Karen Romano Young

From the desk: Doodlebug: My Novel in Doodles and Humanimal Doodles, a science comic in print and on the web.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I have been busy, really busy. I'm trying to get new book projects, both involving lots and lots of artwork, into shape to submit. I'm creating a logo for a new website by Lyn Pollard; it's about learning differences and it's called Different Doodles. (I'll post here when it goes up, but meanwhile you can check out Lyn's other site, Chalkydoodles). I've done some new Humanimal Doodles for Odyssey magazine. You can see the Alvinella doodle on my website. But also I've been dealing with blizzards, blackouts, birthdays, and Thanksgiving, teaching writing and doodling at libraries and schools around the state, and being on a panel (along with Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Natasha Friend, Sarah Darer Littman, and Esther Friesner), We were talking to a wonderful group of young adult librarians who are Connecticut Library Association members. Wow!

And also, good news: yesterday, Doodlebug won the Connecticut Book Award for children's writing. I'm thrilled -- and also excited to have gotten a signed copy of one of the children's illustration award-winning books, Chalk, by Bill Thomson, and to have finally gotten to talk to Wendell Minor about painting.

There is always a big part of me -- a really big, shy part -- that wishes to just sit and draw. It seems that all around me there are opportunities and invitations to draw, such as this one, sent to me by my brother Bill, who went to Pratt Institute, the art school, and saw this sign during a visit.

I'm looking forward to following up with some of the results of this. Check it out at Pratt's sketchbook site.

I've discovered some other amazing drawing going on around New York. For instance, did you hear about Christoph Niemann, who not only ran the New York Marathon, but doodled the whole time he did it? You can see his sketches in yesterday's New York Times magazine, and here.

And then there is Eric Molinsky, who is using his iPhone's Sketchbook ap to draw people he sees on the subway. There's a video about him, and he has a website with hundreds of his drawings, which look like some kind of crazy Maira Kalman wallpaper. Since having lost my power for two different weeks of this year and seen my work suffer from not being able to get on the interwebs, I got an iPhone. And next, I'm getting Sketchbook.

I'm surrounded by inspiration.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Hero

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. The movie is coming out soon; here's the trailer.

This book changed my attitude toward books, and made me realize that the way I think might actually be okay.

And, when I heard an interview with Brian, something he said changed my attitude toward my work, and made me realize that the way I feel when I'm working was maybe also okay.

If you haven't read this amazing book -- not just read it or flipped through it but looked at it and absorbed it and Brian's purpose start to finish -- I wish that you would give it a try.

When I began writing novels I found that I hardly ever wrote a scene longer than three pages, and I didn't quite understand why until my editor, Virginia Duncan, suggested that I envisioned my story as movie scenes. Yes -- I see it and hear it and my purpose in writing it is simply to make it move.

So I was fascinated to discover Hugo Cabret, a story whose illustrations reveal that Brian Selznick's vision is a movie and that, rather than only writing it down, he showed it in drawings intended to provide a similar view to that provided by a camera. Brian's pencil drawings deepen that view, making his story and its characters seem immediate, tangible, and deeply personal.

There's no direct connection between Brian's work and mine, other than the affirmation that someone who does things differently, staying faithful to his own way of seeing, can succeed, and can even expand the idea of how stories can be told.

In recent months I've been learning about transmedia storytelling -- using different digital and other modern media to involve people in stories in all kinds of ways, not only through reading. On Tuesday night at a meet up of Transmedia NYC, I heard Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digitial Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories, Frank talked with Nathan Golding about zombies taking over Boston in the style of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. And he showed examples of how people through history have feared what might happen if we got too deeply immersed in stories told through, say, reading, radio, and television. Now, once again, some are concerned that people experiencing stories through social networking, gaming, and other internet-based media may lose their grasp on reality.

My personal so-called transmedia focus is on using graphic elements such as comics and drawings and nonlinear, visual presentations of fiction and nonfiction. For me, Brian Selznick's work is an example of the fresh, new vision of what stories can be. And, though I'm nervous about what I'm doing, I remember something I heard Brian say to Horn Book editor Roger Sutton, and it soothes my spirit.

During the interview, on the floor at the American Library Association annual conference, Sutton asked Selznick how winning the Caldecott Award for Hugo Cabret had changed things for him. Selznick said that he had been terrified the whole time he was working on Hugo, sometimes fearing he couldn't go on. Now he realized that this terror was where he needed to be in his work, because that feeling assured him that he was pushing himself into new territory.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Birthday Doodle for Herbie Hippocampus

I'm a total fool for aquariums. It's the light. It's the fish. It's the smell. It's irresistible. I've been known to work

for aquariums free, or almost free, risking life, limb and reputation to get the ocean word out to the masses.

Gone are the days when I drove coolers full of live crabs around the state, bringing "touch tanks" to schools on behalf of the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Here are the days when I create Humanimal Doodles -- my graphic article/comic about animal science -- about work being done by people who work at aquariums.

Today's Doodling Desk doodle was created for Herbie Hippocampus, the official spokes-seahorse of Monterey Bay Aquarium, an objet d'amour for me since I wrote about it in my 1997 book, Guinness Record Breakers (now CHEAP at that link!) I've only gotten to visit once. There were people wearing crab and jellyfish costumes. There were sunfish (mola mola) in the deep ocean tank. And there were sea otters sunbathing in the kelp forest along the shore. Big sigh. I have to get back to California for some more doodling, and sunbathing, and strawberries...

But meanwhile, it's Herbie's birthday. So here's that doodle I promised you. Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Doodle News and a New Doodle

A deep bow of gratitude to the many people who sent me the link to Sunni Brown's wonderful TED talk about the value of doodling.

"The incredible contribution of the doodle is that it engages all four of the learning modalities -- visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic -- simultaneously with the possibility of an emotional experience. That is a pretty solid contribution for a behavior equated with doing nothing. "

There's more about Sunni at The Doodle Revolution.

On Friday at Comic Con I met Trevor Mueller of Reading With Pictures. In partnership with Northwestern University, the Reading With Pictures folks, led by graphic artist Josh Elder, seek to bring comics into the classroom, and have put together an acclaimed sampler of comics.
I'm trying to find a way to get involved, maybe through Humanimal Doodles, because when one of my loves (science comics) gets crossed with another (schools) I get excited.

I'm excited to present a brand new Humanimal Doodle here -- the first of the school year published in Odyssey magazine. In an issue about addiction, it features lab mice -- and the discussion of whether and why they should be used in labs. I'm reporting on the response to those ethical questions, so please don't engage me in the debate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Doodling to Learn

I'm always looking for new work, especially these days when I'm stretching to find new ways to work: no longer "just" a writer, in recent years I've become a science writer and an illustrator, and even -- sort of -- a designer, by default, as real (i.e. employed) designers look at my dummy pages with an assurance, or horror, that they're best done by the brain that thunk 'em up.

Sometimes when I'm looking for new work I do up a little marketing thingy for myself, and I was preparing one of these, making it to help scientists better understand what I do when I interview them and turn them into the subjects of blogs or articles or Humanimal Doodles. I needed some pull-out quotes for the marketing thingy, so I asked Beth Lindstrom, the editor of Odyssey, the science magazine in which Humanimal Doodles appear regularly.

Along with saying other friendly things, Beth mentioned that she thought my science comic went along with the principles at work in Felice Frankel's Picturing to Learn project. I hadn't heard of Frankel and her work, so I went to look, and what I found seemed to affirm everything I've been trying to do lately -- from letting go of formal thinking (by this I mean purposeful, goal-oriented, organized thinking), to trusting your mind to take a concept you've been learning about and synthesize a new form -- a visual form -- for it (by this I mean a doodle, and so does Frankel), and to use this doodle as a show-and-tell for what you know as well as what you want to learn, and then to share the whole thing.

This links up with the work I've been doing this summer with my writing and drawing, thanks to Lynda Barry and Writing the Unthinkable (see my last post for links), practicing Lynda's methods for taking yourself out of your formal mind and into the dark waters of the less conscious, disorganized, deep-process part of your head. This is the place I try to take myself to as I write, draw, or design -- and what's coming out of my fingers (yes -- fingers, "the original digital equipment", much more than keyboard) has been different, interesting, and empowering.

Frankel proposes that, through doodling, people learning science target what they know, form it into pictures showing relationships, and set processes in motion. Through her classroom work she has shown that people shown doodles learn more, and has created a program to inspire students to create their own doodles. I'm hoping to learn more about her work.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Doodling, Summer Not

Who's that girl with the glasses, the fuzzy dog, and the chicken pot pie? It's Marlys, protagonist of Lynda Barry's phenomenal comics.

Has it been nearly a month since I posted? Here are a few of the reasons why:

1. Finished revision of book dummy for a new book about ocean scientists called I Dive to the Bottom of the Ocean (and Come Back to Tell the Tale). My painting hand hurts.

2. Attended Lynda Barry's outstanding writing workshop Writing the Unthinkable at the Omega Institute, which is spectacularly lovely. And Lynda's my idol and guru, particularly for her amazing comics that you can see here. My writing hand hurts.

3. Completed new Humanimal Doodles about lab mice and hagfish. My doodling hand hurts!

How's your doodling hand? If it's not hurting too much, consider designing a Google Doodle -- that's one of those things they have on their opening page which I've written about before here.

Tomorrow, July 17, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is hosting a Family Day focused on doodling. Not only can you view the regional winners of the Google Doodle contest, you can try your (non-hurting) hand yourself. For more on this, click here.

Doodle on, dudes! I'm off to vacation, my sketchbook tucked under my arm. Among other art destinations: the Uffizi gallery in Florence... Ciao, belli. I'll be back soon