With more than 40 books of fiction, poetry and critical essays published in 35 countries, plus a raft of literary awards and honors including the Man Booker Prize (UK) for The Blind Assassin, the Giller Prize (Canada) for Alias Grace and an Officer of the Order of Canada distinction to her name, Margaret Atwood could easily call it a day.
But fortunately for her millions of fans worldwide, the 76-year-old Toronto-based author has no plans to retire. In fact, she’s breaking new ground of late, particularly in the kids lit and comic book worlds.
Atwood’s 2011 alliterative children’s book Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery was optioned for an animated preschool series by Toronto-based Breakthrough Entertainment in 2012.
It was recently greenlit by Canadian pubcaster Kids’ CBC, marking a first for an Atwood children’s book property (she’s written seven others). Currently in production, the 26 x eight-minute series is slated to premiere this winter.
Additionally, her long-awaited first-ever graphic novel, Angel Catbird, launched September 6, offering a pulp-inspired superhero adventure infused with humor and a lot of cat puns. Published by Dark Horse Comics (Sin City, Hellboy, Star Wars) and illustrated by Vancouver-based comic-book artist Johnnie Christmas, the title is the first of a three-volume series. It’s also being published in tandem with Nature Canada’s Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives initiative.
Atwood spoke with Kidscreen about her work on Breakthrough’s Wandering Wenda, the effects of technology on today’s kids, and her recent trip to San Diego Comic-Con.
What was your reaction to the series greenlight? Have you been involved creatively on the production of Wandering Wenda?
With all of these things, you’re always surprised that anyone options anything because you know how hard it is to actually make a series. So I thought, ‘Okay, good luck to them.’ Part of the difficulty is how do you turn an alliterative kids book that is so dependent on fun with words into a visual show? But Breakthrough wouldn’t have optioned it unless they already had some ideas. They are the specialists in kids programming, so I wasn’t part of the writing room. Although, I have popped in and out and have seen their ideas evolve. I did show them a couple of intros—one to help them pitch, and the other to serve as the intro of the show.
Some people might not know that you developed the LongPen remote signing device and video link, which allows authors to sign books and engage with fans from thousands of miles away. How do you view kids’ use of mobile technology today in terms of reading and education?
We’re now finding that kids are quite frequently switching back to paper books because, although you can use your mobile devices for all kinds of things, people and neurologists are discovering that you remember things of a certain kind better if they are in print. They’ve also found that you assimilate information better if you’re making notes yourself and actually writing. We have been through a time when people said everything will be digital, and that can be helpful, but it’s not the end of the story.
You’ve been drawing your own comic strips since the 1940s, but Angel Catbird is your first published graphic novel. Where did the idea come from, and how was your latest trip to Comic-Con?
I was drawing flying cats with wings when I was about six or seven, so it’s deeply embedded in my unconscious. It seemed like a natural thing to me that you could have a flying catbird superhero. For Comic-Con, I took down three sets of ears and three tails and got some of my collaborators to wear them. Comic-Con is very friendly and extremely accepting. When you see a guy with tentacles all over his face, you think, ‘Okay, it’s the tentacle guy.’