For James Buckley Jr., a seasoned sports journalist and current children’s book author with more than 600 books to his name, it’s all about teamwork. That’s why he’s recently teamed up with designer/letterer John Roshell of Comicraft to develop an exciting new series of children’s graphic nonfiction books, Show Me History! There are four books released so far — Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, and Martin Luther King Jr. — each telling a visually vibrant and historically accurate story of one iconic figure. Buckley’s first venture into the comic realm is an engaging change of pace that uses the graphic elements to add a creative and unique twist to what is at its core educational and developmentally important content.
Buckley recalled that Show Me History! was pitched to him and cowriter Mark Shulman as “Drunk History for 10-year-olds,” in which the graphic nonfiction work presents the true historical tales with elements of humor and creative paraphrasing to cater to the younger audience. “It’s a different way of telling familiar stories,” said Buckley. “If we can engage kids visually, we can get kids excited about these stories by making the experience fun.”
After developing manuscripts, Buckley immediately reached out to Roshell. The two had been friends for quite some time but had only done minor work together. “The first call I made was [to] John. We could not have done these without his expertise and support,” Buckley said. “He guided us through and helped us find some artists. He really took us through the whole process to bring the team together to win the game.” The result is sure to be a hit with kids across the country as the Show Me History! seamlessly unites Buckley’s calculated mind for nonfiction with Roshell’s striking eye for comics.
Buckley’s move to graphic nonfiction was a bit of an adjustment, but Roshell brought the experience needed, and the duo achieved a creative harmony. “Almost all of my work has been straight narrative,” said Buckley. “But to stop that writing and transition to essentially screenplay form, you need to think completely visually. It’s a lot of moving parts.”
Most of Roshell’s lettering work has been geared toward older audiences, so children’s graphic nonfiction was uncharted territory. However, Roshell appreciated Buckley’s more creative narrative approach. “The characters are constantly interacting with the comic format and the reader. The books are irreverent and silly, so it was fun getting into that space,” Roshell said.
Ultimately, as a comic letterer for more than 20 years, Roshell’s expertise was exactly what the project needed to pop visually for a younger audience. “What I love about comics is you can put anything on the page. You aren’t limited by special effects or any sort of budgetary boundaries,” explained Roshell. “With comics, you can really play around with visual effects and narrative structure, and I think these books do that well.”
The two also received some help from Roshell’s MAD Academy students, a Santa Barbara High School extracurricular program that teaches students Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop skills and applies them to comic lettering. The students worked on the lettering in the Show Me History!, gaining valuable hands-on experience. “The experience was really rewarding for them,” he said. “It was great that when the books came out, they got to hold them in their hands and see their names in the credits. They got to see that they made something. One student even got to bring home a copy for his little brother.”
In true spirit of Buckley’s passion for sports writing, Show Me History!’s development was a total team effort.
4•1•1 | Jim Buckley Jr. and John Roshell will sign copies of their books Sunday, April 28, 2 p.m., at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.). Call (805) 682-6787 or see chaucersbooks.com.