A Cafe Chat with Graphic Designer/Associate Creative Director Kirk Benshoff, by Jenny Krumrine

We are getting really excited about our annual Illustrator Day event, which will be back in person this year at the main branch (Parkway Central) of the Free Library of Philadelphia on October 8. One of our faculty presenters will be graphic designer and associate creative directer at Macmillan—Kirk Benshoff. In preparation for the event, we invited Kirk to our virtual EasternPennPoints Café for a quick chat with Jenny Krumrine, one of our Eastern PA SCBWI volunteers. Here’s what they had to say.

Jenny: Hi, Kirk. Welcome to the EasternPennPoints virtual café! What would you like to drink? Anything to nibble on? I recommend … everything. You can count on it being made in-house here.

Kirk: Wonderful! I’ll have a black coffee. My daily fuel!

Jenny: I couldn’t miss the photo of the late André the Giant on your website. Is that you standing next to him? How did that happen?

Kirk: Haha … That’s just pure Photoshop magic. I was a big fan of him as a kid and thought it would be funny to Photoshop my face on a wrestler standing next to him. I’m never comfortable with pictures of myself … so the image checks many boxes for me!

Jenny: I also couldn’t miss the fact that on your website and in other interviews, you mention FUN—the fun of making books. What are some fun and meaningful exercises that you would suggest for creators interested in growing their skillset?

Kirk: Keep creating in some way for yourself. I see people with sketchbooks that they always have on hand so they can draw for themselves. Maybe you like pottery or printmaking … Anything that keeps stirring one’s creative pot. It’s when you create for yourself that those things that inspire you the most bleed into your other work. You’re then more likely to experiment and ultimately go out on that limb to try something new!

Jenny: Do you have any advice for illustrators making sequential art to really make their work have impact? For me, sometimes it’s the subtle change of the color palette that can give me an emotional gut punch by the end.

Kirk: There are a TON of decisions that need to be made in a graphic novel. I recommend thinking about the visual tools you want to use as early as possible. That would include what the bubbles are going to look like, what font/hand lettering you want to use, the size of the of the lettering. Are there going to be color palette changes, inking style changes, etc? Think about these visual tools in the context of your story. Then make sure these tools are working the way you want them to before committing to them. This then allows the creator to focus on the storytelling, which oftentimes results in a stronger story.

Jenny: Where do you recommend illustrators showcase their work to generate opportunities? Instagram, childrensillustrators.com, their SCBWI profile …?

Kirk: For me, I need quick and effective showcases for artwork. A website that shows all of the work right up front or Instagram. If work is buried to deep, unless a talent has come directly recommended … I don’t have the time to uncover the work.

Jenny: When you are looking to hire an illustrator to illustrate a graphic novel, what do you look for in their portfolio?

Kirk: I need to see styles with more than one image, examples of paneling, and the artist’s general understanding of the comic format. I need to feel confident that an artist can execute a style for 200 to 300 pages. If I just see one piece of art, unfortunately I can’t go by that alone! The journey to make a graphic novel is long and hard, so I need to know the artist is up to the task.

Jenny: Thanks in advance for helping make Illustrator Day happen! Do you have one last teaser for us? Something we can look forward to hearing more about in your talk?

Kirk: I’m excited to talk about process! It’s gonna be fun!

Kirk Benshoff [he/him/his] is a Graphic Designer/Associate Creative Director at Macmillan managing the design team for First Second and handling the graphic novels for Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Roaring Brook Press, Holt, and Feiwel and Friends. His experience spans over twenty years designing comics, trade books, magazines, logos, illustrations, websites, and more. Kirk manages a dream team of designers who work with some of the most talented sequential art creators in the world. His goal is to perfect the graphic novel workflow to allow creators the most freedom in creating their comics while maintaining a predictable structure for the publisher, keeping costs to a minimum, moral high, and a deep focus on quality. Kirk’s approach centers around author care, determining objectives, “Proof of Concept” pages to flesh out the details, staying on or under budget, on time, all while having fun making the books. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children who keep stealing his comics.

Illustrator Day Information

Join us in person at the Parkway Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia on October 8 from 9:00am to 5:00pm. In addition to Kirk, we’ll have New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Kayla Miller, associate editor at Feiwel & Friends Rachel Diebel, and literary agent Janna Morishima. In addition, we’re offering critiques and portfolio reviews and an art director’s assignment. Full tuition scholarships are available. For more information and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/illustrator-day-2022/.

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