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Friday 2 December 2022

Writing and Illustrating a Graphic Novel Memoir for Children

Alyssa Bermudez provides a fascinating insight into the creation of a graphic novel as she harnesses this medium to also explore a significant time as a teenager living in New York in September 2001.

© Alyssa Bermudez

I always knew I wanted to create something special from my childhood diaries, and over the course of almost ten years, I turned them into a graphic novel called Big Apple Diaries. It all started while taking a comics class in 2012 as a student in New York City, where I was born and lived my whole life at that point. When I moved from New York City to Tasmania in 2015 I realized how important the New Yorker side of my story was. There is something about seeing it from a distance that made it clearer to me. 

I used my diary entries and experiences to retell the story of my childhood in New York City around the September 11 attacks in 2001. These entries were so important for creating this book because I could capture the mindset of a young teen instead of relying solely on the memory of it. Of course, memoir-style writing can be triggering, so I don’t think it would have been possible for me to write about that part of my life without enough time and space between the experience and now. 

© Alyssa Bermudez

Big Apple Diaries is my first ever long-form graphic novel so it was definitely a learning curve for me. I’ve illustrated many picture books, but the jump from 32 pages to almost 300 was a lot to think about!

All of the writing had to be finished first, and that is something that often surprises people. The storyline is the most important part of any book. I started with very simple drafts and didn’t worry about the spelling or specific wording yet. I made sure to create story arcs within my “real story.” Once that draft made sense, I went back over it and carefully rewrote it several times. 

A very important part of the graphic novel process that makes it different from other writing is that I had to choose which parts of the story would be told in words and which parts would be told in pictures. I used different colours in my Word document to make this easier for me. Everything I wrote in black was the words of the story, and everything I wrote in blue was for the pictures. One of the best parts of the graphic novel medium is capturing emotion and subtleties through imagery. Sometimes big feelings don’t need to be named on the page, and a simple expression can speak for itself.

© Alyssa Bermudez

Once all of that was ready to go, I roughly laid out the text and created simple sketches to determine the layouts, pacing, and timing. Next came editorial feedback from the publishing team, adjustments, and sample art. Once all of the stars aligned and everyone agreed it was ready to go, I returned to page one again. This part was the most fun for me because all of that difficult problem-solving with layouts and writing was done, so I could just enjoy the process of making the artwork!

© Alyssa Bermudez

I underestimated how emotional it would be to create the images to go with something so deeply personal. It was wonderful exploring the visuals of New York City from that time and recreating the relationships with my parents and friends.

It was very meaningful to put together a story that took place twenty years ago and can still be relatable to readers today and in the future. I’ve enjoyed sharing this book with students here in Tasmania and virtually in the US. Even though Tasmania and New York City couldn’t be any further apart, the feelings that come with growing up bring everyone together.

Alyssa Bermudez
Children’s author and commercial illustrator
W: http://www.alyssabermudezart.com/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/alyssabermudezart
T: @bermudezbahama 

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