Monday, June 10, 2024

Q&A with Caroline Palmer


Photo by Elise Palmer


Caroline Palmer is the author and illustrator of the new middle grade graphic novel Camp Prodigy.


Q: What inspired you to create Camp Prodigy, and how did you create your characters Tate and Eli?


A: Out of every story I’ve ever come up with, Camp Prodigy is probably the closest to my own actual life. I wanted to come up with something unique–something that only I could write–and the best way to do that was to make it personal.


Like Tate and Eli, I’m nonbinary, and I played the viola in school (and as a hobby now). I even went to a few orchestra summer camps!


There are many pieces of me in Tate and Eli, but there are also quite a lot of ways we differ.


While the process of fleshing out both characters was a long one, their initial basic concept informed the book’s entire plot. Two characters who are very alike, but one is a prodigy, and the other is a beginner.


Both would have near-identical and yet near-opposite journeys over the course of the story, with the beginner becoming one of the best violists at camp and the prodigy accepting that it’s okay to not place first all the time. How would they learn from each other?


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first—or both simultaneously?


A: There was some overlap, but I came up with the story in a good amount of detail before starting to draw it out.


A lot of people have the two processes separated; they’ll write out a script (like a movie!) before drawing anything at all. I find it hard to work that way. After all, comics are a combination of words and art–when words aren’t enough, art can be relied on, and vice versa.


All this to say, I like to work out the dialogue and pages simultaneously via thumbnail sketches. I feel like my stories have better pacing that way.

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I feel like it’s pretty common for stories with one main setting to pick the location’s name as a title. That’s what I did, at least! But I did put some thought into the choice of the word “prodigy”–what it would imply to the reader and the in-universe characters, and how I could subvert it or align with it.


It’s pretty bold to advertise your summer camp as “Camp Prodigy.” You’re implying that anyone who attends will be forged into a prodigy, or maybe, that the only ones accepted are those already at that level. You imply that everyone should want and strive to be a prodigy.


If the title of this book was “Camp Fun” or “Camp Enjoy the Process of Creating Without the Pressure of Perfection,” we’d have a very different story!


Q: What are some of your other favorite novels set at a summer camp?


A: The genre is pretty vast. It’s hard to remember the first book I read that was set at a summer camp. It could’ve been the Percy Jackson series–though I haven’t reread them since I was a kid, I liked those books a lot. I liked Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol back when I read it as well!


There are other graphic novels whose names I can no longer recall, but parts of their stories stuck with me.


Most recently, I read Flamer by Mike Curato. The way it tackled a mature topic with complexity while also being easy for young people to digest and relate to was impressive!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have another graphic novel being shopped around at the time of writing this. It’s very different from Camp Prodigy, but I hope it’s picked up! A book I assisted on, Barda by Ngozi Ukazu, is about to be released or has already been released, depending on when this interview is posted.


I’m also still chugging along on my long-running webcomic, Talent de Lune. It’s all about comics for me!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Orchestra is a lot of fun, but it can be difficult to get into. Musical instruments are costly, classical music might not be your style.


But what I always liked best about it was the feeling of creating something together with others. There are no barriers to creating something, aside from your own inhibitions. Just go for it!


Draw even if you can’t render something realistic, make music even if it’s out of tune. The most important thing is not to be skilled, but to enjoy yourself.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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