Monday, June 17, 2013

Maxwell Eaton's Fast-Paced 'Flying Beaver Brothers'

Maxwell Eaton III's first graphic novel had me at hello. Who can resist a title like The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin PlanSeriously. When evil penguins are involved, I'm all over it. Both Penguin Plan and The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Fishy Business, which Kirkus Review calls "funny from the first panel," were released in January 2012 by Knopf. And for those of us eagerly anticipating his next installments, we have only a few weeks left to wait. As part of our monthlong Graphic Novel Summerfest, we're celebrating the release of his third and fourth titles, The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Mud-Slinging Moles and The Flying Beaver Brothers: Birds vs. Bunnies, which come out next month, on July 9th.

The Flying Beaver Brothers are the adorably furry siblings Ace and Bub. Ace is the active one, who loves extreme sports, surfing, and seems always up for adventure. Bub prefers nap time. But when danger lurks, the Beaver Brothers leap into action. And young readers will take the leap right along with them.

Whether it's swinging through trees, hang-gliding, or swimming deep below the waves, Ace and Bub are on the move battling the bad guys in these action-packed stories. Maxwell offers up the right dose of suspense, silly puns, and zany humor (the evil penguins are Bob and his assistant, Bob). The three-color palette that he uses is reminiscent of Jennifer Holm's wonderful Babymouse books.

My second-grader devoured the first two books and laughed out loud at the humor. "Some readers won’t make it through the most painful jokes," writes Kirkus, "but those who do will see something marvelous building itself in front of their eyes." Maxwell is also the author and illustrator of The Adventures of Max and Pinky series and Two Dumb Ducks.

Question: You've created a fast-paced, engaging story about two adventuresome brothers who save the day – and just happen to be beavers. Did the idea for this series come to you in a dream? How did you settle upon beavers as your heroes?

Maxwell Eaton III: At first they were The Flying Groundhog Brothers, but then I realized there were large rodent alternatives that made for catchier titles (plus “flying” and “ground” in the same title somehow fail to inspire). I also happened to grow up next to a swamp full of beavers and had been lucky enough to witness a lot of their skydiving and dry banter in person. After 18 years of eavesdropping, the stories basically wrote themselves.

Q: Graphic novels are a hot commodity for young readers. Did you study any other series before launching the Flying Beaver Brothers? What were your influences?

ME3: Of course I’d read Babymouse, which really broke ground for these sorts of series. But I’ve also always savored my newspaper comics. Especially the terrible ones, which really teach you the importance of timing. It can make or break things like make joke. Also or action. Too. Hi. [Editor's note: These typos are Maxwell's. Please message him directly to figure out what the heck he means or to gently point out his typing shortcomings!]

Q: There is a lot of sly humor in your stories, especially from the penguins. It seems perfectly calibrated for my second-grader, yet my older kids love the stories too. Are you writing to a particular audience or reader? Or perhaps to the reader you were back in elementary school?

ME3: I don’t really ever have a reader or audience in mind. I just write what I think is funny and what seems to work with the characters. A lot of the time my editor has to remind me that a certain joke might not work for the age group, and I remember that these are for young readers. Then I have to go back and take out all of the dirty stuff. And the reader I was back in elementary school wasn’t a reader at all. But he did manage to avoid ever getting head lice, so he couldn’t have been all bad. I do hope these books would have appealed to him and any of his modern day counterparts. Lice or not.

Q: What I love most about the Flying Beaver Brothers books is that they are hilarious without being obnoxious. Is this deliberate restraint on your part? Or are you trying to hit at a different level with your series?

ME3: Are you suggesting that I’m naturally obnoxious and have to reel it in when I’m writing? Well, you’ve done your research. But again, I just write what I think is funny. I know that sometimes it’s a little goofy, but there’s a fine line between goofy and obnoxious. And it’s straddled by a fish wearing a neck tie.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

ME3: A few laughs and a couple of readers to read without worrying it’s reading. I’m also on the lookout for synonyms.

Q: What will we see next from you?

ME3: Two new Beaver Brothers installments this July! In The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Mud-Slinging Moles, Ace and Bub defend their island from the diabolically pleasant Captain Jojo and his crew of near-sighted, dirt-stealing, but-basically-courteous moles. Then, in The Flying Beaver Brothers: Birds vs. Bunnies, Ace and Bub are caught in a battle between the feathers and the fuzz as they’re caged, cooped, and chased across Little Beaver Island in search of some vacation time amongst more oversized household appliances than a Claes Oldenburg retrospective. And, of course, there are further adventures in the works!

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