Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised on Long Island in North Babylon, NY.
How did you “break in” to comics?
As a kid, I loved reading comics, and I loved drawing… so making comics was only natural! While I was in elementary school, I’d have my mom bring my comic pages to her office so she could photocopy them and then I’d staple them into books to share with family. By the time I got to High School, I started collaborating on books with friends that we sold in the school store and at local comic conventions.
For college, I attended the School of Visual Arts where John Green and I created a black and white comic book series called Quicken Forbidden. We printed 2,000 copies of the first issue and distributed them to comic shops across the US. We ended up publishing 13 issues total (one of which got a Harvey Award nomination), and travelled to conventions all over the country promoting our work.
The summer before my senior year at college, I interned at DC Comics where I worked under an amazing editor named Dana Kurtin and got to answer fan mail and eventually write my first work-for-hire script for the Dexter’s Lab comic book. Dana also introduced me to Chris Duffy, who upon my graduation from college offered me a full-time job at Nickelodeon Magazine. I worked as a comics assistant and eventually an editor for over 10 years working with amazing editors, art directors, graphic designers, artists, and writers from all over the world. All the while. I never stopped developing comic projects on the side and by the time Nickelodeon ceased publication in 2009, I was fortunate enough to focus on completely on making graphic novels like Astronaut Academy and Teen Boat!
What advice do you have for artists?
You have to be passionate about what you do! Don’t make art that you like, make art that you love! Don’t expect to follow anyone’s footsteps. The path to success has to be different for every single person. There’s no shortcuts.
Also check out my Guide to Freelancing!
Wasn’t Astronaut Academy once called Astronaut Elementary?
Yes! It began as a webcomic and series of mini-comics called “Astronaut Elementary.” The title was changed for the graphic novel. About 70% of the pages were re-drawn for the final book.
Why do the characters in Astronaut Academy speak in run-on sentences and bold statements?
I wanted to make comics that would be especially entertaining to read out loud. Astronaut Academy takes cues from was my love of Japanese and Korean stationary, food packaging, and products that feature adorable mascot characters with unique phrases and creative translations. As a kid, I was obsessed with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley, two TV shows that delightfully twisted the English language in ways that stuck with me.
How would you describe your art style?
I like to make characters out of basic shapes that are fun to draw. I gravitate towards things that are cute and whimsical.
What supplies do you use to make comics?
I draw on Strathmore 500 Series Bristol plate/smooth surface. I use traditional lead pencils to draw and ink with Winsor & Newton Series 7 sable brushes, with Speedball Super-Black India ink.
Some of the pages feature my original hand lettering that was produced with a crow quill Hunt 107 pen nib and Speedball Super-black India Ink. During the course of the project, my hand suffered from a torn ligament, so John Green helped create a font based on Dave’s handwriting to finish lettering the book.
So you really still draw comics by hand?
Yes! But I do a lot of clean up on each page digitally, using a program called PhotoShop. All the graytones are also applied using the same program. This takes a lot of time so I often ask friends for help.
How do you write your comics?
I usually sketch out my ideas for stories in Composition notebooks. They tend to be incomprehensible to anyone else, because the thoughts are rarely fully formed. I’m often inconsistent about my layouts. Some are done in advance at varying sizes, while some are figured out on the page as he starts drawing.
Are you married to Raina Telgemeier, the author of SMILE?
Yes! And did you know that we share the exact same birthday? Even the same year!
We’ve also collaborated on a few comic projects like Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, Bizarro World, and X-Men: Misfits.
Will there be another Agnes Quill book?
Will there be another Jax Epoch book?
Will there be another X-Men: Misfits book?
It doesn’t seem likely. Raina and I wrote a script for Book 2 and Anzu completed about half the pencils, but the publisher decided not to continue their license with Marvel.
Will you come speak at my school/library/conference/convention/company picnic?
Sure! Please see my Author Visits Page for more information.
What are some of your favorite books?
Howl’s Moving Castle, Dogsbody, The Lives of Christopher Chant (and almost anything else by Diana Wynne Jones, The Harry Potter series, Calvin and Hobbes & Peanuts comic collections.
Guilty pleasure: The Dragonlance series!
What are some of your favorite movies?
The Three Caballero, The Dark Crystal, Edward Scissorhands, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Kiki’s Delivery Service and anything by Studio Ghibli.
Guilty pleasure: The Digimon movie!