Alexis E. Fajardo is the author and illustrator of the Kid Beowulf graphic novel series for kids. The first two books in the series are The Blood-Bound Oath and The Song of Roland. He is senior editor for Peanuts at the Charles M. Schultz Studio, and he lives in Santa Rosa, California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of a graphic novel series for kids based on the story of Beowulf?
A: It wasn’t intentional, it started as a lark, really…years ago a friend was doing an all-ages comic anthology and asked me to contribute a story. He knew I liked mythology and humor and suggested I do something in that vein.
I happened to be re-reading Beowulf at the time and the idea struck me – “What would the big, hulking, warrior Beowulf have been like as a kid?” It seemed funny to me and it slowly snowballed from there. I’ve always loved mythology and comics so combining the two was a natural thing to do.
Q: You've worked on these books in various forms for many years. How did they end up in their current format?
A: That original version of Kid Beowulf was just a six-page mini-comic filled with lots of bad gags riffing on the epic poem Beowulf – it was very one-dimensional. I set that version aside for a few years and worked on other projects but the Kid Beowulf idea always lingered.
When I came back to it I threw out all the bad gags and approached it from a dramatic point of view, in keeping with the source material. I kept the premise that Beowulf and Grendel were twin brothers and then built the story from the ground up. Before I knew it, I had a 200 page graphic novel!
Through a long journey of self-publishing, publishing with small houses, back to self-publishing and lots of writing and drawing, I eventually landed the series with Andrews McMeel and they decided to re-launch the series in full color.
Book one, Kid Beowulf: The Blood-Bound Oath came out last August and book two, Kid Beowulf: The Song of Roland came out in February.
Q: What are some of the reactions you've heard from readers to the series?
A: It’s been really positive, which is very satisfying and encouraging. Reviews are nice from a professional standpoint but the real thrill is when I get letters from kids or their parents telling me how much they enjoy the books.
If Kid Beowulf resonates with an 8 year old and it makes them want to learn more about the original epic poem then I feel like I’ve done my job.
Q: When you're working on the books, do you focus first on the illustrations or on the text, or do you go back and forth between the two?
A: Every cartoonist works differently but I think we all tend to think of our stories in words and pictures simultaneously. I have some friends who will write and draw at the same time, doing their drafts in comic book form.
I’ve never been able to do that and prefer doing a screenplay style treatment, heavy with visual description, as if I were drawing it. From there I’ll do quick sketches of page layouts and then start drawing the actual comic book page.
Eventually the page will be inked and then scanned into the computer where I’ll do the word balloons and text. At each stage I’m continually editing the original script, pairing things down, and hopefully making it better along the way.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m wrapping up the color for book three, Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid, and soon I’ll be working on the script for book four in which Beowulf and Grendel head to Rome. I have a long series in mind and hope that the good response to books one and two continues so I can keep doing these stories.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Hmm…well there is a Kid Beowulf mobile game that people can download for free on the AppStore and GooglePlay stores. It’s a fun, Candy-Crush style game called “Lookin’ For Lingonberries” (Beowulf’s favorite treat) – as you play the levels you unlock a short story.
It was a fun project to put together and I hear the game is addictive so I always encourage people to play ;) Just search for “Kid Beowulf” and you should find it!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. To find a free Kid Beowulf story, please click here.