Debbie Ridpath Ohi is well-known for her witty and endearing cartoons. She is the author of the non-fiction Writer's Online Marketplace: How & Where to Get Published Online. She also contributed a graphic short story to the recent YA anthology Tomo: Friendship through Fiction. and her first picture book I'm Bored will be published in September 2012.
Debbie lives in Toronto, Canada.
Have you always drawn cartoons?
I've drawn cartoons for as long as I can remember. My first regular strip was drawn in ballpoint pen for a homemade newsletter I created for my family when I was around 12 or so. The comic was about a baby named Boppy and followed his hilarious adventures. Or, um, at least they seemed hilarious to me at the time.
When I was in high school, I won a cartoon contest held by a national teen publication and was excited to win a typewriter and a dictionary…but even more thrilled to see my comics appear in the publication. One of my first freelance jobs as a young person was creating biblical-themed comics for a Sunday School newsletter.
Fast forward to when I got my first job after graduating from university: while I was in the entry-level management program at a bank (I was a programmer/analyst), I created a comic strip for the trainee newsletter.
Then, while I was excitedly waiting for the Lord of the Rings movies, I had a comic strip called Waiting For Frodo. It was about avid fans waiting in line for the movies, and gained a surprising number of followers. I even had fans at Weta Digital!
I now have several series of on-line comics running [see side-bar], and I also do a lot of one-off comics about the craft and business of writing, which I post in Inkygirl.com.
What for you are the main similarities/
Some people may argue the exact definitions of the words "cartoon" and "book," but for answering this question, I'm going to compare my own experiences of drawing a comic strip like WillWriteForChocolate.com and illustrating a picture book like I'm Bored.
In both cases, illustrations portray a sequence of events that tell a story. In my comic strip, the sequence is very short and represents a single scene (sometimes two). In I'm Bored, there is much more room to tell the story, and the format is much more flexible than what's available in a book of comics.
I think it comes down to personal definitions. Graphic novels, for example, are books. And there are book compilations of cartoons. Some people might say that a cartoon needs to have speech bubbles but they forget that there are many cartoons out there with no speech bubbles. There are also many picture books out there that do have speech bubbles.
I don't pay as much attention to the format as I do to the content. In the end, it's the story that counts.
You have had an online presence for a long time (in fact, I think I’m right in saying since before many of us had even heard of the internet?), and your umbrella site is Inkygirl: An illustrated guide for those who write and draw for young people. How has your site helped you hone your own skills as a writer/illustrator?
You're right - I've been using the Internet a long time, and before the World Wide Web was created. I studied computer science at the University Of Toronto and used to have a BBS hosted on my family's Radio Shack TRS-80. As soon as I heard about the Web, of course, I had to create my own web site. My site was featured in the first edition of Html and Cgi Unleashed by John December (Sam's Publishing) as an example of a personal homepage.
In addition to a personal site, I then created a website for children's writers called Inkspot. It was one of the very first online resources for those who wrote for children, and all the great feedback I received from press as well as the community prompted me to expand it, as well as add an email newsletter called Inklings.
Ironically, the site got too successful and I ended up selling it so I could go back to working on my children's books. I started up Inkygirl but purposely kept the site small this time so it wouldn't take over my life. Unlike Inkspot, Inkygirl also served as a venue for my writer-focused illustrations and comics. I love getting feedback from readers, and that has definitely affected what I write and draw for the site.
You are one of the contributors to the recently published YA anthology Tomo (Stonebridge Press, 2012), whose proceeds are going to support teens affected by last year’s earthquake in Japan. What did it mean to you to be involved in this project?
I have friends and relatives in Japan, including some in the affected areas, and felt so helpless in its aftermath. Kudos to editor Holly Thompson for spearheading the project and putting so much effort into making it happen. It's been gratifying to see the positive reviews from the media.
I've also been moved to read about the project online on the Tomo Blog, and find out more about the other contributors and why they participated. Everyone has a different background, but this project has brought us all together in our desire to help.
Your first children’s book is due out in September – I’m Bored written by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster 2012) – what for you was the most exciting part of the project?
So hard to choose just one part! The most exciting in terms of specific moments:
My meetings with Justin Chanda (editor/publisher) and art director Laurent Linn at the Simon & Schuster offices in NYC. I remember that for the first few minutes, all I could think was OHMYGOSH OHMYGOSH I'M AT SIMON & SCHUSTER!!! To talk about a book that *I* was illustrating!! But then I realized that I needed to focus, so forcibly dragged my thoughts out of gush nirvana and back to the meeting.
Seriously, though, I learned so much from Justin and Laurent, and it was incredibly exciting to see I’m Bored progress from early sketches to the final proofs.
Another highlight for me: the first time I read Michael Ian Black's manuscript. I laughed out loud and was so delighted....and then it hit home. *I* was going to be illustrating this story.
Where do you draw and how do you organise your day?
I do my book drawing in my basement office, using an Intuos Wacom Artpad. The artwork in I’m Bored is all digital. Sketching, however, can take place anywhere. I sketch on paper (with pencil or pen) and on my iPad (with a stylus) as well as on my computer.
Sketching on my iPad is especially fun because I don't need an external light source, and I have so many tools available in various art apps. My favorite app for iPad drawing is Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro.
As for organizing my day, I'm still trying to fine-tune my schedule and am actually in the middle of revamping. My typical schedule up to now has been to wake around 6.30 or 7.00, do email and admin in the morning, work in the afternoons, with social media and breaks scattered throughout the day, and do a stationery bike workout or walk later in the afternoon.
After attending a recent SCBWI conference, however, I am determined to be more productive in terms of book projects. There is so much I want to accomplish in the next few years! I love the picture book projects I have now, and I am also keen on finishing and sending out my middle grade and YA projects.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently busy promoting I’m Bored, which debuts in early September, 2012 (yay!).
I'm in the early stages of working with Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster on my new picture book project, which I'm writing and illustrating. I'm having so much fun with this! And I'm blogging about my progress. I also have a second book contract with S&S to illustrate a picture book, and am eagerly waiting to see which story they choose for me.
In addition, I'm working on a new YA novel which was nominated for the SCBWI Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication Award" in 2011. I temporarily put it aside while I finished I'm Bored but am back to work on it now, heavily revamping the plot outline before I rewrite.
I'm also working on a new middle-grade novel. I've written three over the past 18 years and have previously sent two out through an agent, but none published so far. The more I write, however, the more I can see my writing improve. For my most recent middle-grade book, the feedback from many of the editors was highly encouraging. I feel that I'm very close - I just need to continue working on my craft and persevere.
As well as writing, I think it would be fun to illustrate a middle-grade or chapter book, but most of my current portfolio images are geared toward the picture book market - so I'm in the process of revamping my online portfolio. I need to create separate pages to showcase my other illustration styles.
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