The Making of The Real Riley Mayes: Feedback and Revision

the making of "The Real Riley Mayes"

Hello! This is the third of four blog posts about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, a graphic novel for kids. The first post focuses on inventing a character, the second post on research, and all three touch on revision- this post is all about it!

All writers revise their writing, whether it’s a novel, a comic, song lyrics, or a joke. If you think about the word: RE-VISION, it means “to look over again.” When you look at something you wrote from a new perspective, you might decide to make big changes. So how DO see your writing from a new perspective?

“The Real Riley Mayes” is a Stonewall Honor Book

events and news

I’m overwhelmed (in the BEST way) to learn “The Real Riley Mayes” is a Stonewall Honor Book in Children’s & Young Adult Literature! Huge thanks to the American Library Association, The ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, Donna Bray of Balzer + Bray, Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary, my family, friends, and loving partner Carol for all the support– and thanks to YOU for supporting LGBTQ+ books for young readers!

Once I get time to make a graphic of all the honorees / winners book covers, I’ll put it here. 🙂 Meanwhile, check out all the winners, and resources from ALA’s Rainbow Round Table at

Free LGBTQ+ Reading Discussion Guides for THE REAL RILEY MAYES

resources for teachers

Have you read THE REAL RILEY MAYES? Are you a big fan of secret codes, parallel cat universes, and dude-ish girls who act out humorous death scenes? Do you love graphic novels for kids with humor and heart? Do you want to discuss LGBTQ+ books with a group of kid-readers, but don’t know how to go about it best? The fine folks at HarperCollins made a free downlaodable reading guide that’s perfect for you!

School Visits and Workshops

events and news, resources for teachers, teaching with comics

Do you love connecting kids with creators? That’s fantastic, because I love helping creative kids put their ideas into words and pictures! I’ve taught classes in comic making and diary comics at Lexington’s Living Arts and Science Center, and I’ve taught workshops through Kentucky Arts and Humanities. During the pandemic, I also led a weekly drawing hangout for kids for a year and a half, and guest-taught at Homeschool Co-op 2020. Workshop activities include: playing games like “Animal + Emotion + Occupation” or “Ghostwriter”, making four-panel comics, or creating a class-wide zine. Check out the School Visit and Workshop flyer below! Then email or use the contact form in the ABOUT page.

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!

Teaching with Comics: Outlining a Presentation

teaching with comics

Today in my Writing Comics class at the University of Kentucky, we used comic making as a way to plan a short presentation. Each student has read a graphic novel of their choice, and they are planning a 3-minute talk about the book, the maker, and some specific comic-making decisions the maker made.

We do a lot of freewriting in this class, but it’s rarely text-only. Instead, I tell everyone to grab a sheet of blank paper or graph paper and draw 4 panels. So it made sense to outline our talks this way, too. We drew six panels, imagining each panel as 30 seconds of our talk, and went to work drawing and writing ideas.

The Making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES: Inventing a Character


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

In the opening pages of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, Riley doodles her favorite comedian on her homework, suggests off-the-wall football plays at recess, and stabs herself with a marker in protest during class. To the reader, her character emerges quickly. But it actually took months and years to create Riley.

What Happened at “The Real Riley Mayes” Book Events in Oklahoma

events and news

My debut graphic novel THE REAL RILEY MAYES is set in Oklahoma. See that tell-tale sky blue flag on the cover? I grew up there, and it was a joy to draw little slices of life from my home state into this book. There are Chevy Silverados in the drop-off circle, mullet haircuts with no irony whatsoever, and frito chili pie in the school cafeteria. There’s also LGBTQ+ characters in the book. Sometimes Oklahoma’s lawmakers are hostile to LGBTQ+ issues and rights, but Oklahomans in general are supportive, and there’s a lot of queer community to be found… in the book, and in real life. Last week I got to visit my home state for four stops on a quick book tour. Here’s the amazing people and places I got to visit:

REAL RILEY MAYES book signings and talks in Oklahoma

events and news

My debut graphic novel THE REAL RILEY MAYES is set in Oklahoma. I grew up there, and it was a joy to draw little slices of life from my home state into this LGBTQ+ book for kids. So I’m thrilled to come back to Oklahoma for three stops on a little book tour! If you’re in Oklahoma, come say hello!

SEPT 30: I’ll be on a panel “Banning Queer Books” at University of Central Oklahoma’s International Gender and Sexuality Studies Conference in Edmond. The panel is at 1:15 in Constitution Hall at UCO. There will be a REAL RILEY MAYES book signing afterwards, and free postcards for everyone!

OCT 1: I’ll be signing copies of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, and giving out free postcards, at the Pryor Book Exchange and Bible Bookstore in my hometown of Pryor, Oklahoma. I’ll be there 1pm-3pm. While you’re in town, don’t forget to swing by Sandusky’s Market for some jam (the edible kind and the musical kind!)

OCT 2: I’ll be talking about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES at Magic City Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Come ask a question! Pick up free postcards, and browse a scrapbook of behind-the-scenes sketches. 2pm at Magic City Books.

Printable SAY GAY and BIG FAN Real Riley Mayes Postcards

resources for teachers

Since Riley uses the U.S. Mail to contact her favorite TV comedian, I drew and designed these postcards. I bring them with me to book signings for THE REAL RILEY MAYES. Want some of your own to mail to your fave celeb, LGBTQ organization, your friends, or even your enemies? Here are two downloadable, printable color PDF files to make your own RILEY MAYES postcards. It works with Avery 8387 postcards, or you can print them on standard 8.5 x 11 cardstock and cut them yourself.

New Stuff in the Color Illustration Portfolio


If you click on PORTFOLIO and then COLOR ILLUSTRATION, you’ll find some new work! These are all mixed media pieces. There’s a little bit of correction going on in Photoshop, but most of what you see is true to the original illustration on paper.

The Great Heron.

Watercolor, colored pencil, and brushmarker with pigment-based ink on watercolor paper.

Snow Shovelling

Watercolor, colored pencil. brushmarker with pigment-based ink on watercolor paper.

Zeb and Bel

Watercolor, colored pencil, alcohol marker, brushmarker with pigment-based ink on watercolor paper.

Dip Pens


Photos of famous cartoonists always show them holding a dip pen. Alison Bechdel uses dip pens. Charles Schulz loved a particular dip pen nib so much, when the company was shutting down, he bought up the remaining nibs (or so the story goes) and now the nibs he stockpiled get auctioned off on Ebay.

When it comes to dip pens, I’m less like Charles Schulz and more like Charlie Brown.

strip shared via the charles schulz museum account on twitter: