Get ready for “Dragons Beware” with our interview with Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado

A free flowing conversation with Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado about creativity, family, storytelling, and their popular books “Giants Beware” and “Dragons Beware.”

Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado first teamed up at Ohio State, where they collaborated on many projects together. They’ve remained friends since their college days. Jorge is a writer and television producer, who has written for Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS, and other networks. Rafael is a storyboard artist for Warner Brothers, Disney, and Cartoon Network. Both have been in the creative industry for over twenty years.

Their first graphic novel, Giants Beware, received dozens of rave reviews. The New York Times called it “a rollicking fun story.” It’s about a feisty aspiring slayer named Claudette, who teams up with a wannabe princess and an aspiring pastry chef to slay a giant. Claudette returns in a second graphic novel, Dragons Beware, on May 12.

 

Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado

Parent Co:  How did your experiences growing up contribute to you wanting to be involved in the creative industry?

Raf:  I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, basically. My dad is an artist himself, even though he never did that as a living. He ended up working in the petrol chemical industry. There were other artists in my family too. My uncle is an artist, and art was always encouraged in my household.

When I was a kid, I saw a segment on Sesame Street where they were doing stop motion animation. I knew my dad had a great camera, and I was like, “Hey, I want to do this!” He helped me out, and it just kind of set me on that path. The drawing and the filmmaking both kind of came together because I work in animation for a living. So does Jorge.

Parent Co:  Jorge, what about you?

Jorge:  I’ve always liked stories, and my father always told me a lot of stories – Greek myths and those sorts of things on road trips. We took a lot of road trips.

I remember that there was one teacher in fifth grade who complimented my writing, and I guess it went to my head. I started thinking that I was a good writer. A couple of teachers along the way encouraged it too, but I think it was that one teacher. She told me I was a good writer, so I took it seriously.

Parent Co:  You’ve both done a lot of writing for television, film, and graphic novels for a younger audiences. What do you find most appealing and challenging about creating for younger audiences?

Jorge:  Raf might have a totally different opinion, but we talked about this before. We don’t actually write for a young audience. We sort of began writing in a way that would entertain each other. We just think like kids, I guess.

Raf:  Yeah. We’re trying to entertain ourselves first, I suppose. I feel like if you start writing for that audience in mind, for children in mind, you’ll start slipping into being a bit patronizing somehow. I don’t think that’s a good way to go. Basically we’re making stuff that we would enjoy ourselves, you know?

Parent Co:  Do you feel any limitations writing for a younger audience?

Jorge:  I think the only thing that limits us would be – we’ll go easy on the blood, and we don’t curse.

Raf:  That’s it exactly. That’s true.

Parent Co:  Do either of you have any children of your own?

Raf:  Yes, we both do.

Jorge:  I have an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old boy.

Raf:  I have two daughters. One is twelve and the other one will be nine in May.

Parent Co:  How do you balance being parents and also working in very creative and demanding fields?

Jorge:  That’s the million-dollar question. I don’t think I’m 100% successful. I try, and it’s really difficult. I think that’s all you can do. You just try to not fail at your work or fail at your family, you know?

Parent Co:  Yeah.

Jorge:  Both are equally important.

Raf:  Yeah. It’s hard trying to find the time to focus because doing this kind of work, it’s not like you can just pick it up for ten minutes, do something else, and come back to it. It’s almost…you have to get in the zone.

Having the pressure of day-to-day work, family, and finding that creative space – that’s a real challenge. It ends up being a lot of really early mornings before anybody gets up, and at night when everybody is in bed, and some weekends.

Parent Co:  I also have a daughter, a seven-year-old. I really love the idea of a strong female protagonist like Claudette to share with her since there aren’t enough out there. What inspired you to create your graphic novels Giants Beware and Dragons Beware?

Raf:  Jorge and I are old friends. We went to film school together at Ohio State. We did some projects together in film school, and then we kind of both went our separate ways. But we always knew that we wanted to do another project together at some point.

I had this idea…the character of Claudette was just this character that I kept sketching all the time. I sort of had the personality, but I wasn’t sure what the story was. I just knew that this little character deserved some kind of story.

I think I was on a long family car trip to the beach, 12-hour car ride kind of thing, and things started percolating in my head. I wrote an outline for the basic story, and then I brought it to Jorge with some sketches. I said, “Is this something you’d be interested in?”

He looked at it, and then he went off on his own and totally fleshed out the world and came up with this really rich environment. We just took it from there.

Giants Beware

Parent Co:  The medieval settings and quirky characters are really engaging for parents and kids. What about schools? What role do you see for graphic novels playing in the classroom?

Jorge:  Well, I think they’re really great motivators for reading books. If you have a reluctant reader, it’s a really good introduction for that. I found that my seven-year-old son flips pretty quickly between graphic novels and regular books, and non-form fiction, and nonfiction as well. I feel like, they just help kind of tap into the imagination, and it does keep him reading.

Raf:  Almost like a good gateway into reading chapter books or fiction. I’ve heard this first-hand from a lot of parents and teachers, because I’ve been doing a lot of school visits for the last couple of years. Like Jorge said, the reluctant readers find this easier to tackle. If they’re having difficulty with reading, it helps. It’s a good step towards that direction. Then you end up reading regular fiction or what have you.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from parents and teachers. It’s really good for those kids that are having trouble getting it. That makes me feel great.

Parent Co: It’s true. I teach ninth graders, and even at that age, using graphic novels makes reading and language more accessible for struggling or resistant readers. They’re also great for English language learners because they can access the illustrations to makes sense of what is happening.

Raf:  I grew up in Puerto Rico, and I learned a lot of my vocabulary just from reading comic books in English as a kid. I read in Spanish too, but I started getting English comic books because it would take them a year to get translated into Spanish, so I started buying them in English. It helped me certainly as a kid. When I moved to the states I had a bigger vocabulary and that came in handy.

Parent Co:  Very cool! Do you have any advice for kids and teenagers who are interested in becoming writers or illustrators?

Raf:  Sure. Certainly draw as much as you can. I always tell kids, “If you like to sketch, just make sure you keep a sketchbook or two or three are in the house, and jot down any idea you might have because it might come in handy later on.” You have to put them down, or they’ll disappear. It’s nice to have those sketchbooks to go back to.

And practice all the time. Practice as much as you can. I tell kids, “Just like learning to play an instrument or getting good at sports, it’s the same with drawing. You just have to be dedicated, practice, and always aim to get better.”

As far as your own comics, all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil to make a comic. It’s such an inexpensive art form. You know?

Parent Co:  Totally! 

Jorge:  Yeah. I would say something similar to writing as well. To become a good writer, you just have to write. And you have to show it to people. You should be able to listen, to take criticism – but pick which criticism to take and which not to take. You have to write a lot.

Parent Co:  I know that Dragons Beware comes out May 12. What’s next for Claudette? Are you working on a third installment in the Chronicles of Claudette?

Jorge:  Yeah. It’ll be another Beware. We’re not sure if we should say who she’s supposed to be with in the next book, or who should beware Claudette. The script is written and Raf is drawing as fast as he can. And it’s looking really good.

Raf:  I’m about two-thirds into the roughs.

Parent Co:  So happy to hear that. Claudette is such a fun and lovable character. Thanks for taking the time to speak with Parent Co. Do you have any questions for us?

Jorge:  Yeah. How far are you from the Ben and Jerry’s factory?

Parent Co:  Ha! We’re in Burlington, so we’re about 30 minutes away. Close, but not dangerously close.

Jorge:  I toured there once. I loved it.