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It Starts With a Bag

Updated: Jul 6

A zip lock back, that is.

Around 2018, I was preparing for my first contact period with the University of Hartford’s Low-Residency Illustration program. It was a leap of faith for our family. Even though I had done quite a bit of research on the program and interviewed alumni, there were many unknowns ahead of us,

The first session was a two-week workshop on campus, with each week divided into two distinct classes. The second week's class was on building children's book dummies. The requirement was to bring a story concept you could develop over the week.

I was already well into developing my first book, the Titans of Taste. The text was completed, and most of the images were in place. It would be published a year later through Kickstarter. It didn’t feel authentic to the experience to bring something already so far down the road to work on in class, so I needed a new concept.

I had no idea what to do.

I wish I could remember the genesis of the conversation that led to this moment, but one evening in the kitchen with Evy and Julia, I filled a ziplock bag with water and poured the contents into the sink. 

“Girls, that’s how your bladder works!”

There was a look of shock and amazement in their eyes, and I well remember their response… 

“Do it again, Daddy!”

There’s something really magical in the moments when you see a youth’s eyes light up with understanding.

As I continued to lament throughout the week about not knowing what to do for the class, my wife helped me connect the dots. “Why don’t you do a book on how the body works?” She's a wise one, that gal.

Fueled with an idea, at last, I cranked out a very rough manuscript to bring to class. I had the seed of what I needed to step into the course.

The Children’s book development course was hosted by new faculty member Jeff Mack and veteran Lauren Mills. Both have incredible and distinctly different styles of work and ways of making books. Each student shared his or her idea, and we chatted about the concept. I very excitedly shared my idea; the book discusses digestion, learning, little workers, my daughters as cast members…

Adolfo Valle, hangs images for his peers before presenting book dummys, 2018
Dan Delisle presents his book dummy for peers and faculty (back) from the University of Hartford's Illustration MFA program, 2018

It was a little confusing.

Still, we had a week to work through the narrative visually. We had one week to effectively storyboard the book and prepare what’s called a ‘book dummy’, a small booklet that has the text and (very) rough images in place that give a framework for all the elements. The images in this post are from the final class session where we each shared our workshopped book dummys. Below is the first draft of The Fuel Factory, as it was at the end of the week. The whole expereince was a blast, and I had great momentum coming out of that week.

(Left) first draft of The Fuel Factory

Unbeknownst to me, the story had major issues: a confused voice, a poor narrative arc, and an uninspiring ending that I would find myself troubleshooting over the next few years. 

More on that over the next few weeks!

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