Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: On behalf of my fellow grammar geeks, thank you for such an incredible book! For our readers who may be unfamiliar with its premise, would you mind telling us about Super Grammar?
Tony: Super Grammar is a super visual and engaging approach to teaching English grammar using superheroes and supervillains. In short, we’ve taken all the major elements of grammar and we have personified them as superheroes with sentence enhancing super powers. Plus, all the common grammar mistakes have been personified as supervillains—a rotten bunch of wrongdoers who are determined to wreck and ruin each and every one of your sentences.
BD: What inspired you to create this learning tool for young readers?
Tony: Rhode and I are both visual learners, so we both really appreciate it when there’s any kind of illustrated or animated example to help us better understand whatever it is that we’re trying to learn. Unfortunately, though, when we were kids, we didn’t have very many options that offered us a visual approach to learning English grammar (aside from School House Rock! which, by the way, still rocks!). So when we started talking about making Super Grammar, the inspiration that we always wanted to keep in mind is this: Let’s make the grammar book that we wish we had when we were kids.
BD: Is there a specific age group that would be best served by Super Grammar, and do you hope to work directly with schools to bring the book to the classroom?
Tony: It’s always best to learn grammar at a very early age, so it would be great to get Super Grammar into the hands of younger kids; however, we didn’t make Super Grammar with any specific age group in mind. In fact, we were hoping that it would be just as appealing to high school kids, college students, and any parents who might be interested in brushing up on their English grammar. And to answer your second question—yes—we would absolutely love to work directly with schools to bring Super Grammar into the classroom. That would be awesome!
BD: In addition to your work with Super Grammar, you have both had very impressive careers in animation, illustration, and children’s literature. In fact, I believe that you met while working on the stop-motion animated feature James and the Giant Peach. Do you find it challenging to balance your creative endeavors, or do you enjoy staying busy?
Rhode: Yes, we did first meet while working on James and the Giant Peach. I remember my first day on that movie. I walked into the mold making room, where I would be working, and that’s when I first met Tony. He was playing Looney Tunes music in the room and talking cartoons. I felt like I was home! I also remember that it was around that time, years ago, that Tony first thought up what would later become Super Grammar.
As far as balancing my work load, I just feel lucky to be able to do something creative for a living. So no matter how busy it can sometimes get, I always try to make it all work.
BD: Given that you both have artistic backgrounds, can you discuss the creative process behind the book?
Rhode: Before I start any drawings, Tony and I first discuss the part of grammar that we’d like to teach, and then we talk about the best way to represent that piece of grammar as a character. For example, fragment sentences are weak and broken pieces of sentences that can’t stand alone, so we made the Fragment a crumbly stone character that could fall apart. And proper nouns are very formal kinds of nouns, so the Proper Noun character, aside from his super great posture, is dressed in pin-striped pants and wearing a monocle. All of these little details are designed to be visual cues that help us remember the concept of grammar that is being depicted. After I finish any drawings, Tony and I exchange notes and then I make any necessary drawing changes until we’re both happy with the design. We tried to boil things down to simplicity in design and at the same time create our own superhero universe.
BD: While Super Grammar is ideal for classroom use, an increasing number of comic books seem to be utilized by teachers in their day-to-day lessons. Do you feel that there is something inherent about the sequential art medium that lends itself to the classroom?
Rhode: I remember when there was a stigma to comic books as not being “real” reading material, so it's been nice to see children's book companies embrace the medium. I think comics are the perfect pairing of words and images, and I'm glad more teachers and students are enjoying sequential art.
BD: We had the pleasure of meeting at your San Diego Comic-Con booth this year. Did you find that the convention crowd was receptive to Super Grammar, and do you have plans to attend other conventions this year?
Tony: We were really very happy with the response. There was always a steady stream of people stopping by and asking about Super Grammar. I think that a lot of people were pleasantly surprised to see superheroes fighting for good grammar, and it was always nice to hear that people were excited about that idea. We currently don’t have any official plans to attend any other conventions this year, but if that changes, we’ll definitely make an announcement on our blog and on our Facebook page.
BD: With a September release date rapidly approaching, are you already at work on another installment of Super Grammar?
Tony: Yes, we’d absolutely love to do a follow up book to Super Grammar! There was just no way to fit everything that we wanted to teach about grammar into this first book, so we just decided to start off with the basics. There are still a lot of other important grammar topics that we’d like to teach in a Super Grammar style, such as gerunds, participles, and infinitives, so we’re definitely planning on a second book. In fact, we already have many of these new character designs in the works!
Rhode: We also have ideas for Super Grammar in other forms of media, such as animation and digital apps, so we’re exploring those avenues too.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite comic books and graphic novels?
Rhode: There are too many good comics and graphic novels to geek out about, but I’ll try to keep it short. The Amazing Spider-Man first got me into comics. I loved The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, as well as Batman: Year One by Miller and Mazucchelli. I also really enjoyed Epileptic by David B, and anything by Mignola is spooky fun, especially The Amazing Screw-on Head.
Tony: I’m a big fan of The Tick by Ben Edlund. I just thought those comics were hilarious and brilliant. I remember laughing out loud when I first read them. I’m also a really big X-Men fan, especially the Uncanny X-Men comics written by Chris Claremont. I just loved that world and all the mutant characters in it!
BD: Young readers may be inspired by your book to create their own comic books. What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to fans who aspire to work in the comic book industry?
Rhode: I would highly recommend just going for it: draw your comic panels, make your own photocopies, and then staple them together. Learn from your mistakes as you go, and then just keep going! For storytelling and the magic that happens in between the comic book panels, I would highly recommend Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner.
BD: On that same note, which creators have inspired your work?
Rhode: If I were to look back, I can pinpoint one children's book that was read to me in preschool and left a lasting impression. It was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. It's about a boy who draws and makes his creations come to life thanks to a magic purple crayon.
Tony: I grew up on a steady stream of Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons, like the Super Friends, Spider-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Robotech. I absolutely loved these shows! They inspired me then, and I can’t help but think that all of these shows and their creators are still inspiring me now.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Super Grammar?
Tony: To learn more about our book, our characters, and everything Super Grammar, visit our blog: www.supergrammar.com. But what we’d really like to say to our fans is that it was all your support in the form of positive comments and personal emails that gave us the amazing strength that we needed to finish this book. Thank you!