The Making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES: Research

the making of "The Real Riley Mayes"

Hello! This is the second of four blog posts about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, a graphic novel for kids. This post focuses on inventing a character. Read the first post here.

Do you remember the first time you were so intrigued by someone, you just had to find out more about them? At 10 years old, I remember getting interested in short biographies to find out more about well known people: What were they like when they were kids? How did they grow up? What were their likes and dislikes? How did they become so AMAZING?

In the book THE REAL RILEY MAYES, Riley is searching for new friends… but she’s also searching for information about her favorite TV comedian, Joy Powers. Aaron helps her surf the web, but they don’t find an email or mailing address for fan mail. Instead, they find an intimidating photo gallery of her thirteen trips to the White House. Riley’s research into Joy Powers’s life is sometimes thrilling, sometimes daunting.

can you tell which panel was inspired by this photo by Pete Souza?

Artists and illustrators also do research to make better stories. I’d like to share with you some items I found through research. Drag the bar on each photo to reveal the research that inspired various pages in THE REAL RILEY MAYES!

One reason we do research is to verify if a story is believable. Did you know some school principals consider drawing a school on fire– which kills no one– a more serious offense than burning ants with a magnifying glass–which kills ants? This seems illogical to me, but it’s in a real school handbook I found online. So, it’s believable that her revenge drawings would get her in trouble with authority.

a paragraph from a school handbook inspired this incident.

I also researched struggles that LGBTQ experience at school. Being queer myself, I have personal experience. But I was a kid decades before Riley. Maybe circumstances had changed? I had to find out. To get more up to date details, I read GLSEN’s school climate survey. 76% of LGBTQ students experience verbal harassment, 31% are physically harassed, and 12.5 % are physically assaulted. These numbers are higher in Oklahoma, my birth state and where Riley lives and goes to school. These statistics proved kids still experience the same problems I did when I was young.

statistics from GLSEN show that this scene still occurs at schools

Riley and Cate are very imaginative kid-characters. But in early drafts, their imaginative play seemed unrealistic. They played more like six or seven year olds than like ten or eleven year olds. I found a science journal article called “Imaginary Worlds in Middle Childhood: A Qualitative Study of Two Pairs of Coordinated Paracosms.” Those are fancy words for “We Interviewed Some Kid Friends About The Imaginary Countries They Invented Together And Here’s What They Said.” The authors discovered that 10-12 year olds love creating imaginary countries with their own flags, languages, foods, laws, and even wars. This research helped create Cate’s fictional cat universe: Nyanland.

This science journal article inspired NYANLAND.

Can I tell y’all a secret? I like drawing a lot more than reading articles on the internet. My favorite research involves drawing from photos or the people I see around me. When the time came to draw the Girls’ Night chapter, I was a little overwhelmed. How do I draw a house full of girls? Girls that don’t look the same, and each have their own personality? I filled pages of a sketchbook with drawings of kids’ clothes available at small-town stores. You might not see an exact version of each shirt in the scene, but this research helped me dress each girl in their own unique costume.

Drawing is my favorite research activity!

If you want to know more about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, check out some of the other blog posts, or contact me about a school visit via the ABOUT page.

THE REAL RILEY MAYES is a graphic novel for readers 8-12. Funny and full of heart, it’s a story about friendship, identity, and embracing all the parts of yourself that make you special. Click here to order from your local indie bookstore 🙂

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