Order of the Night Jay (Book One): The Forest Beckons is a Top Shelf Productions middle-grade graphic novel by Jonathan Schnapp. It tells the story of Frank, the first bear ever at Camp Jay Bird, as he navigates camp rules, gets lost in the woods, and searches for ancient mysteries. We had the chance to sit down with Schnapp and ask him questions about the book heralded as the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Check out the full interview below!
THE NERDY BASEMENT: First question for you: What would you want your last meal to be? You can include drinks.
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: We have a place nearby that serves “pizza squares,” Detroit-style pizzas with the sauce on top and they are simply amazing. So definitely one of those. Now, I know this is controversial for some, but I love pineapple on a pizza. Preferably with black olives and spinach (so I can pretend it’s healthy). To wash it down I’d go for a spicy ginger beer. Like, so gingery it makes your gums tingle.
Dessert? Do I get one of those too? If I have any room left I’d opt for a slice of Galaktoboureko – It’s a Greek semolina custard baked in phyllo and soaked in a rose syrup. So good. If I don’t meet my end after eating all that crazy-rich food, I may have just found my superpower.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: I am definitely a pineapple on pizza person! Wouldn’t mind a Hawaiian pizza and a galaktoboureko right now, that sounds amazing! Order of the Night Jay contains a whole host of fun characters who may be considered tropes in this style of story, but are any characters based on real-life experiences?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: Absolutely! Both Ricky and Frank are both “me,” so to speak. Growing up I was super afraid of doing the wrong thing and trapped in my own head like Frank is. I very much felt like an outsider. Nowadays I embrace my inner Ricky. I’m more willing to try things, be a little impulsive, and be silly. I’m much happier now too.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: In Australia, we don’t really have summer camps so I’ve only seen it on TV and many, many 90s straight to VHS movies; however, Scouts are a thing. Did you partake in summer camps or Scouts in your youth and, even if not, what benefits do you see coming out of it?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: I was in Boy Scouts till I was 18. Our troop never did a summer camp like in Order of the Night Jay, at least not while I was a member. Instead, we’d do week-long camping trips in different areas and do day trips and other activities using the campsite as home base. I remember riding in various vans for hours and hours as we’d head to camp.
We did those once a year. What inspired Camp Jay Bird were the other camping trips we’d go on. Regularly we’d end up at Camp Miakonda, the local scout campground, and do competitive exercises in first aid, fire starting, knot tying, etc. Mostly I remember we would go, do poorly at all the competitions, and then play pranks on the other troops. When we weren’t playing euchre, that is.
To answer the second part, the Boy Scouts (or, Scouts BSA, I think they’re called now?) certainly has had its problems. I have fond memories from that experience, sure, but I had a lot of bad ones too. I’m sure it’s changed a ton since I was a member too. I do think it’s important to stay in touch with those survival skills and to get exposed to the natural world, especially with technology becoming more and more embedded in our daily lives. Scouting is just one avenue for that.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Beauty and depth in the smallest things is a common theme throughout the story. Being different and the obstacles it creates also pop up a bit, ie bullying. Why do you think it’s important to talk about these things in the medium you’ve chosen?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: I should say right away that these are topics that are important to be talked about in every medium. But graphic novels and comics for the younger crowd have become incredibly popular. It’s been so amazing to see all these amazing works come out and I consider myself super lucky to have a small part in it. I feel a bit of a burden, especially as a straight white cis guy, to approach certain topics with sensitivity. I certainly felt different and excluded growing up, but I won’t pretend I understand what it’s like to be discriminated against.
So I tried to tap into my experiences in a way that’s maybe a bit more general, using different animal species as a way to show differences in appearance, beliefs, upbringings, outlooks, etc. At the very least I can emphasize listening and compassion when it comes to encountering people that are different from us. I believe that’s a critical part of fighting prejudice in the world. I maybe got a little off-topic there. For all I just said, comics are fabulous for taking these heavier notions and packaging them in something that can be fun and engaging but hopefully not preachy or condescending.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: As a teacher and a dad, I can see portions of this book being used to educate and spark curiosity in kids. For example, the close-up shots of erosion or shale could be used in geology lessons. Was this your intention or a happy accident?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: A bit of both! I rather dislike books that are overtly preachy or educational. But the scout camp setting almost necessitates that I include the close-ups you mention. Otherwise, what are the characters actually doing out there? Seeing them learn to tie real knots makes the world more… real! Don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than to see readers learn to tie a bowline knot or use a compass after reading Order of the Night Jay. I would be thrilled! But I didn’t include these just because they’re educational. They serve the plot too.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Building on that, the inclusion of little games or introductions to the characters as intermissions is a great addition to the book as a whole. I think it speaks to the nature of kids and their thought processes. How did you find that happy medium of craziness and heart in your story?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: The rule of three is great for this. I knew I wanted to break up the chapters somehow, but I didn’t want to waste that space. By doing three of something across the book’s pages you establish a pattern. So there’s three “Meet the Tailfeathers” and three of the full-page collage illustrations. Some things are harder to do that with – I enjoyed making the compass course page, but making puzzles is a time-consuming endeavor and making two more just wasn’t in the cards this time around.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Your illustrations are cute yet packed full of emotion. The full-page spread of the giant blue jay is quite impressive. Tell me about your creative process.
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: I’m happy to hear that the art resonates with you! I did acrylic paintings for years before I started into comics, and that informs the process heavily. I’d say I work much more organically than most. The story starts as an outline – mainly just the events and moments I want to include and in what order. I don’t think too much about how it will all lay out or how many pages the chapters should be. Once I get the plot points laid out I go right into thumbnailing. Nowadays, I’m sketching both in a sketchbook and on a digital tablet.
My brain just seems to work better when I’m “there” with the characters in the story so almost all the dialog and actions of the characters are written in situ and I let the layouts and pacing happen naturally. It’s a bit cumbersome, but it means I’m always surprised by the jokes and moments that just seem to happen. And then the story has gone in directions I never planned on as well!
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Within the graphic novel, one of the characters says, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” and I love that! It reminds me of my motto “ask for forgiveness, not permission”—which has definitely gotten me into some mishaps. What other nuggets of wisdom do you have?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: Actually, in the book, I flipped that around. “You can’t make an egg without breaking a few omelets.” I’m often mixing things up like this in real life, stumbling over my own metaphors. The only other words of geniousness I can give is the sentence “Hot things are hot.” Which sounds dumb unless, like me, you tend to just grab away regardless of the temperature. I still have a large scar on my forearm from when I brushed against the side of the oven back in March. Hot things are hot, Jon. Hot things are hot.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Haha! I’m actually exactly the same. I have a scar on my stomach from being too close to a pizza stone that had just come off the barbecue. Before we finish up, can you give any advice to those comic book fans (young kids or otherwise) who might want to follow in your footsteps as a writer or artist in this world?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: Do it!
Okay, I know it’s not entirely that simple, but if you have to do more than just dream. Like any burgeoning writer, I went through a number of rejection letters and half-baked stories that never went anywhere, but if you keep pushing past the discouragement and mistakes and failures you will definitely find success. Also, be aware that “success” is something that you get to decide. Heck, you’re also allowed to change your mind! I wanted to illustrate picture books for a while before I realized my style was better suited for older readers.
So do it and keep doing it and keep trying new things and, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself with other creators out there. Your journey is your own. Your only job in this life is to be the best you you can be.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Without giving anything away, the story definitely takes an interesting turn towards the end with a “To Be Continued” sticker attached. What crazy adventures do you have for Frank and Ricky? Or what else is on the cards for you?
JONATHAN SCHNAPP: Ricky and Frank’s adventures are far from over! In Book 2, they continue to investigate the truth of the Order of the Night Jay despite being in deep doo-doo after the events of Book 1. Other things to look forward to: Canoes. More trees. And a very soggy mustache.
There’s a plan for a third book after that to wrap up the saga. And then? I suppose I will figure that out when I get there! But I’m certainly not out of stories to tell.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Well, I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Thanks for the chat, Jonathan.
More About Order of the Night Jay:
Frank is perhaps the most un-bear-like bear Camp Jay Bird has ever seen. Actually, he’s probably the ONLY bear Camp Jay Bird has ever seen. And there are tons of bugs, he’s getting picked on, and he can’t seem to earn a single badge! But there’s Ricky, an excitable little raccoon who shares Frank’s love of Mega Bunny comics. But Ricky’s friendship might be more than Frank can handle. After breaking camp rules, getting lost in the woods, and discovering ancient secrets about the long-forgotten Order of the Night Jay, how will Frank explain all this to his dad?
Order of the Night Jay (Book One): The Forest Beckons is out September 22nd.
Want to discuss things further? Hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. And for more film, gaming, anime, and TV news, trailers, and updates make sure to keep it locked right here at The Nerdy Basement. While you’re here, please consider supporting us on Patreon! It’s an easy way of supporting us so we can keep providing you with your Nerdy News!