How Tough is it to Package Journalism and Illustration?

I’ve always been a very visual person that also loves to write. When I started my journalism career, I thought that I could combine the two. Sounds easy, right? Just offer to illustrate your own stories. Problem is that editorial and art are siloed departments in newspapers and magazines. Editors don’t want to step on the toes of their art director colleagues by suggesting who to hire and vise versa. Although I eventually did manage to write and illustrate for the same newspaper, I never illustrated my own stories until I started working for the Wall Street Journal. My Sunday Journal editor thought it was a great idea for me to illustrate my career column. Sunday was a turnkey syndicated weekend business page that ran in 84 partner newspapers throughout the country and was read by nearly 11 million readers. I had a pretty good run until Sunday was retired in 2015 <sigh> so the paper could focus on newer digital programs.

A Different Tack

Anyways, I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels during COVID downtimes and have been filling out my already swelling bookshelves with work by Adrian Tomine, Jeff Lemir, Craig Thompson, Richard Sala, Ted McKeever, Charles Burns, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Juan Diaz Canales and Junajo Guarnido. Just to name a few!

I’ve always thought of comics as being a true auteurs platform since a creator can create the world, light the scene, damn the villains or the heroes, and ultimately unravel the entire world with a clever turn of phrase. I created many worlds as a kid and have watched comics evolve from chewing gum premiums into an accepted literary form. I’m elated that graphic novels like John Lewis’ March are now winning national book awards!

All of this great new work that I’ve been seeing has inspired me to start my own graphic novel that I’ve entitled Sage Cake. It’s a western horror epic about a pandemic that delays the Civil War. I came up with the idea long before our present day COVID existence but have worked in a few twists inspired by our current crisis.

But I’m not illustrating this book myself. After all of my blathering about wanting to do everything, I’ve decided to collaborate with a terrific illustrator named Aya Morton who is a far more skilled comic artist than I ever could be. She did the art for His Dream of the Skyland: The Walled City Trilogy and recently illustrated a graphic novel adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. What I love most about Aya’s work is how she incorporates repeating patterns that reflect period designs. It creates a compelling texture that really draws you into the panels, especially in the big spreads. The artwork for Sage Cake is still in early development as is the script but I’ll post samples once we have finalized some of the art.

I’ve included a panel sketch from an earlier unpublished collaboration that Aya and I concepted together with another writer. It’s a 1940’s murder mystery set within a Japanese-American community in San Jose, Calif. The story is fictional but draws from real historical events that take place during World War II, the Japanese-American internment and into the post-war recovery. I’m currently reworking that story which spans a three book arc. It’s a big project that requires a lot of research.

Artwork by Aya Morton


I’m finally working on a children’s picture book that I’m illustrating and my long overdue collection of essays. Friends and colleagues have hammered me for years to finish and now I’m following through with their advice. The book will include my essay about becoming a samurai horseman in a major motion picture as well as my laughable attempt to get to New Zealand as a horse archer. Yes, it’s that movie with Tom Cruise. More on that later.

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