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November 3, 2015

When you have a husband who loves to draw and a wife who loves to write, there’s only one thing for a couple to do --- work together, of course! And that’s exactly what Jon Buller and Susan Schade do --- work as a team to create graphic novels, picture books, early readers, chapter books and more. Their newest graphic novel/traditional novel hybrid, SCARLETT:  A Star on the Run, follows a talking cat and movie star as she runs away from her cruel producer. She meets a dog with a similar tale and is taken in by Mr. Bougnan, but her pursuers are drawing ever closer… yikes!

Read our interview with Jon, below, to learn how he and Susan work together, the inspiration behind their clever tale and their own menagerie of pets. inspired you to write SCARLETT: A Star on the Run? Did you base any of the characters in SCARLETT on real people or animals, or did you completely make them up?

Jon Buller:The idea for this story originated with Susan.  She had a cousin with a husband much like Frank Mole, the old guy in the story.  He visited his wife frequently, but for the most part, he lived by himself in a small cabin very much like the one in the story.  He didn’t much care for people, but he loved animals.  Frank Mole and his cabin were the first brick in the structure that became SCARLETT.

KRC: SCARLETT doesn't shy away from some rather serious issues (for example, animal and human experimentation). Do you have strong feelings about these issues, yourself?

JB: We have strongly mixed feelings about these issues.  Ethically, we have very serious doubts about whether the mixing of species by genetic manipulation should be allowed.  But at the same time, we would love to have a talking cat.

KRC: It’s interesting that SCARLETT is a graphic novel but with sections of illustrated story. Why did you choose to tell the story in that style?

JB: There are some things that are very hard to do in graphic novels, like extended conversations that would require panel after panel of two people talking.  So you can leave these things out, but then the book can become more shallow as a result.  One solution to this, which is the one we have chosen, is to have the chapters alternate between comics format and illustrated text format.  We used this format in our Fog Mound Trilogy and thought it was successful

KRC: You and Susan Schade have worked on a lot of books together, but were there any new challenges you experienced when creating SCARLETT?

JB: For one thing, SCARLETT had to undergo a name change.  Scarlett was first sold to a French publisher, Bayard Editions, with the title THE PERILS OF POUSSETTE.  We thought that Poussette was a good name for a cat, but it turns out that in French a “poussette” is a small wheeled vehicle that is pushed, like a baby stroller or a pushcart.  So to a French reader, the title would be something like THE PERILS OF PUSHCART, which the editor at Bayard thought would not do.  They suggested Scarlett instead, and we agreed.  Then, when Papercutz decided to publish Scarlett in English, we decided to keep that name.

KRC:You've written a lot of animal stories, including SCARLETT. Do you have any pets of your own?

JB:Over the years we must have had a dozen cats.  We now have two cats, Phoebe and Zorro, and a part-time dog, Sherman.  Sherman belongs to our niece, but stays with us when she is at work.  At one time we had a moss terrarium with two garden snails, Ying and Yang, but we eventually released them back into the garden.

KRC: What draws you to writing stories for younger audiences?

JB:I think on some inner level, neither one of us is entirely grown up.

KRC: You’ve been writing books for your readers since the 1980’s. How has your approach changed since you first started?

JB:My first book was entirely a solo effort --- FANNY AND MAY by Jon Buller.  But the idea for our second book, THE NOISY COUNTING BOOK, was Susan’s, and ever since then we have worked as a team.  Sometimes I come up with the original idea, and sometimes Susan.  She does more of the writing, and I do more of the drawing, but we are always passing the manuscripts and drawings back and forth.  Although Susan does most of the writing, she has no interest in things like interviews and personal appearances.  So I (Jon Buller) do most of that.

KRC: How does working on a graphic novel differ from working on more traditional children's books?

JB: It’s a lot more work!  A typical picture book has 32 pages with, usually, one or two illustrations on a page.  Scarlett has 170 pages, and as many as 12 panels per page.  So a lot more of your time is tied up by a single project.

KRC: Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about?

JB: In 2016, Papercutz is going to publish another of our graphic novels, ANNE OF GREEN BAGELS.  This is the horrible nickname that Anne, our heroine, is given on her first day in a new school.  Can she survive this catastrophe, and can she and her friend Otto confound their enemies by winning the school talent show?  These and many other questions will be answered by the time this book is over!

KRC: What were your favorite books to read growing up?

JB: My favorite books were comic books.  I especially enjoyed the Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics drawn and written by Carl Barks. I also liked Classics Illustrated and Wonder Woman and Tarzan.  Susan’s favorites were Little Lulu and Nancy Drew.