By Robert Trujillo
Peace Latin@s in Kid Lit readers! My name is Robert Trujillo and I’m an illustrator/author from Oakland, California. I am a part of a growing movement of independent children’s book creators here in the Bay Area, and it is an honor to be a contributor to this blog (I am a reader as well!). In this post, I am going to talk about my experience crowd funding my first children’s book and why creating the story is so important to me.
I’m a dad. My kid is 10 years old this year! When my son was first born, I decided that I wanted to read to him a lot and that I would look for cool books for and about him. As I got reacquainted with children’s literature, I found a few great stories that I enjoyed. I’ve always wanted to use my art to communicate a positive or progressive message, and while reading, I became inspired to tell my own stories–about children who are mixed racially, teen parents, kids who are raised bilingual or trilingual, alternative parenting, hip hop culture, social justice, freedom fighters, and more. But to be honest with you, when I sought out books in big stores like this, there weren’t any that reflected my son or these thoughts. In fact, I felt like these stories were almost invisible. So I decided I would make them. I did not know how to do it, so I decided to study. I’m still learning and will be a lifelong student of the craft.
After a three-year break, I decided to go back to college, finish my degree, and study storytelling in various ways. I immersed myself in comics, graphic novels, young adult novels, anime, film, and children’s books. I met a lot of very talented people who were also interested in telling their stories. I started to go to bookstores, blogs, events, etc. to learn. I sent out tons of art samples and contacted tons of editors, art directors, and publishers. I knew that it would be hard work and that it was normal to get a small response when you are just starting out, but I didn’t know until much later just how unrepresented stories that I want to tell were in the mainstream industry.
I reached out to other artists and writers in the field, who were gracious and generous–mostly. I understood that no one–NO ONE–was going to tell my story. Not only that, I could not wait any longer for people in power through the typical “submission” process to see it, understand it, or give me permission to tell it. I would have to do it on my own and take no shit from anyone. So I practiced, failed, tried out many styles, cultivated relationships, asked dumb questions, failed some more, shared my work all the time with family and friends, and slowly began to feel and be seen as a storyteller! I began to develop stories that spoke to me, without worrying if they were sellable to companies or gatekeepers in the industry. And one of those stories was Furqan’s First Flat Top.
It is partly based on my experience as I got my first flat top around the age of Furqan Moreno, the main character in the book. And it is partly a mixture of various influences, all thrown in the pot to make something that tastes right when I tell people about it, or draw. And that is why it is so important to me. But, how did I go from having an idea to getting it successfully funded? Well, here are some pointers.
So for me doing a Kickstarter about my story was about figuring out the best way to approach it and building a team of trusted riders (friends) to roll with me. I could not have done this book without my family, friends, colleagues, and fellow book creators. When I started, I knew that I wanted to hit the people I know with an image that they could relate to and share easily. I knew that I wanted to connect the many circles I subscribe to or participate in. And I knew that I should do it when it felt right.
What this means basically is to do what you love and seek out others who have very similar feelings at heart. People of all races, religions, political views, and beliefs can spot a phony a mile away. I am learning to take the time to not only create my story, but to invest in the children’s book community in some shape or form. For me, it means doing my homework, studying the art, etc. And when I do this, I often meet like-minded folks doing the same thing. After seven plus years, I’ve built some small connections with people. I’m still studying it, and I have a long way to go to be able to tell stories that touch people.
An art to it/outlet
Art has so many different connotations. I love to do many different types of art. I have a hard time sticking to one particular message or style because I like to explore. Exploring to me, means learning and growing. If I just paint a picture the same way over and over again because it works, it will be a style that is recognizable. But I want to transcend style. I want to just keep trying new things. So when I began working on a series of short stories using illustration and creative writing, it was a creative outlet. It was uninhibited and fun, and I think different folks connected with the stories for that reason. So, I would say “have fun” with your chosen medium first.
This is a tough one for some folks. On the one hand, I try to detach sometimes. Not so much when I first started to explore with sites like Myspace, but now, I have more than 10 different platforms where I not only engage with people who have similar interests, but I share content. The majority of the time I’m sharing things that I have created, but very often I share things that others have written, drawn, or said because it inspires me. Social media to me isn’t so much about talking and having everyone listen to you. It is about having an ongoing conversation about what drives you. When you do that, you naturally connect with people from Ireland to Idaho and everywhere in between. And of course you want to check in with your friends and family, because they are the folks that will give you your first shot. Then they share it with other people, who in turn may also listen.
While the campaign was going, before, and even now as I type this, I try to be open to receive and give. Open communication is key. Of course, I have my privacy, but I do like to see what my favorite musician, journalist, or sculptor is doing lately. And so I share my work and talk about it. Sometimes it feels like no one is listening, and then there are these amazing bursts of conversation where I connect with people one on one about storytelling; and I had no idea they were even into it. It helps to be accessible. You can turn it on or off when necessary but get out there and talk to folks, online or in person.
Right now I’m looking at my storyboards, sketches, and manuscript for the book. It is very challenging to create a picture book, but this one is fun because it’s a chance to just do my thing. No art directors, no editors (even though they are definitely helpful at times), nada. It’s just me and a team of folks I rely on to say “yeah” or “nope” when the time is right and I can’t decide. Before the campaign, I planned to create a short story, develop it, test it, get feedback, and expand it. I planned to talk to blogs, and various activists in the field of diversity, and I came across a bunch of obstacles that I was not expecting.
Follow through and Community
As I mentioned, I get help from people. Seek out people, build a phone tree, an email group, a regular group. Whatever, just build a community of people who can support you and whom you can support. And set small goals and knock them out. Start small so you can follow through and finish them. This way, you build momentum and feel like you are achieving something, moving forward, or progressing.
Good luck to all of you creators out there!
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Robert Trujillo is a visual artist and father who employs the use of illustration, storytelling, and public art to tell tales. These tales manifest in a variety of forms and they reflect the artist’s cultural background, dreams, and political / personal beliefs. He can be found online http://work.robdontstop.com/ and on Twitter at @RobertTres.