A Cafe Chat with Author-Illustrator Kayla Miller, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Our 2022 Illustrator Day event at the Free Library of Philadelphia is less than a month away! We are so excited to welcome our keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Kayla Miller! In preparation for the event, we recently invited Kayla to chat with our illustrator coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, at the EasternPennPoints virtual cafe. Here’s what they had to say.

Berrie: Hello, Kayla! Would you like something from our virtual cafe? I read on your website that breakfast is your favorite meal—go ahead and order breakfast along with your favorite beverage.

Kayla: It’s true, I love breakfast—mainly because you can kind of incorporate all of the flavors into one meal. My dream breakfast is some kind of cheesy, savory, spicy, sweet vegetarian breakfast sandwich and side of potatoes, and maybe a fancy doughnut to go. My drink order is simple though: large coffee with just a little bit of oat milk.

Berrie: I want to wish you a huge congratulations on the recent release of your graphic novel Crunch. How did the writing go with No. 5 in the Click series? Was it harder or easier writing this book?

Kayla: Thank you! Honestly, it’s hard to even remember! The illustrations for graphic novels take a lot longer than the writing does, so I actually finished the writing for Crunch back in February of 2021, and I’m already finished with the writing for book 6 and deep into illustrating that one. That being said, I think the fact that I don’t really remember it is a sign it went well—I’d remember if it was a struggle. 

Berrie: When my daughter read your graphic novel Click, she commented, “This is my life story!” Is the Click series autobiographical?

Kayla: The Click series isn’t autobiographical, and Olive definitely isn’t me. Some of the situations and emotions that Olive experiences are similar to things I’ve gone through, but the way she handles them are usually pretty different.

Berrie: How did you find out that your book was on the New York Times bestseller list? Did you get a phone call—sort of like when actors are told they have been nominated for an Academy Award?

Kayla: It’s nothing as exciting as that, ha ha ha. My editor and/or agent usually send me congratulatory emails when I make it onto any sort of list—or I’ll find out on social media. 

Berrie: So, I noticed that your spin-off books, Besties, are not illustrated by you. Was this your decision or the publisher’s decision? 

Kayla: It was kind of just a given on both ends. Illustrating a graphic novel takes a very long time, so when we started talking about doing a spin-off series, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to illustrate both the main series and a spin-off book in the same year. I collaborated with Jeffrey Canino for the writing process and the books were illustrated by the amazingly talented Kristina Luu with the assistance of Damali Beatty, Victor Martins, and lettering by Lor Prescott. I feel so lucky that through teamwork, we were able to share more stories with the Click characters than I would have been able to all on my own.

Berrie: Tell us about your journey to publication. Was Click your first commission as a professional illustrator? 

Kayla: Click was my first full-length graphic novel, but I had done other cartooning, illustration, and writing work before then. When I was just out of school, I did some editorial illustrations for magazines while self-publishing a webcomic, which is where I put a lot of my time and creative energy. I was lucky enough to get some paid cartooning jobs due to my webcomic, and my first paid comics job where I was writing and illustrating was a series of short Care Bears comics. 

Berrie: Can you give our readers a sneak peek into your process?

Kayla: I could talk about process forever. I love talking shop, but I’ll try to be brief. I start off by getting the writing squared away before I start drawing any pages to avoid having to cut things or make a lot of edits to finished art. I usually write a fairly detailed outline and then turn that into a script with page breakdowns, panel breakdowns, art descriptions, and dialogue. Then I move on to thumbnails where I figure out panel layouts and some loose character placement, but my thumbnails are pretty quick and messy. Lately I’ve been doing thumbnails simultaneously with the scripting, but I used to do them afterwards. Then comes sketches, followed by adding word bubbles, and then inks, and coloring. My process has changed in some ways over the course of the series. I started out doing every step on my own and then kind of had to figure out which forms of help would gel best with my workflow. Right now I have an amazing little team for the Click series consisting of a colorist and a letterer, Jess Lome and Lor Prescot, respectively. I also get support from in-house folks, like my editor and designer, and of course my agent. A lot of graphic novels are a group effort! My process has also changed in terms of the tools I use. I mainly work digitally now, but I used to do all my sketches and inks traditionally. 

Berrie: Okay, time for a lightning round of questions. 

Favorite board game or video game: Board game—Dream Crush; video game—Tales of Symphonia 

Favorite cartoon character: I’m the worst at picking favorites so I’m going to say every character from Peanuts as well as every character from Scooby-Doo

Jeans or sweats? They both have their merits, but jeans are my go-to.

Favorite school cafeteria food: I always packed lunch, ha ha ha. I was a peanut butter sandwich kid.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Kayla! We’re looking forward to seeing you speak at Illustrator Day!

Kayla Miller is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Click graphic novel series and co-author of its spin-off series, Besties. They studied at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and graduated with a BFA in Illustration. Kayla currently lives and works in New York state and when not writing or drawing they enjoy watching bad movies, trying to cook new recipes, playing board games, and reading other people’s graphic novels.

Illustrator Day Information

Illustrator Day will be held in person this year on October 8 at the Parkway Central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Faculty speakers include Kayla Miller, associate creative director Kirk Benshoff, editor Rachel Diebel, and agent Janna Morishima.

Critiques and portfolio reviews are available. Register soon! Deadline to submit is September 24!

For more information about Illustrator Day on October 8 and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/illustrator-day-2022/.

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