarium, the characters. It wasn’t really a worked-out story. I asked Donna, a friend of mine, to work on this with me. Together, we were able to come up with a story that really became a back-and-forth effort.”
In fact, a lot of the work ended up needing to be cut in order to tell Mira the mermaid’s story in a succinct way.
Wiesner emphasized the importance of telling the story visually. Telling stories through visual aids has always been his strong suit. He said he always wanted to tell stories through the things he drew.
“In art school, I was always an artist, but everything I drew was narrative,” Wiesner said. “It was like the writer in me was trying to catch up.”
He said then, all comic books were superheroes and he did not want to join that scene.
“My mentor at the time, one of the great picture book artists, told me to look into that genre,” Wiesner said. “I didn’t follow them that well, so I was astounded. Picture books were so much more than what I thought. When I graduated, that’s where I went to look for work. Like a lot of people in that genre, I’ve always maintained a close connection to what I felt like when I was a kid. A sense of wonder fuels everything.”
Wiesner said his advice for aspiring artists and writers is to focus on the process of the work. That is what generates ideas, he said.
“It’s the act of writing, the act of drawing, seeing what you’re doing on the page, is what should inspire you,” Wiesner said. “I sit down, start working, and it’s the process that makes things happen for me. Nothing replaces the actual doing of the work. It’s like playing the piano. You sit down, you play and practice, you get better.”
The event begins at 5 p.m. and is free to the public. Copies of “Fish Girl” will be available for purchase at Square Books.