It was Summer Komikon 2013, my first ever Komikon experience that I’ve heard about Robert Magnuson. He was on stage being interviewed. I wasnt paying attention till something caught my attention. Its that word he said! He said he worked on a Christian children’s book?! Well I check him over the internet and I found out he is a award winning children’s book, comic strip/comicbook writer and illustrator. I finally met him over Komikon 2013 last November. And man, he is so nice. He signed some of the comicbook and toddler books I bought (for the benefit of Typhoon Yolanda) and granted me this interview:
Delighting Grace: Hi Robert! Who’s your favorite superhero and why?
Robert Magnuson: I can’t say that I have one favorite superhero. As I grew reading comic books, and shifted interests from one hero to the next. The earliest superhero that my brother’s and I seemed to gravitate towards was Spider-Man. We liked him because of his humor. I also thought he had one of the best looking costumes. Very fun to draw. Somewhere down the line, I’ve enjoyed reading the adventures of Batman, Superman, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. There was a time I was a huge Rom fan. I was devouring that comic pretty much at the same time I was gobbling up issues of Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew.
Superman was interesting because he had such an iconic image to live up to and I really enjoyed reading the Return of Superman storyline when it was being released on a weekly schedule. In the same way, I was also fond of Captain Marvel (Shazam) and Captain America, because of the clear values found in these particular characters. As modern society’s values begin to blur, it has becomes easier to reason out why it is acceptable to break and bend certain rules to the point where they become excuses for self-indulgent behavior. I find it interesting how the integrity and values of these particular heroes hold up under such modern-day pressures.
Delighting Grace: You’ve created Porcupirate, Bullysaurus Rex, Kuting Magiting etc., now how do you look for ideas and character for the books?
Robert Magnuson: I get my best ideas from real life. All my stories are in some fashion or other anchored to real life event. It’s just that by the time I’m through writing them, they have talking animals. But the essence of the story remains tethered to the emotional core of an experience. Just as Porcupirate was written based on the feelings I was going through while watching my father die in a hospital, Kuting Magiting is fueled by my experiences with my very active son.
Delighting Grace: You had this collaboration with your wife Shirley in making comics strips in Junior Inquirer. So how does working with someone close to you and working with someone else differ?
Robert Magnuson: I enjoy working with others. I find that the exchange of ideas with someone can lead to even better ideas. Shirley tends to be my test audience and initial editor. I recall a time when I was creatively worn out from working on a comic page from a CADRE script by Emil Flores. I just couldn’t get the drawings to look the way I wanted, but I did the best I could. I remember showing the pages to Shirley and she told me “there is no way you are submitting these pages for printing. You can do much better than this.”
Being very drained, hearing this critique made me feel very frustrated – I knew she was right though and that I would have to redraw those pages. I struggled with them and in the end, I finished them. The pages were certainly an improvement over the previous versions. So tough love helped, really. And the experience made me appreciate just how demanding comics work can be.
Delighting Grace: Kuting Magiting crossover Sunday funnies, then to a comicbook then to a toddler book. Are their any difference between the three in terms of producing it? Which is your most enjoyable format between the three? Do Hero Kitten gets dizzy because of it :-)
Robert Magnuson: There was always a plan to have Kuting show up in more than one format. I think each format has its own inherent challenges. The main challenge for comics is space considerations. I’m limited by the physical dimensions of the page and I’m limited by stretching or compressing a story to fit within multiples of four pages (16, 20, 24 pages and so on). But since I have full creative control over the comics, this is challenging but it’s something I can eventually adjust to. I just have to make sure the pages aren’t expanded in such a way that it ruins the flow of the story.
The toddler books have less pages and are more expensive to produce, so I need to stick to the publisher’s predetermined number of pages. The challenge here is coming up with a story that will fit these few spreads while still offering the reader a worthwhile narrative.
The comic strip has even less space to work with. You can have just so many panels in a comic strip before it starts to look really crowded. I would have to say that the comic strip format is the toughest of the three. Which is why I have great respect for those who earn a living working in this format.
Delighting Grace: I love Kuting Magiting/Hero Kitten because it has this “universal” appeal. Well some of your creations are loved kids, teens and adults. How do you make that “magical” appeal?
Robert Magnuson: That’s the great thing about writing for kids – grown-ups can understand the story as well! It also helps to stick to the emotional heart your story. You can talk about complicated themes, for example “war”, but it helps to distill very common emotions from such potentially complex topics. At its heart, is it about fear, triumph, or friendship? These are emotions that both adults and children can relate to.
Delighting Grace: Some might take childrens book as simple, easy to make, but I’ve read some where that writing a toddlers or childrens book is not that easy and for a creators to penatrate the childrens book market it is very difficult. Any comments on that Robert?
Robert Magnuson: It can be very challenging. What’s even tougher is making a good book both kids and grown-ups will love. I’ve had the experience of writing books that seem to write themselves. Others have taken much more out of me.
It took a long time before I finally got my break into becoming a published writer. Prior to that, I simply enjoyed writing and drawing stories, even if my only audience was my parents and friends.
Even as a published author, “Market penetration” is always a major concern. Competition for space in bookstores is tougher now than ever before. On the plus side, we do have more venues for our work thanks to the advent of digital books. The terrific thing about eBooks is that they can reach international readers, and you can build a potentially large readership. That said, getting discovered in this online sea made up of millions of fish is the challenge of this particular medium.
Delighting Grace: As a Christian comicbook creator, how do one deal in the industry which sometimes promote violent, sexual and anti-Christian stuff. Does this limit or gives no opportunity for a comicbook creator to do his gpcraft? So if a Christian wants to follow your steps, what advice can you give to them to pursue this career without compromising the faith?
Robert Magnuson: For most of my life, before I became a follower of Christ, my view of Christians was that they tried their best to avoid discussing sex and violence and topics that seem anti-Christian. This view reinforced my misconception that Christians were detached from the “real” world. When I came to Christ seven or so years ago, what I found was that Jesus was not at all detached from the realities of the world. He clearly understood the human condition. The initial reason I started studying the Bible was because I was drawn to Christ’s very accurate description of the human heart. I also discovered many Christian authors and speakers who did not shy away from discussing topics that touch on the realities of life.
Besides, the Bible is full of stories showing people at their worst, and how ultimately there is only one way to rise above this desperate condition. I believe that by virtue of this perspective regarding our human tendencies toward violence and acts of violation, the Christian writer is called to engage these topics head-on in a responsible manner in order to offer readers a glimpse of hope in an otherwise difficult world.
Delighting Grace: We sometimes work or study in a world that doesn’t honor Christ. As a Christian what are the things we could do to magnify Christ in our careers?
Robert Magnuson: This begs the yearbook answer, but since the time that I began to study God’s word and have struggled to keep my eyes fixed on Christ, I have found that God is not a collection of fortune cookie quotes to suit every occasion. Rather He is very much alive, and although His word does not change, the way He works is ever surprising. He may very well tell us to drop what we think we should be doing and do something completely left field of what we expected. There is a difference between doing what He wants us to do, and doing what we think He wants us to do.
One of the things I am struggling with is to keep that eternal perspective within my everyday work. In whatever field we are in, it is so easy to get caught up in the business of being busy that we start to lose our patience with co-workers, or drive ourselves to the brink of frustration by working too many hours at the expense of family relationships. A person’s job, their private life, and their public life are all interconnected. If one flies off the rails, it will soon affect all the other areas. Given this, I think the best way we can magnify God is to walk with Him moment by moment, and make sure it is His hands, and not ours, that are on the steering wheel.
Delighting Grace: Well said. Robert please invite them to pick up your Kuting Magiting/Hero Kitten and other of your great books. Are you on social media so fans can connect with you?
Robert Magnuson: Thanks for this opportunity to share my thoughts with our friends out there, Nitoy. If people are interested, most of my children’s books are available in most local bookstores.
I have two books published by Adarna House: Mister Beetle’s Many Rooms, and Diego and Marie: A Secret Sense of Home.
My other books are with Hiyas: What Beetle Can Do, Bullysaurus Rex, The Great Duck and Crocodile Race, Porcupirate Plans the Day, Boom Bang Clang (done with Maloi Salumbides), Run, Kuting! Run!, and Go to Sleep, Kuting!
Porcupirate Plans the Day and The Great Duck and Crocodile Race are also available as eBooks for Amazon Kindle, Flipreads, Kobo, and Buqo.
My self published comics featuring Kuting Magiting and Poso Maximo are available during the Philippine Komiks Conventions which happen at least twice a year. Although they should check my FB wall for announcements, just to be sure I will be at particular Komikon events or not.
Delighting Grace: One last question: Why is Good Morning Dog named Good Morning Dog? Does he own a Good Morning Towel that why he was named like that?
Robert Magnuson: There is a reason he is called Good Morning Dog, but that’s a story for another time.
Delighting Grace: Or maybe another comicbook to watch out, am I right Robert?
(By the way this if off topic but very important, have you downloaded “For Your Joy” by John Piper? It’s free.)
Marianito “Nitoy” Gonzales is a 30 something introvert who’s passion is to proclaim the good news about God. He wears many hats but he is just an ordinary guy serving an extraordinary God. You can reach him at his Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.