Your Favorite Gator Aide: An Interview with John Patrick Green About Investigators
I like to say that I always knew he was special. Back when John Patrick Green was creating graphic novels like the Construction Kittens series and Hippopotomister, I was reading the books constantly to my own kids. Then that series he writes called InvestiGators? It started to get big. Real big. Now I’ve the honor of interviewing John today about the series, his life, his work, and pretty much anything else that comes to mind. Because my life is awesome.
Betsy Bird: John! Such a pleasure to have you here today! Thanks again for answering my questions. To start us off, I wonder if you could give us a bit of a rundown on your career up until this point, in the world of children’s literature. How’d you get started?
John Patrick Green: Hi, Betsy! Thanks for having me. As some readers may already know, I got my start making comics as a little kid, by selling drawings of Garfield in third grade. After getting in trouble for it (the school and parents didn’t like that kids were giving me their lunch money for the art) my mom told me about copyrights, and so I created my own comic book characters and started selling photocopies of them. Fast-forward to college. I went to School of Visual Arts in NYC for graphic design, but while I was there I started self-publishing comics with a friend, Dave Roman. Graduating from art school with a portfolio that was mostly comic book-related design work soon led to a job doing design and production on comics for Disney Adventures Magazine. I worked for Disney for about 10 years, and made connections with other people in children’s publishing, such as Calista Brill (who had been at Disney before First Second Books started up.) When the Disney work ended, I did freelance book design for First Second and other publishers like Scholastic, and so when I had an idea for my first kids book, Hippopotamister, I already had a way in to pitch it to people. But it all began back when I was a kid reading Garfield in the newspaper!
BB: Now I’ve been a fan of yours for years and years (Teen Boat!, the already mentioned Hippopotamister, etc.) so I’ve watched your career steadily from afar. My library was happy to purchase your InvestiGators series the minute it came out, but recently something interesting occurred. Just the other day one of my children’s librarians begged me to buy large quantities of InvestiGators books. It seems the children of my town have discovered you, and their appetite for InvestiGators is, to put it mildly, ferocious. As an author, have you seen a significant uptick in demand for the series or are you kept separate from that?
JPG: Coming from the world of self publishing comics, ANY uptick in demand is significant! It’s been amazing to see parents and teachers and librarians recommend the booms on social media, or talk about how eager kids are for the next one. I do constantly get asked when the next one will be out, or if I can send the latest book to someone early (you know, just for them). People are frequently asking if I can visit their school or store, so I’m certainly aware there’s more demand for my time! As far as actual numbers, I think the series has just surpassed a million copies in print, which is pretty incredible, and it’s being translated into more and more languages. And I would have to imagine there’s enough demand for the books to justify Macmillan letting me do a spin-off series, Agents of S.U.I.T.
BB: Come to that, how did you come to write the InvestiGators’ books in the first place? And are there any specific comic influences on it/your style?
JPG: Back in mid-2018, after I had finished the art of A Bridge Too Fur, the second Kitten Construction Company book, I wanted to sell my next book before my editor, Calista Brill, went on maternity leave in about two weeks. I had pitched a sequel to Hippopotamister, but Calista was on the hunt for a chapter book graphic novel series. She basically gave me the weekend to come up with ideas, and of the dozen-or-so one-sentence book ideas I sent her, “Investi-Gators. It’s about alligators who wear vests and solve crimes” was the idea she thought had the most potential. So then I made a full pitch: designed the lead characters who I then named Mango and Brash, drew a two-page sample comic with them, and wrote out short synopses for what the first five books would be about. Once the green light was given, I only had about two months to actually write the whole book, because the art had to be done within six months, and I can’t draw a 200-page book in less than four months. So most of the first book was written like improv, coming up with characters and jokes and situations in a sort of stream of consciousness process. As for influences, it sounds a bit egotistical, but my biggest influence was myself! I had saved all the comics I drew from when I was a little kid, and I previously scanned them into the computer to make bound copies just to preserve them. With Investi-Gators (which eventually dropped the hyphen) I wanted to tap into the type of humor and energy the comics I made as a kid did. So I re-read them all, harnessed what youthful comic-making essence I had, and got creating! I even recycled some of the old jokes!
BB: And how would you account for the InvestiGators’ current wave of popularity? What niche do you feel it serves?
JPG: That is a good question. I think it’s popular primarily because kids TRULY want to read, they just don’t ONLY want to read as part of learning. They want to read some things purely for fun, and I try to make InvestiGators a fun read. I think the series also lands well with older readers and even adults. I occasionally put in stuff that I know will be funnier to adults, but not at the expense of something being confusing to kid readers. There’s at least one thing in each book that anyone can relate to! That’s my theory, anyway. But I think there’s plenty of room in this niche, and there are a whole bunch of other books out there that readers of InvestiGators will enjoy.
BB: Inquiring minds want to know – how many more InvestiGator books do you think there will be? Or will they continue on forever and ever and ever?
JPG: There are currently a total of eight planned InvestiGators books, and three planned for Agents of S.U.I.T. I have JUST finished the art for the seventh InvestiGators (called “All Tide Up”) and have a loose idea for book eight, but I’m not really approaching it as the *last* in the series. I know I’ve got plenty more ideas for adventures Mango and Brash can go on, so we’ll just have to wait and see!
BB: Finally, are you cooking up anything special to do outside of these inquisitive reptiles?
Well, I do technically have that Hippopotamister sequel I’m supposed to make. And people do regularly ask for more Kitten Construction Company books. But for the time being, it’s ALL-igator ALL the time for me! Other than baking sourdough bread every couple of weeks, in case you meant cooking in the literal sense. 🙂
Big old thanks to John for answering my question with such gusto (and, to be frank, such speed). Thanks too to Kelsey Marrujo and the folks at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for this fun opportunity to chat.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network