Minnesota author and illustrator Drew Brockington’s most recent graphic novels subtly explore what kids do to amuse themselves during everyday activities, like going on an airplane for the first time or visiting a museum. He knows that simple childhood memories like these can have a huge impact on people as they grow and discover what makes them happy.
“It’s going back to when you’re young and you see something and you feel like, ‘I want do that when I grow up,’” Brockington says. “It’s that feeling of ‘I want to go to space,’ or, like, for me it was ‘I want to draw comic books.’”
His latest book, Waffles and Pancake: Planetary-YUM, hit the shelves this winter. The graphic novel is part of his successful six-part series CatStronauts, aimed at ages 6 through 10. The series follows four cat astronauts (“CatStronauts”)—Major Meowser, Blanket, Pom Pom, and Waffles—as they travel through space to save their fellow cats from impending doom, in missions all inspired by NASA history.
Waffles and Pancake serves as a prequel to the series. It’s the story of two kitten siblings, Waffles, of CatStronauts fame, and Pancake. The two explore the science museum with their dad on the weekend. Brockington describes the book as “a love letter to NASA.”
As an origin story for the character of Waffles, who discovers his love of space, Waffles and Pancake also taps into Brockington’s own beginnings as an author. He experienced the same feeling of self-realization when visiting Comicon years ago with his girlfriend (now wife) and seeing other young illustrators creating their own graphic novels.
“I realized that everyone there was my age or younger, and I realized, whoa, there’s still time for me to do comics,” he says.
He started with zine fests and local comic shows and took a summer course on illustrating for children’s stories, where he honed his talent and love for “funnier, sillier” comics.
Brockington says illustrating for a younger audience differs from drawing stories for a YA or adult audience because children are still learning how their environment and their relationships affect their lives. In children’s comics, the young characters representing them are the focus, so readers can empathize and better understand the message of the story.
“They’re mainly focused on the characters; there’s not a lot of background drawing,” Brockington says. “It’s all about conversations between characters and the situations they get themselves in.”
Both Waffles and Pancake and The CatStronauts series draw inspiration from his own family. He adapts his own direct conversations with his kids for the stories, to better reflect how young children actually interact and communicate. He even prints out physical copies of the early versions of his work to get real-time feedback from his family to ensure that this age group is engaged.
Brockington hopes that kids can relate to his books and see his characters doing things his own twins would be doing: finding the extraordinary within the ordinary parts of life.
“I like pointing out the adventure in regular life, in finding the fun,” Brockington says. “In my own family, when we go to the grocery store or run any errands, we say, ‘Who wants to go on an adventure with me?’”