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Season 4

Episode 8: The dreaded Grawlix.: a conversation with Nick Bruel, author and illustrator of the Bad Kitty books.

Friday, September 22, 2023

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Jim Infantino Nick Bruel and Lionel Cassin

In this episode, we welcome Nick Bruel. Nick is the New York Times best selling author and illustrator of Boing, Who Is Melvin Bubble, and the Bad Kitty books. We start the discussion with Jim and Nick's history together from first grade, where they met their common nemesis and how it continued in college, where Nick drew a comic strip called Kawala Bob for the bi-college newspaper. We talk about books store categorization and the evolution of the chapter book and the graphic novel. We talk about his school visits and how he has moved from a hybrid model of graphic chapter books, toward making full color graphic novels. We talk about how the graphic novel format has its own challenges and bonuses. We find out the origins of Uncle Murray from the Bad Kitty books. We mention his influence of Mad Magazine artists Sergio Argonés and Don Martin. Lionel mentions Don Marquis & George Herriman, the creators of Archy and Mehitabel. We touch briefly on Windsor McKay and Little Nemo in Slumberland. Jim’s uncle Carmine Infantino comes up a lot as a big influence. We talk about Dav Pilkey and Kazu Kibuishi and the different type of community of illustrator/authors now vs the past. We talk about Kibuishi's graphic novels Amulet and his process in creating them.

Finally we have a discussion about book banning and how it has impacted Nick’s life and career, branching off into the power and danger of books from the time they were invented. Nick talks about a larger threat of public and school libraries getting completely defunded, a process that is on the way in many states. Jim says the first book that should be banned for inappropriate subjects would be the Bible and Nick mentions that this was brought up in Utah. This was a fantastic conversation - thank you very much to Nick Bruel for joining us on the pod.

Transcript (assembled by an automaton)

Jim Infantino (00:22.268)
I was biking around Boston and I was almost hit. But the good news, it was almost hit by a bike.

Lionel (00:31.212)
Why is that good news?

Jim Infantino (00:32.296)
Because there are so many bikes in Boston now, so many people are biking that you can now get into a bike collision.

Lionel (00:39.368)
Oh, that's... that's a good thing.

Jim Infantino (00:42.132)
That's a good sign.

Nick Bruel (00:42.274)
That's the best news I've heard all day. I'm so glad you told me this. The world needs a little good news today. Bicycle collisions. World needs more of that.

Lionel (00:49.928)

Jim Infantino (00:49.964)
Yeah, that's that. That's what I'm here for. We have a guest today. I'm really excited about this guest. This is a is an old friend of mine. Nick Bruhl is the author of the Bad Kitties series. He has written and this may not be a complete list. He's written 34 books and an additional book that I'm sure only I have a copy of.

And I don't know if you've read any of the bad kiddie books or if you've read who is Melvin Bubble or Boeing, his debut, but he is spectacular and world renowned and award winning. And it's really nice to have you here.

Nick Bruel (01:38.146)
It's great to be here and your audience should know that when you say old friends, it doesn't get much older. I was five. I was five when we first met. So it's been over half a century that you and I have known each other.

Jim Infantino (01:44.99)
Really old.

Jim Infantino (01:50.585)
And that was, I don't, it must have been an introduction between your mom or your dad and my mom and my dad when we were in kindergarten.

Lionel (01:59.24)
Is this like the is this the Cooper Village Mafia?

Jim Infantino (02:02.648)
No, no, Nick actually, Nick was on the exact opposite side of town. So I was down in the Lower East and he was in the very Upper West.

Nick Bruel (02:03.521)

Nick Bruel (02:11.474)
No, we met in first grade. So this is sort of the Friends Seminary Quaker school, Quaker Mafia, the underground Quaker Mafia. That's right. The.

Jim Infantino (02:13.577)
Oh, right.

Lionel (02:17.021)
Oh, the quake, the jackbooted Nazis of the Society of Friends.

Jim Infantino (02:18.969)

Jim Infantino (02:24.184)
Yes. They will silence you. Yeah, so we yeah, so we met. That's right. In first grade and we had a similar hobbies with drawing. But like my brother, you have taken it far, far further. And.

Nick Bruel (02:24.843)

Nick Bruel (02:30.218)
Ha ha ha.

Jim Infantino (02:52.58)
I love there was an interview that you gave about how you had started drawing, you wanted to be a comic strip, a newspaper comic strip creator. And that you had done a strip that I can't remember now, you must have done it at Friends called The Invisible Family.

Nick Bruel (03:00.938)

Nick Bruel (03:11.226)
Oh, yes. Well, you know, it might have been after Friends. It might have been I left after fifth grade. I went to a school called Trinity and on the Upper West Side. And I might have made it there. I do remember it clearly. I don't have any copies of it, but the whole idea was I did these little sequence of stories called The Adventures of the Invisible Family.

Jim Infantino (03:21.139)

Jim Infantino (03:37.456)

Nick Bruel (03:38.23)
The great thing about writing and drawing a series of stories about an invisible family is that as it turns out, an invisible family is really easy to draw. So Mr. Invisible was just sort of a shirt and pants and shoes and Mrs. Invisible was just a dress and the dog was invisible so all I had to do was draw a dog collar that floated in midair.

Lionel (03:45.972)
in an invisible family.

Yep. Just bubbles.

Jim Infantino (03:51.548)

Lionel (03:54.655)

Lionel (04:01.132)
Oh, so their clothes were still visible. So they were, okay, okay. Oh, I thought you were gonna go full Neilist on us and just, there's just gonna be speech bubbles and landscape and that's it.

Nick Bruel (04:04.014)
Well, yeah, I mean, you know.

Nick Bruel (04:11.898)
And I didn't use words to tell the story. I just handed in blank sheets of paper to my readers. And if they didn't understand it, that was their problem. So, but Jim's witnessed everything really in sort of the sort of evolution of what would become my career. Because Jim and I, we made comic books together in third grade with Ms. Pillsbury.

Lionel (04:14.052)
I'm sorry.

Jim Infantino (04:22.883)
Line up.

Jim Infantino (04:35.048)
I know, I remember well.

Nick Bruel (04:38.87)
as our teacher and yeah, you know, kudos to her for allowing, for giving the setting aside this time for the kids to sit around and make comic books inside this classroom. And in college where Jimmy and I would eventually reunite, I had a comic strip called Koala Bob for two years in that comic strip. But here's the story, Jim, you may not know this. Our teacher.

Jim Infantino (04:57.884)

Nick Bruel (05:06.415)
In first grade was Miss Judy Chu.

Jim Infantino (05:08.977)

Nick Bruel (05:10.734)
And about 10 years ago, maybe, she was still teaching. And I visited her classroom. She was teaching third grade. And I was able to bring in a class picture of us from first grade, where with all of the kids, you, myself, Judy, these massive 1970 bell bottoms.

But the coolest detail about that visit is that inside Judy Chu's third-grade classroom was the same turtle that was in our classroom when we were in first grade. And she would retire, you know, like three or four years later after that visit still, and she was able to bring that turtle home.

Jim Infantino (05:49.52)
What? No way! Oh, that's nuts!

Lionel (06:03.222)

Jim Infantino (06:03.484)
Wow, wow. You know, I was at the reunion this past year. Yeah, it was raining. Was it? Yeah, it was this past spring. And Susan Lohan and Keith Smith and myself were there. That was it from our year. But Judy Chiu was there. And yeah, I got a picture of myself with her. I took a selfie. She was a rock star, you know, of course.

Nick Bruel (06:08.45)

Nick Bruel (06:23.414)
What's your route? Wow.

Jim Infantino (06:29.616)
Um, yeah, it was great. And of course she, and she remembers everybody. She remember my brother and you know, you of course, and you know, a bunch of our classmates. But what I remember in Mrs. Pillsbury's class was that there were three of us and doing superhero, mostly trying to develop superhero characters. And I think mine was kind of made out of triangles, like with some kind of a triangle vest. And then, and I don't remember your superhero back then, but I do remember.

that we had a kind of rivalry with Paul Tarr because he was able to draw these incredible, like perfect, you know, torsos of these muscular, like superhero looking people. And we couldn't, I was like, how the heck does he do that? And my uncle, you know, he was great.

Nick Bruel (07:18.41)
Yeah, Walter could draw. It was insane how well this kid could draw for a third grader. We were shocked by it. And I would run into him. Years later, he recognized me. I was doing an event somewhere. I don't even remember where. And he's on the line. And I hadn't seen him since third grade. So now he is this man who's six feet tall and a beard like mine. And he's got a wife and kids. And he's a great guy.

Lionel (07:46.596)
Thanks for watching!

Nick Bruel (07:48.86)
Step 17 is like, you're not gonna remember me, but we knew each other in third grade and my name's called Tar and I was like, holy crap, it all came back. Yeah.

Jim Infantino (07:52.74)
Yeah. Yeah, it's you. Yeah, no, I just I remember I was like, I tried. I tried so hard to, like, you know, draw the kind of anatomically correct bodies and I was not up to it. And it was it was like my first realization. And like, oh, I'm not as good at this as I really want to be. But.

No, I remember now Koala Bob, didn't it appear in one of the zines like one of the college indie zines or was it where did that because there were a bunch of publications running around it ever from over there.

Nick Bruel (08:32.206)
It was the by college newspaper. I've referred Bryn Mawr by college weekly newspaper. And creating that comic strip every week was very formative for me for a whole bunch of different reasons because I was developing a character, characters, and it gave me a weekly deadline. So didn't matter what else was going on at college because I had.

Jim Infantino (08:35.207)
Oh yeah.

Jim Infantino (08:52.24)

Jim Infantino (08:55.473)

Nick Bruel (08:58.862)
papers and tests and grades and things to study for and stuff to hand in just about every day. I also had to hand in this comic strip every Friday by like one o'clock or whatever it was. Otherwise it wasn't gonna get there and they'd panic because they had to try and fill the space in the newspaper. And I never missed a deadline. And it was critical for me to be able to meet that deadline every single week.

Jim Infantino (09:13.225)

Nick Bruel (09:28.222)
And the only reason I got that newspaper, that opportunity, which was interesting to think back on, is because they announced just before the summer, before our junior year, that they needed a new comic strip artist and a new comic strip submission. So I spent the part of the summer really thinking about what I would do. And I came up with this sort of koala character and I thought it would, you know, it's interesting to have like this animal that didn't speak walking around on campus and...

you know, sort of exploring how people would accept this character and how this character would accept the campus. And I created two or three sample strips. I sent them in. And, you know, lo and behold, they said, great. We prove it, you know, you can have the comic strip space. Turns, the guy tells me weeks later, it's like, I got to tell you, I really didn't care for the strip, but you're the only one who submitted it. You're the only one, no one else.

Jim Infantino (10:15.273)

Lionel (10:22.188)
You're the only guy. And we had to fill the space.

Nick Bruel (10:25.986)
So we figured, yeah, we got to fill the space. So we tried. So, yeah.

Lionel (10:30.02)

Jim Infantino (10:31.988)
Technical note, Lionel, you're a little hot on the AKG. Can you twist the, there's a knob and the volume in the back? I think you marked it with a Sharpie.

Lionel (10:34.338)
I'm sorry.

Lionel (10:40.001)
I can try.

Jim Infantino (10:45.108)
I'll just cut this out.

Lionel (10:50.218)
Microsoft gain. Or may I just put the mic off? How about that? Is that okay? Okay.

Jim Infantino (10:52.728)
Yeah, that's good. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I love Koala Bob. I mean, everybody loved Koala Bob. And now I'm trying to remember who was there with Koala Bob. There was Oh, what is the New Zealand creature? Yes, Kiwi Floyd.

Nick Bruel (11:08.714)
I had Kiwi Floyd, his old buddy that came in after the first semester. And I got into some trouble midway through the first semester because I realized I wanted to create a Bryn Mawr counterpart. I can't remember if this was an idea I had or somebody approached me and said, you know, well, this is a Bi-Cod newspaper. So I had his sister go to Bryn Mawr. And I created a strip that actually caused some controversy because.

Jim Infantino (11:13.652)

Jim Infantino (11:24.954)

Lionel (11:37.024)
What, at Haverford? Controversy? No!

Nick Bruel (11:37.09)
I had a koala bear comes in. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, koalas all looked alike. So I thought, okay, I'll have this koala. His sister comes along. She looks exactly like koala Bob, but her name is Bernice. But during the course of the strip, you know, the final panel is like, you know, one week later and she's got, you know, Bryn Mawr look.

Jim Infantino (11:40.046)

Jim Infantino (11:49.99)

That's right. I remember. Yeah.

Jim Infantino (12:03.953)

Nick Bruel (12:04.951)
The 1980s giant hair combed over to one side. Look, she's wearing leggings and weird boots. And I got all these letters saying, like, this is really stereotypically insulting. Equal number of letters. It's like, you nailed it absolutely dead on. So I just left it on.

Jim Infantino (12:08.564)

Jim Infantino (12:26.064)
There was no way to avoid, with the bi-college thing, there was no way to avoid putting your foot in it. But that was part of it. I think that was actually great. Because I think in a lot of other places where it's purely like a male-dominated situation or historically, that sort of thing really at the time wasn't coming up at all. And because Bryn Mawr was women only.

There was a lot of stuff that you would kind of get wrong as a guy, sort of assuming that culture was just male.

Nick Bruel (13:02.666)
Yeah, you know, all the, what criticism I received back then was pretty minor, you know, that strip being the only slight exception. But I got to say, I think being on that campus and especially at that time, it caused me to be a little bit more socially conscious and aware than I might have been if I'd created this strip somewhere else. Which kind of had me sort of really think and explore concepts better.

Lionel (13:24.152)

Nick Bruel (13:31.346)
in a way that I'd use to this day. I don't know if I would have gotten that on a different campus. I don't have the experience of being on another campus, so I can't say for sure, but certainly Haverford and Bryn Mawr just being in that environment allowed for them.

Jim Infantino (13:46.141)
Mm-hmm. So, Koala Bab did make it to the big time, briefly. As far as I know, only appears in, boing, your first book. Did Koala Bab ever come back?

Nick Bruel (13:52.142)

Nick Bruel (13:58.227)
Oh, yeah, I do have a little thwalla that kind of makes a cameo in there. Yeah, you're right.

Jim Infantino (14:01.432)
Oh yeah, I always figured that was Bob.

Nick Bruel (14:03.902)
Yeah, that's right. Well, he's not really Bob that koala. And to y'all listeners, it's my almost wordless story about a kangaroo learning how to go boing and keeps failing until a koala who's been slowly climbing down the tree during the course of the entire book walks over and says, what do you have in your pocket? And she has, you know, because kids do this, have so much stuff in the pocket, gets emptied out.

Jim Infantino (14:28.512)
That's right.

Nick Bruel (14:33.622)
then she could go boing. Yeah, no, it's kind of more of a coincidence that I use the koala more than once. I figured if it was going to be kangaroos, I had to have sort of Australian animals present so the koala fit the bill.

Jim Infantino (14:55.746)
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, I love that book. I read it to the kids many times, and we've also read a number of the bad kitties. But I was told by my daughters last night, they were like, we need more bad kitties. So.

Nick Bruel (14:57.794)
Thank you.

Jim Infantino (15:13.144)
order a bunch. And there are, there's so many. There's so many. I had no idea.

Nick Bruel (15:14.478)
Well, they're coming slowly, but yeah. Yeah, I'm working on chapter book number 18 right now.

Jim Infantino (15:23.416)
Oh, that's right. So it's split between picture books and chapter books.

Lionel (15:28.932)
OK, can you explain this to me? Because I went into Barnes and Noble to buy some bad kiddie books to prepare for the show. Yeah, I've made an investment in your career, and I expect some answers now. No, I'm just joking. And so I go to Barnes and Noble, and you go to the kids section. And it's like, OK, there's the young reader section. There's the.

Nick Bruel (15:35.25)
Oh. Oh nice.

Jim Infantino (15:40.028)

Lionel (15:55.712)
toddlers and early learners section and they have like all these different sections and I'm looking for a barrel like B R U E L can't be that hard and we're going around I can't find anything it's like then there's a section called chapter books like what does that mean what do they mean by books that have chapters I doubt if the bad kitty books have chapters I don't know but they do they do have chapters but why does this happen why does

Jim Infantino (16:15.664)
Oh yeah, they do. Yeah, they do.

Nick Bruel (16:25.59)
No, it's interesting. You're right, because these are designations that didn't exist at all when we were kids, because there were like kids books, even the concept of young adult books didn't really exist when we were young. I encountered that for the first time right after college. I started working in bookstores and the first book store I worked in had a section for young adults. And it's like, whoa, what does that even mean? But that's...

Jim Infantino (16:34.976)

Lionel (16:53.965)

Nick Bruel (16:54.198)
That's for the older, you know, late teen readers who don't want to be lumped in with kids' books. So they may be going to the bookstore because they want to get, you know, books for their age, you know, like Wrinkle in Time. That's even, you know, middle grade already. The Giver, whatever. And they don't want to have to sort through all these other books that are going to have, you know, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

Lionel (17:24.333)
Right. Yeah.

Nick Bruel (17:24.362)
mixed. So, so it started, they started separating the age groups out around then, like, like 3040 years ago. And then they started sort of creating newer and newer designations. So middle grade came along and chapter books are kind of like this amorphous, you know, designation that comes right after picture books. So it's sort of like

you know, in terms of reading level, kids, picture books are books that are essentially read to them. Picture books, you know, in the industry, they call lap reading, like, is this a good book for lap reading? So the idea, you know, you create picture books, because picture books are to be read to a kid, or to a group of kids. When they're starting to embark on their own,

Lionel (18:00.202)

Jim Infantino (18:05.844)

Lionel (18:13.589)

Nick Bruel (18:20.094)
You have leveled readers, which are like what we saw when we were kids, like Frog and Toad and, you know, Dr. Susan, that sort of thing. And chapter books are like the first time they can take a book and there are chapters in it. And that's for the most part where my books lie. But even now, you know.

Jim Infantino (18:26.05)

Nick Bruel (18:44.126)
without trying, you know, my books started falling into a whole other category that didn't really exist when I first turned Bad Kidding into this chapter book series, because they were so heavily illustrated that they didn't quite fit graphic novels yet, and they didn't quite fit normal chapter books. So, um, Kirkus Reviews designated them graphic hybrids, like both chapter books and graphic novels. And

Jim Infantino (18:59.039)

Jim Infantino (19:07.668)

Nick Bruel (19:13.53)
Fortunately, that label never really stuck. So that section has not been invented inside of a library or a bookstore yet. Yeah.

Jim Infantino (19:17.585)

Yeah, a new...

Lionel (19:22.596)
Come here, sweetie. Let's go to the graphic hybrids. Would you like another graph? Would you like another graphic hybrid for your birthday? Oh, yeah.

Jim Infantino (19:25.588)
Hyper categorization, yeah.

Nick Bruel (19:29.036)

Jim Infantino (19:31.136)
Yeah. Well, that's interesting, too, because one of your newer books, Bad Kitty Superhero Supercat, is a graphic novel, is literally a graphic novel and full color all the way through, which is which I was actually just reading. And I and OK, mind blown, Nick. I have a big thank you at the front. Holy crap. Holy crap. That's so cool.

Nick Bruel (19:38.466)
Supercat. Yeah.

Nick Bruel (19:45.812)

Nick Bruel (19:51.583)

Nick Bruel (19:55.222)

Jim Infantino (19:59.504)
No, our listeners can't see it, but it, yeah.

Nick Bruel (20:02.306)
to Big Jim, Little Jim, Linda, Katherine, John, and all the iconic infantinos, including of course, Carmine, for all the comic book inspiration you've given me over the years.

Jim Infantino (20:15.294)
I didn't know. Thank you.

Nick Bruel (20:16.534)
You're welcome. And I'm sorry you didn't know because usually I'm really good about like, having, waiting for the book to come out and then I tell the person or I give it to them in person and I think it came out when last year was just a full year of bedlam.

Jim Infantino (20:28.561)
Well, yeah, we were.

We were in lockdown and you were probably on Zoom 24-7.

Nick Bruel (20:38.087)
Well, lockdown wasn't the last, it was just, you know, our personal sort of environment, our sphere was just in tumult for about, you know, 12 months.

Jim Infantino (20:46.848)
Oh, no worries. It's a wonderful surprise. Wonderful surprise. So, yeah, thank you. Thank you very much. But no, we have we have thoroughly enjoyed your books, kids.

Nick Bruel (20:52.837)
Oh, thank you.

Nick Bruel (21:00.79)
Thank you. But yeah, now they're pretty much graphic novels. I'm using panels, I've got word balloons, they sort of fit pretty cleanly inside the graphic novel designation. And it happened organically. It didn't happen because I decided one day I wanted them to be graphic novels. It just sort of happened in the sense that I started creating stories that had more characters and more settings and...

Lionel (21:04.488)

Jim Infantino (21:04.884)

Nick Bruel (21:31.278)
Once that happened, having multiple panels became a better way for me to tell the stories on the single page. Having multiple word balloons became easier so there wasn't any confusion as to which character was speaking and I could create more complex situations. So it just sort of happened on its own.

Jim Infantino (21:54.756)
Um, it's all right. So we can talk about other stuff. You probably always you probably this is what you do, right? You talk about your books and I don't I don't we can certainly branch off into the top. Really? Okay.

Nick Bruel (22:05.526)
Not as much as you'd think. No, because I visit schools and I'm talking to kids sort of about my books, but I don't go into the details of the industry or necessarily how I got to be where I am, right? It would be lovely and the teachers might be enthralled, but I'd have 500 first graders who are just cross-eyed and bored to pieces.

Lionel (22:08.729)
Thanks for watching!

Jim Infantino (22:19.632)
Right, that would be great though.

Jim Infantino (22:25.82)
Right. Ha ha ha.

Jim Infantino (22:34.838)
I'm sorry.

Nick Bruel (22:35.826)
So it's a very different environment. I talk to kids, I'm being much more interactive, creating a story and things like that. So being able to talk about how things come about and with these books is a nice treat.

Jim Infantino (22:53.108)
Well, what's cool is it's come full circle back to not superheroes, but to the graphic novel, to that thing where my uncle was certainly inspiring me and I wanted to do that. And, you know, you were you were totally into doing that. We're reading The Flash and stuff like that. And obviously, Paul Tarr was doing it much better. He does. He does. I actually I talked to him on Facebook. He's a very nice guy.

Nick Bruel (23:15.53)
He haunts you to this day I can tell.

Nick Bruel (23:21.967)
Oh, how neat! I should look for him. That's a good idea.

Jim Infantino (23:22.908)
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he's up there. He's up there. But yeah, so really exciting to see the panels. Because there's an artwork to creating the panels, the number on the page, the shape of the panels, the action that happens within the panels. There's a whole discipline to that. So I'm excited to see what you do with them.

Lionel (23:41.96)
OK. But I got a question, sorry. But and this and this may have to be edited out. But like if I look at this, right, I see panels and I see speech bubbles. So how is what you're doing now different from this?

Nick Bruel (23:44.342)
I, yes.

Jim Infantino (23:45.629)
Yeah, yeah, jump in.

Nick Bruel (23:51.755)


Jim Infantino (24:00.52)
Which one is, that's a giant kerf flop in the old Batman style. Oh, it goes to the vet.

Nick Bruel (24:02.946)
That's, um, that goes to the vet. Yeah. So it started happening around that book. So that's like the sixth or seventh book in the series. Um, prior to that, most of the pages were just, each page was a full illustration and there weren't, I didn't use panels. I think in fact, that's the very first book where I use word balloons at all. It was interesting. And, and, and.

Lionel (24:12.388)

Jim Infantino (24:14.123)

Jim Infantino (24:28.178)

Nick Bruel (24:30.022)
And that was around the book. And even there with that particular book, I used panels, but not a whole lot of them. It's still each page is more like a 160 page picture book where each page is a full illustration with some text. Yeah.

Lionel (24:37.292)

Lionel (24:49.832)
It's about half and half on this one. Which one came first? I got two that I got kitten trouble.

Nick Bruel (24:55.574)
Which is much later, that one's probably like number 12 or 13, something like that, yeah.

Lionel (24:59.024)
Okay, yeah, so you got things that definitely look like.

Nick Bruel (25:02.066)
that one becomes fully a graphic novel. But that's a good example because you can see I'm telling a very different type of story. With Kitten Trouble, I have a whole slew of new characters that have to be introduced. And it's a much more complicated story even. So one of the first things I recognize with panels that we don't think about is that panels actually slow down the storytelling.

Jim Infantino (25:03.228)
Yeah, that's so is it.

Lionel (25:05.309)

Nick Bruel (25:30.87)
because you're going from panel to panel to panel, and then the next page, so on and so forth. So you can actually slow down the pace of the storytelling. But when you turn the page and you have a two page spread, that's, you create incredible drama. So the panels became sort of a tool for me in how I pace the storytelling. Yeah, exactly. It really is almost like every panel is like,

Lionel (25:54.328)
Yeah, the tempo, right.

Nick Bruel (26:00.278)
the space between the panels is almost like pressing your foot on the pedal of a piano. To hold a note, if you.

Lionel (26:07.328)
Because there's an implication that the reader knows that the game here is, you're not gonna jump ahead three panels. You're gonna do this panel first, and you're not gonna look at the other panels. You're gonna do this one, then you're gonna do the next one, then you're gonna do the next one. That's sort of like, okay, go ahead. So I never thought of it that way. Fascinating.

Nick Bruel (26:21.686)
That's exactly right. But I'm also cognizant that the books I'm creating, because they're for young kids, I mean, I get, you know, kindergarteners, first graders contact me because they're reading my books. I don't go into crazy, like, huge panels. I try to create, like, two, three panels. I don't go, I don't have vertical and horizontal, until maybe later in the book.

Jim Infantino (26:43.46)
Right, the diagonals.

Nick Bruel (26:46.414)
maybe I'll do that later in the book, but for the most part, it'll just be one, two, three, or one, two, then one, two, three, one, two. Keep it very simple in terms of the panel creation. Your uncle's the one who created wild panels. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Your uncle sort of like formed that whole sort of language of how panels can be used to tell stories in a way that hadn't really been done before.

Jim Infantino (26:47.912)

Lionel (26:55.213)

Jim Infantino (27:02.044)
Yeah, there's like lightning bolt separators and yeah.

Nick Bruel (27:15.242)
I can't do that. One, I don't think in those terms, but I think also for my readers, because they're so young, I have to keep the layout simple.

Jim Infantino (27:17.161)
Well, you...

Jim Infantino (27:26.904)
Right, right. Well, I mean, I'm seeing in Supercat, there's, there is a really cool page where there's a kind of an oval drawing at the top and another oval drawing and then half the page is lawn and some action. And at the bottom, there's a panel embedded in the lawn, which is, which is super cool. And this also has some characters that I really enjoyed in school, but it's not called school days. I'm getting your titles wrong. School days.

Nick Bruel (27:37.943)

Nick Bruel (27:54.993)
That's right, bad kid school days. You talking about Dr. Lagomorf? I love Dr. Lagomorf.

Jim Infantino (27:56.708)
Yeah, Dr. Lagomorf and Captain Fantastica. Those seem to, you know, those are fantastic. And it's Uncle Murray, I think, is one of the characters I love the most. And when Uncle Murray would appear, there would be a kind of a cartoon panel that would show up. It's like, what was it? A moment of education with Uncle Murray? That wasn't called that, yeah.

Lionel (27:59.021)

Nick Bruel (28:20.566)
Right. The fun facts, yeah. Yeah.

Jim Infantino (28:22.396)
the fun facts with Uncle Murray. And then Uncle Murray would actually tell you, so Uncle Murray is this interesting character because he just seems like a doofus, you know, in terms of his appearance, but then he spouts all this useful information. That is, to the grownups, might be fascinating. Maybe to the kids too. You know, the reason cats hate dogs.

Nick Bruel (28:40.602)
I created Uncle Murray for a bunch of different reasons. Well, first of all, he appears in the very first Bad Kitty picture book. I go through this alphabet of animals and foods a cat wants to eat. When I got to the letter U, I couldn't think of a food or an animal that started with the letter U and unicorn just didn't seem to fit. So I thought, oh, it wouldn't be funny if I did uncle somebody. So I did Uncle Murray, because I had a real Uncle Murray and I'll tell you a great story about him in a minute.

Jim Infantino (28:57.431)
Ha ha!

Jim Infantino (29:04.06)
Yeah. Ah.

Nick Bruel (29:08.45)
But when I started doing these chapter books of Bad Kitty, and I had a friend whose son revealed to me one day, he just didn't care for fiction. He was interesting. He just did not care for fiction. And that was because fiction wasn't useful to him. So he had difficulty getting through a fictional book.

Jim Infantino (29:29.993)

Lionel (29:30.006)

Jim Infantino (29:32.372)

Nick Bruel (29:38.21)
but you give him like the Guinness Book of World Records, he'd open it and memorize everything. He loved that. A non-fiction that was information was useful to him. So it occurred to me that I was creating a very early simple chapter books and my target audience wasn't gonna be an age range like first or third or fourth grade. I wanted to sort of target reluctant readers. And

Lionel (29:41.256)
Mm-hmm. Yep.

Jim Infantino (29:47.422)

Nick Bruel (30:04.15)
thanks to my friend's son, I recognize that some reluctant readers aren't reluctant readers, per se, so much as they're reluctant fiction readers. So I'm going to just instill non-fiction inside of these books. They'll fit with the story. They'll come between certain chapters, but there's something a kid could turn to if they want to. And Uncle Murray himself would become like a critical character in this sort of

Lionel (30:10.894)

Jim Infantino (30:11.131)

Jim Infantino (30:17.778)

Nick Bruel (30:32.894)
world of Bad Kitty. And in many ways he is the sort of moral center of the Bad Kitty stories, because you know, he lives with these insane cats and these cats do things to him, but he just is so good-hearted. He tries to get away from them when he can, but his sort of personal sense of responsibility for their care, you know, is critical to how he operates. So let me tell you about the Mori story.

Jim Infantino (30:38.698)

Jim Infantino (31:00.188)
And he's super knowledgeable. That's what I love. I just, you know, I'm like, I actually learned things.

Nick Bruel (31:06.599)
I had a real Uncle Murray.

Jim Infantino (31:08.028)
Yeah, so on your dad's side.

Nick Bruel (31:11.53)
Yeah, my aunt Jen married three times. And her second husband was Murray. And this is how I like to tell it to kids when I visit schools. Because they'll ask me, where did Uncle Murray come from? Who's Uncle Murray? And I go, well, Uncle Murray, when he had, he was good friends.

with a famous comedy team called Abbott and Costello.

Lionel (31:43.964)
Yeah, yeah. Who's on first? Yes.

Jim Infantino (31:44.153)

Nick Bruel (31:45.878)
So this is what you. Yep. So what I tell these kids to do is go home, find a way to download, stream, rent a movie called Ab and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Cause if you like scary movies, you'll love this movie. If you like funny movies, you'll love this movie. And while you're watching Ab and Costello Meet Frankenstein, you can point to the screen and you can say out loud, hey, those two guys.

Jim Infantino (31:56.67)

Nick Bruel (32:15.586)
He used to play poker every Thursday night with a real life Uncle Murray. The truth, absolute truth. What my Uncle Murray would say to me, because I was a gigantic Abbott and Costello fan, right? Every Sunday at 11 o'clock, they showed two Abbott and Costello movies back to back. On WPIX. And he said, Bud Abbott was like the nicest guy ever. He loved Bud. He gets, it's like, and the example is,

Lionel (32:18.933)
Uncle Murray. Yeah.

Jim Infantino (32:19.157)
Ah! Wow.

Jim Infantino (32:28.147)
Oh yeah.

Jim Infantino (32:31.705)
I am, yeah, WPIX, I think.

Nick Bruel (32:45.298)
You could borrow $20 from Bud. He would never remind you to pay you back. He just didn't remind you. He just, he didn't get you out. He didn't get out of your case about it. Lou could be dark. If Lou was losing at cards, he got really dark, really angry, really fast. Really interesting.

Jim Infantino (32:51.048)

Lionel (32:51.62)

Jim Infantino (32:57.588)

Jim Infantino (33:02.984)

Jim Infantino (33:07.572)

Lionel (33:07.67)
Hey Abbott! That was one of the call signs.

Nick Bruel (33:11.501)

Jim Infantino (33:13.172)
Oh, that's that. So that's so that is where Uncle Murray comes from.

Nick Bruel (33:16.994)
That is where Uncle Murray comes from. And I use the Uncle, I don't really explain this to kids, but I'll give you a little insight. I use the real Uncle Murray's connection with Abbott and Costello, that Abbott and Costello's inspired a couple routines in my books. So like for instance, in,

Jim Infantino (33:40.5)

Nick Bruel (33:43.758)
Puppies Big Day, which is really more about the dog than the cat. There's this whole running gag throughout, in one of the chapters, where a cop, you don't even see him, he's not on the page. Uncle Murray's trying to walk this dog, and this cop you don't even see goes, hey you! You need a leash for that dog! And he keeps giving him a ticket.

Jim Infantino (34:02.56)


Nick Bruel (34:07.158)
because Uncle Murray just keeps not having the leash or the right leash or the dog's on the grass, that sort of thing, right? And at the end of the chapter, you know, Uncle Murray's so outraged, he lifts up his arms and his pants fall down. And that is totally an Abbot and Castello routine that I created in homage to my real life Uncle Murray.

Jim Infantino (34:19.296)
Ha ha.

Jim Infantino (34:23.658)
Got it.

Jim Infantino (34:29.631)
That's fantastic. Yeah, you have these connections with the entertainment industry. I mean, you were telling me your dad was psychotherapist. Is that the right title? Psychologist. And some of his patients were in movies and in TV. And his office was in your house, which was through four story, four story brownstone in New York.

Nick Bruel (34:43.064)
Yep. A psychologist, he called himself a therapist. One of the, yeah.

Nick Bruel (34:57.61)
Yeah, it was a four story tiny brownstone that's no longer there. It was between, I was on 100th Street between Broadway and West End. It's just not there at all anymore.

Jim Infantino (35:05.452)
Yeah, I remember going there often. I don't remember how I got there. Maybe my folks drove me and then eventually I took the Broadway bus. Was not a fan of the subway much when I was a kid. They're pretty stanky, yeah. They...

Nick Bruel (35:12.606)
I think so.

Nick Bruel (35:18.518)
Well, subways were pretty, you know, they were pretty wretched places. They're still not, you know, five stars, you know, even today, but compared to like the seventies. Oh my God.

Jim Infantino (35:27.684)

Jim Infantino (35:31.592)
But I would have spent much less time in that subway than I did on the bus getting up to the Upper West Side from the Lower East Side. But yeah, no, a lot of fun. We were very into reading Mad Magazine, as I recall, and very into Sergio Argonis and, I can't remember the other artists. Don Martin, that was who it was, yeah. Spy versus Spy.

Nick Bruel (35:36.289)

Nick Bruel (35:44.971)

Nick Bruel (35:52.674)
Don Martin.

Nick Bruel (35:58.646)
Dine Martin is probably more than any other cartoonist, my greatest influence.

Jim Infantino (36:04.296)
That makes sense, now that you say that, because his style, yeah, it's like you could have pulled Uncle Murray right out of a Don Martin cartoon.

Nick Bruel (36:14.774)
But also his style of just sort of absurd comedy. I loved what he did. I don't try to emulate him in the type of humor I create, but he was without question more influential than any other cartoonist I can think of.

Jim Infantino (36:20.918)

Jim Infantino (36:41.044)
um vinyl we're just we're just reminiscing which is just awful sorry about that

Lionel (36:45.092)
Go. The only thing I thought of is the thing that floats through my head is like George Harriman and Crazy Cat and also Archie and Mahidabal, which is Don Marquis. Do you remember Archie and Mahidabal, James? It's...

Nick Bruel (36:45.996)
That's true.

Nick Bruel (36:53.134)

Nick Bruel (36:57.195)

Nick Bruel (37:02.487)
That's right.

Jim Infantino (37:05.469)
I don't, I don't, but it also occurred to me, yeah, another one that I, that.

Lionel (37:08.448)
It looks a lot like Crazy Cat a bit. It's Don Marquis and what he did was, it's funny how you mentioned, you're talking Nick about having to deliver a comic strip every Friday to the Haveford-Burnmore by College News. Don Marquis had this problem. He had to generate a comic strip or something every week and he had horrible, he hated it. And so he invented this fictional character of this cockroach.

Um, it's Archie and Mahidabal. Archie was a cockroach and Mahidabal was a cat. Um, this is, I think during the 1920s, um, and Archie was a cockroach and he would come, he would, he would visit at night and use Don Marquis typewriter. And the only way he could type stuff was by flinging his entire body onto each key head downwards. So, um, the things that he wrote, he wrote these little poems that look like he comes because there's no capitalization.

Jim Infantino (37:56.692)

Lionel (38:03.056)
and there'd be these really, really short poems, these really short story poems, and then Don Marquis would draw a picture of Archie and Mahitable, and they're just fabulous.

Nick Bruel (38:12.61)
Well, Harriman, George Harriman would draw the pictures.

Lionel (38:15.66)
Was it Harriman? Oh, do I have this all wrong? Was it?

Nick Bruel (38:19.638)
No, no, you have it right, but George Harriman did the illustrations for the darn Mickey Archie Mahidabal stories, the poems, yeah.

Lionel (38:22.552)
He did!

Oh, okay, yes, I do have it completely wrong. Okay, so that's why they look really similar because they're done by the same person. Because Crazy Cat looks a lot like Archie Minnibald and obviously now I know why. Yeah, Dom Marquis did that stuff, but Crazy Cat, because I actually, one of my good friends, Bob, is really, really plugged into this whole thing about the early comics, the early comic illustrators. Bob Loy.

Jim Infantino (38:32.008)

Nick Bruel (38:50.594)
Good. Who's your friend?

Oh, because there's a guy named Bob Beerbomb that I know of. Same first name, that's why I was curious.

Lionel (39:01.108)
Yeah, no, Bob Lloyd, you know, Bob Lloyd would go on and on and on and on about Little Nemo in Slumberland. And he'd go on and on about Billy Corrigan, the smartest boy on earth. And he'd go on and on about all this stuff. And I was like, okay. And then I really started, then I really started getting fascinated by it. I was, Crazy Cat is really cool. And Little Nemo in Slumberland is really cool.

Jim Infantino (39:13.095)

Lionel (39:30.28)
And Bob told me this great story about how he was traveling through his, who's the guy who wrote little Nemo in slumberland.

Nick Bruel (39:36.736)
Windsor McKay.

Jim Infantino (39:38.249)

Lionel (39:38.744)
Bob Loy found the desk that Windsor McKay used to write all the little, it was still there somewhere in Wisconsin or some state near there. And Bob actually had met the guy who did Billy Corrigan. Okay, remind me, what's his name? The guy who did Billy Corrigan.

Nick Bruel (39:46.067)
Oh wow.

Nick Bruel (39:58.514)
Wow. I know what you're talking about. It escapes me, yes.

Lionel (40:01.908)
Yeah, but you know, people worship that guy, Billy Corrigan's smartest boy on earth. And his stuff is, it's not really my cup of tea, but you can tell this guy is really obsessive about his illustration. Like it's these incredibly intricate compositions of stuff like that. And Bob knew him, called him up and said, hey, I found McKay's desk where he did all the little Nemo and Slumberland.

Nick Bruel (40:05.046)
Yeah. Yes.

Nick Bruel (40:12.298)
Yes. Oh, yeah.

Nick Bruel (40:23.491)
That's great.

Lionel (40:31.84)
He said, are you interested in the desk? And I think the guy responded, he says, I'll drive with you to Wisconsin. Let's go. So there's this whole sense of these comic illustrators really like, it's a world. It's a world and.

Nick Bruel (40:37.111)

Jim Infantino (40:37.148)
Hmm. Hehehehehehe.

Nick Bruel (40:41.591)

Jim Infantino (40:47.036)
Well, I think Nick lives in that world now, in the new version of that world.

Nick Bruel (40:50.478)
A little bit. A little bit in the children's book world. You know, I don't, you know, I think gone are the days, the old sort of comic strip, comic book days where people just sort of collected together. You know, you bear in mind, like your uncle and all these comic book artists, they didn't work at home.

You know, they went into the office and there were tables and they sat and they drew and they were throwing pages around and stuff like that. And I think that's a lot of comic strip artists work that way. With the exception of when there are book festivals and such, I don't really commiserate with other children's book authors. And social media sort of makes it easy to, but also it makes it a sort of a

Jim Infantino (41:15.276)
Right. Yeah.

Nick Bruel (41:43.514)
I'm communicating in personal level, because I'm not actually meeting with them in person to talk to them, but I communicate with just about everybody, not in like this.

Jim Infantino (41:51.616)
Right. But there isn't, yeah, there isn't like a gathering place for you and Dav Pilkey and I'm now at a loss to name another but yeah.

Nick Bruel (42:01.694)
Yeah, no, David, yeah, yeah. Well, he's a funny example because he's also fairly, he's a reclusive. So I know people who know him. I met him once very briefly once years ago and that was, but at a book festival. Yeah, because we're just scattered, you know, in the wind all over the country, all over the world, really.

Jim Infantino (42:10.121)

Jim Infantino (42:20.754)
Right, right.

Jim Infantino (42:31.541)
Have you come across any of the work? The girls introduced me this graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi. Do you know his work?

Nick Bruel (42:43.506)
I actually saw him not too long ago. Him I got to chat with a little bit. He lives in San Antonio, and it was my first sort of big outing since the pandemic was to a book festival in San Antonio where really the only two authors present were him and me and him because he lived like very near there. He's terrific. He's not only is he extremely talented in the series

Jim Infantino (42:45.568)

Jim Infantino (43:01.14)

Jim Infantino (43:12.624)
Yeah. Oh.

Nick Bruel (43:13.274)
His wife is also very talented. So they're this like power couple who create these wonderful books. They collaborate on a couple things. And I had, I'm trying to, you know what, even if I can remember what it was, I don't think it was something I could tell you about. He's about to embark on a whole new project. And with a fairly well-known author. And I'm trying to remember who that was. Because, and I got this information, but it was.

It's probably confidential, so I probably shouldn't share it anyway.

Jim Infantino (43:42.42)
If it's inside, he has rabid fans, so we don't want to... No spoilers, no spoilers, so do you, but yeah.

Nick Bruel (43:47.226)
Oh my gosh, he does. Yeah, but Boyd is, he not, he has an extraordinarily loyal and immense fan base. And you wouldn't know it to talk to him. He's super chill, very nice guy.

Jim Infantino (44:06.18)
His process is amazing. I saw YouTube about kind of what goes into making one of the amulet books. And it's just these like, it's like a foot pile, you know, a pile of paper, like a foot thick of drafts and ideas. And the story writing is fantastic and really, really unique. His whole style is incredible.

Nick Bruel (44:32.662)
I'm going to look for that because I love seeing process, you know, the process that partisan authors go through. I don't witness it myself. So when they share something like that, I embrace it.

Jim Infantino (44:36.665)
Yeah, they're-

Jim Infantino (44:45.456)
Yeah, I believe it was just on YouTube. I was just looking, I was just hoping the next book would come out. But yeah, so I stumbled across, you know, how I create Amulet. But Lionel, if you haven't seen this, this is really worth, it's worth getting if you can find it. Amulet, yeah, it's a series of nine books, yeah.

Nick Bruel (44:50.999)
Ha ha.

Lionel (45:04.437)
What, Amulet? Yeah, I'm looking at it here. It's a whole series. And is that it? Is it just the nine and you're out or is it ever extending?

Nick Bruel (45:09.527)

Jim Infantino (45:12.32)
Well, there was, it's funny, there was a suggestion of a 10th book. And I don't know if there will be. But Astrid was saying, my youngest daughter was saying. That the story does, it does reach a conclusion. So what is what is left for the next book? And that may actually I know he was working on it for a while, but it may just be that the story has come to an end.

Jim Infantino (45:41.384)
That's fantastic. Interesting, you were in San Antonio and he's in San Antonio and Lionel was in San Antonio, moved to Syracuse, New York just recently.

Lionel (45:41.688)
Hmm, I'll check it out.

Nick Bruel (45:53.286)
Oh Syracuse is gorgeous. It is really a beautiful area. Yeah.

Lionel (45:55.72)
It is gorgeous. It's mind-blowingly really beautiful. It's a great place.

Jim Infantino (46:02.004)
But some, and I don't remember which book it was that started some of this stuff, speaking of Texas. But, you know, you write books about a kitten who's, a cat is misbehaving. And there's a series of characters around the cat. What is there to object to? Well, as it turns out, given the state of the country, and I don't mean to drag us into politics, and we promise we're not gonna talk about politics, but...

My understanding is that your... Is your book banned in certain states? Are some of your books banned in certain states?

Nick Bruel (46:39.67)
I have, I've had, I've been banned, one book, Bad Kitty Christmas was outright banned from a school in Houston. I've had several books or Bad Kitty is a series, not outright officially banned, but removed from reading lists and removed from classroom shelves.

Nick Bruel (47:10.492)
in a way that I know about, but not in paper. And I recently heard from an educator, and for her sake, I am not going to go into any detail, where I had, during the pandemic, I created these free books, Bad Kitty, Wash Your Paws, and Bad Kitty Gets a Shot.

Jim Infantino (47:30.749)

Nick Bruel (47:31.05)
which is basically about sort of, you know, needle hesitancy, because kids are going to get shots. And even though the word COVID doesn't appear anywhere in either book, it was enough to have the free book, which is not, so it can only be downloaded, not made available at a school. So I think I might have the distinction of being the, having created the first books to be banned.

Jim Infantino (47:36.433)

Nick Bruel (47:59.83)
that weren't even published.

Lionel (48:01.165)

Jim Infantino (48:01.943)

Nick Bruel (48:04.15)
But the...

Lionel (48:04.784)
You've been convicted in absentia. Yes, pre. We're just going to ban. Yeah, we're just we're pre banning everything that you publish going forward. Right.

Nick Bruel (48:07.603)
Yeah, that's a good way of putting it.

Jim Infantino (48:13.405)
My god.

Nick Bruel (48:15.418)
The American Library Association compiles a list every decade of the most banned books from the previous 10 years. So from, so for their list of 2010 to 2020, Bad Kitty as a Series came in at number 37, as I like to put it. Lolita came in at 73, so take that, Nabakov.

Jim Infantino (48:32.029)

Nick Bruel (48:41.59)
But yeah, next time they do this list for like 2020 to 2030, I don't think I'll come anywhere near the top 100 because books are getting banned by the hundreds and literally the thousands right now.

Jim Infantino (48:53.874)

Nick Bruel (49:03.71)
And the funny thing is that this whole idea of banning books has existed for a long, long time. Ever since books really began, people have been finding cause or reason to prevent them from going into certain hands. The only difference now why I think it's more serious now than it has been in a very long time is that this notion of banning books has become

Jim Infantino (49:13.696)

Nick Bruel (49:34.538)
much more amplified and much more organized. You have really entire groups that exist in order to challenge books in schools. And what's interesting is that when, certainly in some of the cases with books that I can speak of personally, they're not even being challenged by

students or parents or teachers or librarians in that school or even in that school district or even in that state.

Lionel (50:07.412)
Mm-hmm. All right.

Jim Infantino (50:09.375)

Nick Bruel (50:11.03)
But there is these, you know, organized coalitions of people who will go out of their way to contact schools and libraries and districts and such to challenge books wherever they may be. And it's pretty serious. It's less, I mean, in my case, I have this wide series of books about the ornery pussycat. So my books are going to be available. They're going to be seen.

Lionel (50:24.768)

Nick Bruel (50:39.902)
in some capacity. There are enough of them out there that kids will find them. And also, my books aren't getting banned for really overtly racist or homophobic reasons with possible exceptions on a bad kitty Christmas. But...

Jim Infantino (50:41.418)

Jim Infantino (50:56.883)

Nick Bruel (51:01.562)
When it happens to a new author who's created one story, one book about a boy who wants to wear a dress, and that book is taken off the shelves in that one school, it's never going to be seen. Any kid who may need to see that book is never going to see it. It is.

Jim Infantino (51:12.253)

Jim Infantino (51:21.927)

Nick Bruel (51:28.306)
they will never find it. They will never even think to ask for it or look for it because it never existed for them. And that is the ultimate goal. And in that way, these book bands are successful.

Jim Infantino (51:32.516)
Right, of course, they didn't know it existed. Yeah, yeah.

Lionel (51:41.812)
And that's why you're such a threat. Because I can see bad kitty one, bad kitty two, bad kitty. Hey, where's number four? Shut up. Don't talk about number four. Don't. And it's fascinating. I never thought of that. That's really interesting.

Jim Infantino (51:48.48)

Nick Bruel (51:52.536)

Jim Infantino (51:57.34)
It's also amazing. It's not bad kitty happy holidays. It's bad kitty Christmas, for crying out loud. They banned Christmas. They banned... Yes.

Nick Bruel (52:05.194)
Yes. That's right.

Well, that's a good, that's an excellent point because, you know, and again, I don't want to get political either, but I had, for instance, actually, if you want to see it for yourselves, you can just go to, look up Bad Kitty Christmas, and then look at all the one-star reviews. And there are dozens and dozens of them. And they go back since the moment the book came out. And they will tell you the sort of, you know,

Jim Infantino (52:23.871)

Jim Infantino (52:28.256)

Nick Bruel (52:39.038)
They will reveal to you the fury that people have over a single word that's in that book. Partner Pam. And I've received emails. My poor editor, her name is Emily Feinberg. She's magnificent. And she started as my former editor's assistant. And her very first week working at that publishing house, she received a phone call from an irate.

Jim Infantino (52:45.792)

Jim Infantino (53:05.44)

Nick Bruel (53:08.158)
you know, reader saying, why is this ironic? And she didn't know what she'd stepped into. She literally just started that job. It was like one of the first, I was like, oh, can you get that Emily? Okay, sure, it's my first date. What? But yeah.

Jim Infantino (53:11.52)
Trial by fire. Yeah.

Jim Infantino (53:20.668)
Yeah. Wait, Nick, can I just say, I just want to put something, and hold onto your thought. Whatever, godlessness bless the editors. It's like a thankless job. It's not, it doesn't get like, it's not on the cover, you know, but it's the work, and I've only had one of my books, you know, my two books, I had the chance to work with an editor, and it's an amazing thing to have. Just.

Nick Bruel (53:31.071)

Jim Infantino (53:50.644)
I just want to general love out to all the editors in the world. Sorry.

Nick Bruel (53:54.526)
Yeah, I mean, what I tell the kids is that basically, editors job is to ask themselves the same question over and over and over again, is this the best that Nick Bruhl or Jim Infantino can do? Is this the best they can do for every word, every image, whatever it may be, every chapter, every story, is this the best he can do? And if the answer is no, or maybe they come back to you say, do better, you know, let's talk about this, let's hatch this out. And it's a really critically important step. But what I was going to say about.

Jim Infantino (54:03.697)

Jim Infantino (54:17.169)

Nick Bruel (54:22.122)
Bad Kitty Christmas is that the book is called Bad Kitty Christmas. I have never once to this day received any word of complaint from somebody saying, why are you dedicating a book to Christmas? Why? You know, I've never heard from anybody who has a different faith or has no faith or doesn't believe in a religion or a God or Jesus Christmas. It's like, why are you trying to pawn this off on the children of America?

Lionel (54:30.436)

Jim Infantino (54:33.188)

Jim Infantino (54:45.675)

Lionel (54:47.532)
Why are you trying to shove Christianity down my throat?

Jim Infantino (54:50.208)
The militant atheists. Yeah, yeah.

Nick Bruel (54:50.718)
What is your agenda forcing Christmas down our throats?

Lionel (54:54.496)
Yeah. Yeah, right.

Jim Infantino (54:56.896)
Pagan cabal. They were not on the phone. They were asleep at the wheel.

Nick Bruel (54:58.218)

Nick Bruel (55:03.682)
So here's my closing remark on my diatribe about book banning.

Book banning is not my biggest fear right now. I used to think even a few weeks ago, my biggest concern was that kids were not going to be able to find certain books. My biggest fear now is that kids aren't going to be able to find any books because Houston has now gone to the extent and I can only see this becoming more and more, I won't say popular, but.

Jim Infantino (55:16.52)

Jim Infantino (55:29.717)

Nick Bruel (55:42.942)
standard, where I think it's like over 20, maybe as many as 30 schools in the Houston area, which were considered low functioning, they emptied the libraries out entirely. There is no library inside these certain schools in Houston, Texas, and they've been turned into

Lionel (56:08.964)

Nick Bruel (56:11.406)
quote, discipline centers, which sounds very handmade, Tal, and it's not the term that they use in the paperwork, but they do use those words. They're places where they can send students who need remedial encouragement or something along those lines. And where, I mean, there's a million different reasons why that is such an obviously bad idea. One of which is,

Jim Infantino (56:13.14)
Whoa! Geez!

Nick Bruel (56:39.634)
school library, you know, when you, if you're a kid in school, you are told what to study. We're going to talk about the quadratic theorem today. Okay. You are told what to read. It's like, we're going to read chapter four of Catch and Ride. No, that's not happening. That's not. We're going to, that's what we're going to do today. The library is the one place in the school where you can go.

Jim Infantino (56:58.58)
Probably not. Yeah.

Nick Bruel (57:08.222)
and you can find the book you want.

Jim Infantino (57:11.443)

Nick Bruel (57:12.374)
And they took away that choice. Utah has left the ABA, the American Booksellers Association. A large faction of Texas has recently announced that they're leaving the ALA, excuse me, American Library Association. The

Lionel (57:14.549)
Yep. Sure.

Jim Infantino (57:22.396)

Nick Bruel (57:36.814)
The trend I can see right now, and I think it's just beginning, is to...

basically end libraries. They're already terribly funded. Starting as much as 20 years ago, librarians were taken out of a lot of schools. A lot of schools simply don't have a librarian. They might have an attendant, but they're not educators. They can't actually teach anything. They just, you know, shelve and help kids check something out, if even.

Jim Infantino (58:00.337)

Jim Infantino (58:08.337)

Nick Bruel (58:15.198)
And one of the interesting things that's happening in Florida, if I can just continue here, I guess, is they've created this sort of, I don't know what you'd call it, like a coalition of people who are supposed to be certified librarians who are going to look over each and every single book and tell you what's allowed on the shelves until that happens. You really, you can't have your books on your shelves even in the classroom. So, you know, classroom libraries are.

Jim Infantino (58:20.328)

Lionel (58:22.42)
Thank you.

Nick Bruel (58:42.014)
empty. There are no books on the shelves until they are given the go-ahead from certified librarian, this committee, that's going to tell you if the book is okay. Here's the problem. There really aren't any certified librarians in Florida. I mean, I'm exaggerating, but, you know, the sort of war on...

literature has been going on for so long that one, not only are certified librarians removed from their role as librarians in schools to begin with, but fewer and fewer and fewer people are going into education programs in order to learn how to become a certified librarian. So this is the crisis that I think we're going to be facing that's going to turn the corner any minute now.

Jim Infantino (59:25.169)

Nick Bruel (59:36.574)
that librarians and librarians are under probably a greater threat than anytime that I've seen. And since I started, you know, making my own books.

Jim Infantino (59:51.572)
Yeah, well, it's the well, you know, the fact that books are so threatening also points to why they're so important. They're powerful. And, you know, two words in one of your books seems so dangerous to people that they could be your kid might contemplate a partner named Pam. Yeah.

Nick Bruel (01:00:14.578)
Not even a word, right? Right, I mean, this is the word that seems to get me into more trouble than anything else.

Jim Infantino (01:00:19.204)
One word.

Nick Bruel (01:00:25.214)
see if I can give it do it justice. Right. And that is this word. Right. The growlix.

Jim Infantino (01:00:34.859)
Sorry. Yeah, no, it's great, but I have to describe it.

Nick Bruel (01:00:35.742)
It's not a great, I'm sorry, but that indecipherable set of symbols that cartoons say like Andy Cap or Broomhildr when Donald Duck steps on a thumbtack, it's called a growlix. And I've received so many angry emails from parents. And this is one of the reasons my books have been removed from shelves in schools and libraries and classrooms and such.

Jim Infantino (01:00:42.832)

Lionel (01:00:46.997)

Jim Infantino (01:00:57.62)
For Grolix? For Hergamurga? I mean for Rega-Frega?

Nick Bruel (01:01:02.97)
Yeah, for Rassafrassit or whatever, because it implies the character is saying an obscenity, even though clearly I am not using an obscenity at all. But the implication that the character might be saying something that's objectionable is enough for some people to have my books removed from shelves in their entirety. And that's what got me to number 37, right?

Lionel (01:01:05.162)
Oh yeah!

Jim Infantino (01:01:05.8)

Jim Infantino (01:01:30.545)

Nick Bruel (01:01:31.73)
It's so frivolous. This is my take on it these days. The excuse people make to remove books for whatever cockamamie reason they come up with is so frivolous, but so devastating in the long run that we're experiencing the 2020s version

of the 1980s satanic panic, because everything's being done in the name of protecting children. And if you simply use that as an excuse, as hollow and baseless as it may be, it seems to be enough to get people to do your bidding.

Jim Infantino (01:02:04.38)

Jim Infantino (01:02:08.901)
Right, right.

Jim Infantino (01:02:24.912)
Yeah, well, I'll let's see. I will say something that will get the podcast banned. Let me think here. If these librarians certified librarians are consistent, the one book they should never let into these libraries ever again is the Bible. That book is not safe for anyone. If you read the book of Job or the book of, you know, the, no, well, first of all, Fratricide.

Nick Bruel (01:02:31.338)

Nick Bruel (01:02:44.366)

Jim Infantino (01:02:55.24)
uh, sodomy. It, there's, there's a lot of stuff in there. It's just not okay for kids in my opinion. And I'm going to write a nasty letter to the, to the editor.

Nick Bruel (01:02:59.566)
Oh yeah.

Nick Bruel (01:03:04.462)
Well, this happened in Utah. Because Utah had created such a simple and I was going to say simplistic method by which parents can challenge works that are brought into libraries, somebody actually did say, you know, I don't think the Bible should be there. You know, it's a, there's a whole lot of genocide going on in that first, you know, I don't want my kid reading about that. So they had to because they'd set the parameters.

Jim Infantino (01:03:17.972)

Yeah, by these standards.

Lionel (01:03:21.076)

Jim Infantino (01:03:26.196)
Child sacrifice? Yeah.

Nick Bruel (01:03:33.866)
in their own legislation, take the Bible off and review it. I'm sure it's back on the shelves, but they had to do take those steps. Here's the funny thing. I gave a talk a few years ago, just before the pandemic. It was actually my last public appearance before the pandemic, when it was on the topic of banned books and...

Jim Infantino (01:03:37.928)
Wow. Yeah, right.

Lionel (01:03:41.997)

Nick Bruel (01:04:01.206)
who would think that they would call those would be the good old days, but they are. I closed with what's the part of the problem isn't so much that these people don't trust the books, they don't trust the librarians and librarians are trained, they know what they're doing. And the question I closed with was, because I was speaking to educators, I'll be the first to say that clearly

Jim Infantino (01:04:05.352)

Nick Bruel (01:04:29.682)
Every librarian knows that not every book belongs in their collection. They know. But there are certain books that should be banned. There are certain books, and the measurement I use is if that book can actually result in physical harm, and there's a few, but they exist. The examples I use is the Protocols of Zion.

Jim Infantino (01:04:53.525)

Nick Bruel (01:04:58.922)
Mein Kampf might still be imprinted today. I know Houghton Mifflin had a paperback edition that they was on the shelves. I would argue it probably shouldn't be there. The Anarchist Cookbook, I have a copy on my shelves.

Jim Infantino (01:05:17.336)
I was just gonna say, how to make a Molotov cocktail. I actually wouldn't go so far as to say either of those two should be banned. I think people should know what they are and be able to read them. But our ignorance of the history of antisemitism should be taught and should be read. But yeah, there is a problem with teaching everybody how to make bombs, I suppose. Although there's the internet too, so hard to say.

Nick Bruel (01:05:41.214)
Yeah. All of these things exist. And you're right. I think we should have a knowledge that they exist and where they came from and why they're harmful and why they're dangerous. No question about that. But, you know, I do think that librarians who are well trained and know

Jim Infantino (01:05:53.852)

Nick Bruel (01:06:08.478)
their collection and the people that they cater to better than anybody else need to be the ones that make that decision. And if you don't, and every library already has within its system a method by which you can step to them and protest that their decisions, their public servants, they get, they were getting it up to their armpits every day already before these...

Jim Infantino (01:06:29.undefined)

Jim Infantino (01:06:35.376)
Yeah, yeah.

Nick Bruel (01:06:37.406)
you know, weird times came about. But let them talk about, let them explore what's right for their collections.

Jim Infantino (01:06:44.401)

Jim Infantino (01:06:49.5)
Lionel, do you have any thoughts on book banning?

Lionel (01:06:51.924)
I have all kinds of thoughts I don't think they're particularly relevant I think it's important to remember that. I'm always a little worried about all these discussions I hear on the media because they talk about books being banned many times was actually being discussed is weather book go to a particular section of the library. Sometimes it is about getting the book out of the library altogether other times it's about.

Jim Infantino (01:06:55.518)
I'm sorry.

Lionel (01:07:18.904)
does this really need to be in the preteen section? Does this need to be in the little kids section and stuff like that? All that, I just, I worry about that sometimes. But yeah, there's a lot of nonsense going on and a lot of people get bent out of shape. I find it fascinating people have time to go down to the library and argue about stuff when, you know, there's this immense sewer called the internet, which is available at everybody's fingertips.

right here right now. To me it feels like people blowing out a candle in a burning building. But I think Nick put it very well, which is that library's freedom, the library's freedom, it's the one place where they can't tell you what to do. Okay, you get a half an hour, you can do whatever you want. Okay. And you can go and you can pull anything off the shelf and you can read it. That is a

Jim Infantino (01:08:02.122)

Jim Infantino (01:08:16.113)

Lionel (01:08:16.928)
revolution that is literally a revolutionary concept that we're not guiding you and you can do whatever you want this is the thing that has been an explosive idea since 1420 or whatever it was

Nick Bruel (01:08:20.916)

Jim Infantino (01:08:31.792)
Yeah, and what could be more American? I mean, the idea of freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of what you read, attacking that anyway, we have stepped into politics and we said we wouldn't do it, but...

Lionel (01:08:39.643)

Lionel (01:08:45.712)
No, we're not stepping into politics. We're stepping into a fascinating thing, which is that the invention of the printing press really marked a complete fracture in history. Because up to that time, it took decades, it took a century, if not centuries, for technological changes to disperse across Europe.

and from China, like people talk about, oh, the compass came from China. Yeah, it took like 300 years. Okay. Cause somebody dropped it off the back of a camel and then somebody picked it up and they took it to Turkey and somebody wrote it on the printing press. From the moment it was invented within 25 years, there were printing presses in every single European capital and the number of printing pet, nothing had ever happened and nothing was going to happen again until Napster.

Really, Napster was the most rapidly downloaded and adopted pieces of software in the history of mankind. It happened, it was on an order of magnitude, and that was another revolution we're still living through. We're living in, if you point your microwave's telescope at the sky, listen carefully enough, you can hear Sean Fanning giggling in the air because Napster changed the universe. But Gutenberg did.

Jim Infantino (01:09:41.817)

Jim Infantino (01:10:04.445)

Lionel (01:10:10.26)
And it blew society to pieces. I mean, the Reformation and the challenge to the Catholic Church is directly, you know, you could draw a straight line. Yeah, books are really, as Hopper says to the princess in A Bug's Life, be careful, princess, ideas are very dangerous things. And they aren't, books are really, really dangerous things. And that's why people,

get bent out of shape about them because their freedom. Fahrenheit 451. It's all over the place. I think, congratulations. That's what I say to you, Nick. I mean, the fact that people feel this threatened about a book that's about a cat that needs to take a bath, wow. Wow, that's powerful.

Nick Bruel (01:11:05.058)
Well, what you said about the printing press is absolutely true. What I'd add to it is that what it did was it made books accessible. And once books, because books simply were not accessible, except the extraordinarily wealthy who could afford to go, you know, to wait, to order a book and wait months and months for it to be, you know, to be created or printed or handwritten and drawn and such.

Lionel (01:11:18.231)

Nick Bruel (01:11:33.926)
now that books were accessible, people had a reason to learn how to read. And once they knew how to read, they were able to assimilate information that they might not have been able to assimilate before. So yeah, books became powerful and people became smart.

Lionel (01:11:38.866)

Jim Infantino (01:11:38.995)

Lionel (01:11:55.468)
Well, it broke the monopoly. At that point, the internet was the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was the primary information network.

Jim Infantino (01:12:02.556)
Well, Calligrave was the publisher. Yeah.

Lionel (01:12:05.628)
literacy. It was everything and they were the internet. And they were Google and IBM all tied up together. And what Gutenberg did is it broke that monopoly and exploded books all over the place. And then Aldous Minutius comes along in Venice and invents the paperback. And it's a great story. It's a fabulous story about people just...

And yeah, people wrote a lot of really wacky books and immediately, immediately governments start doing things like you have to get a charter to run a printing press. You have to be licensed to run a printing press and there's all that stuff, but it moved fast enough and then you have the, and then at the same time you have the emergence, so you have this emergence of this separate sort of power structure, which is sort of the universities and the printing presses, but the universities and that's, and Jim and I've talked before about, you know,

Jim Infantino (01:12:39.143)

Lionel (01:12:57.976)
One of the things I find fascinating about Western European history is this multipolar power structure where you have the church, but you have these secular governments which are really separate and distinct from the church. But in addition to that, you have this thing called the universities and they're a separate power structure and they become their own thing. So you have this dialogue and they're constantly trying to shut each other down, which is what power structures do. And I think

banning the books and also just like you said with the Houston school district, but also you know I work in higher education and there's all kinds of stuff going on in higher education which is you know everybody was told to get rid of their diversity, equity and inclusion departments. Universities are being told that they're not going to be they're not going to receive as much funding for liberal arts. You need to you need to start you just have to pretty much teach all STEM.

and engineering stuff. I mean, there's always there's always this friction between the secular government and between the religious authority and the tree. Anyway, I'm rambling on and on and on. You're the guest.

Jim Infantino (01:14:04.72)
Well, when I asked you about your thoughts on book banning, I was kind of hoping for like a couple of sentences. Just I mean, I'm glad you have so many thoughts. I am a little bit, I don't want to keep Nick too long. It's getting late. Where you are, I'm sure you've got family things to attend to. Is this a good point to wrap it up? What are you working on right now? What's the next book? And I also want to say.

Lionel (01:14:09.996)
Give me that!

Nick Bruel (01:14:32.462)
The next book.

Jim Infantino (01:14:35.451)
Who is Melvin Bubble? Will there be another Melvin Bubble?

Nick Bruel (01:14:38.066)
No, there isn't. That book just went out of print not too long ago. Within the last two years, I'm afraid. But yeah, that is my favorite read aloud. Well, see, at the end of this year will come, Bad Kitty Makes a Movie. And the one I'm working on now is going to be Bad Kitty Party Animal. And the original title I had for it was Bad Kitty Dog Party. It's going to be.

Jim Infantino (01:15:00.168)
Heh. Heh heh heh.

Nick Bruel (01:15:05.666)
The dog has a birthday party and Kitty just hates the idea of it, but she has this responsibility to try and get him a present, that sort of thing. It's turned into the longest bad Kitty book. It's going to be 192 pages once it's completed. Yeah. Well, the last two have been 176. This one's going to be 192. Yeah. So.

Lionel (01:15:23.726)
192 pages?

Jim Infantino (01:15:25.213)
Holy mo.

Lionel (01:15:29.868)
Have you gotten any pushback from your readers? I mean, have you got like angry little kids like saying it? Hey.

Jim Infantino (01:15:30.013)
And is this?

Jim Infantino (01:15:35.392)
It's too long.

Nick Bruel (01:15:35.59)
No, no, if anything, my goal from the very beginning with these early chapter books was to create something that it had to be, I mean, it had to be like, over 100 pages, I think the shortest one is like 140 plus pages. And the reason I do that is because I want kids to be able to even though they're not very text heavy, I want kids to be able to finish reading this book and say, Whoa, I read this thing, it's over 100 pages.

Jim Infantino (01:16:00.964)
Yeah, yeah, that's good.

Nick Bruel (01:16:04.582)
But so far, nobody's, you know, pushed back on the length of them. Other than myself, because 192 is just daunting and a lot of work. But I'll meet my deadline and it should work out.

Jim Infantino (01:16:12.786)

Jim Infantino (01:16:23.848)
Wow, yeah, well, I think about how much work each one of these is, and now they're graphic novels, so they're probably more work.

Nick Bruel (01:16:32.434)
Yeah, well, yes and no. They're more work in terms of writing, but I'm very lucky in that I don't put in the color. I don't really know how to do that digitally. I could learn, but it would be time consuming. So my publisher is very kind in that they invest in hiring colorists. And I more or less supervise them, but they all have a far better sense of color theory than I do. So they do a pretty good job. And my supervision is good.

Jim Infantino (01:16:42.485)

Nick Bruel (01:17:02.398)
minimal at best in the long run. So that means I only have to do the line art. Whereas in the last, like the books that Lionel has, I was hand painting sort of monochromatic watercolor washes. I was hand painting all of those pages. So it would be an additional level of illustration work that would take me another two months after I did the line art. But now I don't have to do that anymore.

Jim Infantino (01:17:05.268)
Do you?

Jim Infantino (01:17:14.724)
Oh wow. Yes.

Jim Infantino (01:17:28.031)
Are you doing these with pencil and pen and paper and ink on a page? Yeah. Oh, that's great.

Nick Bruel (01:17:31.438)
Still, yeah, on paper, yeah. This is what I finished inking today.

Jim Infantino (01:17:38.068)
Oh, cool. Yeah, I'm sorry, listeners, you can't see it, but he's got he's got the professional, you know, heavy grade artist paper that my uncle always used to work on. That's awesome stuff.

Nick Bruel (01:17:41.16)
Oh, right. Ha ha ha.

Lionel (01:17:43.199)

Nick Bruel (01:17:47.806)
Yeah. And it, yeah, I mean, it would make sense for me to learn how to use, what's that program in Apple?

Jim Infantino (01:18:00.06)
Well, there's a Cintiq, which you could talk to my brother. He uses, he has a particular, it's not an iPad. He has a dedicated machine that really does this professionally. Maybe it's worth a try.

Nick Bruel (01:18:03.595)

Nick Bruel (01:18:07.806)

Nick Bruel (01:18:14.13)
It's definitely worth a try for me if I ever start exploring other avenues outside of Bad Kitty, which I hope to. But for now, you know, I have a good system going. And I can create one of these books in roughly six months' time. So.

Jim Infantino (01:18:24.56)

Jim Infantino (01:18:30.916)
I was gonna say, you know, your production is so low, you've gotta ramp it up, my God. I'm being sarcastic. I can't imagine. It's really, it's amazing. It's astounding how many books you've got out. And they're all a joy to read, and it doesn't matter if you've got kids or not. Take a look at a bad kiddie book. And I wanna say thank you. Thank you for talking with us.

Nick Bruel (01:18:36.685)

Nick Bruel (01:18:44.302)
Thank you.

Nick Bruel (01:18:55.234)
Thank you, Jim.

Nick Bruel (01:18:59.959)
It was fun.