I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Alan Hesse, the author of The Adventures of Captain Polo and other works. But you don’t want to hear from me, you want to hear from him!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writer / illustrator on and off for years, but never took it seriously until mid-2018, when I realized I would never finish my comic book unless I made a radical commitment to doing so. So I quit my job and worked full time on my book. Since then I’ve become a full time author, which is not easy because my books don’t yet pay the bills!
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I need to be tightly organized to stay focused and in control of all the other stuff happening around me. My best working time is the morning, usually between 9 and 12 am. However with everyone at home nowadays due to the COVID lockdown, I need to balance this with my turn at making lunch, which is always a huge distraction!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I tend to unconsciously assume the same facial expressions of the characters I am drawing sometimes, particularly opening my eyes wide when I’m drawing a surprised character.
What does your family think of your writing?
They think it’s great! Though not many family members have actually read my books, for some reason!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I don’t hear from my readers nearly as much as I’d like to. Those who have written to me are kids in my target age range (middle grade) and they all say they love my books. They particularly appreciate the humour and they also, to my great satisfaction, understand the messages and educational content. From teachers I get mixed responses; most also love my books and even use them in class, but a few teachers have been known to take offense at certain characters or the way I draw them, seeing them as expressions of political opinion or racial prejudice, which of course isn’t true at all. This started happening, admittedly very rarely, since this whole ‘cancel culture’ trend started. Anything that is not completely squeaky clean will invariably provoke negative reactions from certain people. As an author and creative, I really think that is unavoidable, so I try not to worry about it. My books have several reviews on Amazon, and almost all are 5 stars, with 2 that are 4 stars. These were left by satisfied customers, so I think that says enough!
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
At first I wanted to be a kick-ass archaeologist, after I had seen Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark. Then I realized that real archaeologists don’t usually go around with a bull whip having adventures; rather they spend hours brushing away at tiny fragments of pottery, carbon dating, writing science papers and attending conferences. At age 12 my interest was drawn to wildlife after friends of my parents gave me a book for my birthday. The book was called The Encyclopedia of Animals. That’s when I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to wildlife, nature and wilderness.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I can’t think of any book that has made me cry. I don’t read those kinds of books! There is one film that made me cry my eyes out though: a French-Canadian film called ‘The Invasion of the Barbarians’, all about a man dying of cancer who convinces his close family members break the law to let him die by euthanasia.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I go for being as original as possible, and this can cost me readership. I am not politically correct in my work. This is never to offend, but merely because I believe in showing the truth and also that every creative person has to be true to their art, to their own form of expression. For me, this can mean drawing characters with large noses, having them slap each other around sometimes. Some of my characters drink, smoke, even use weapons from time to time. These are not traits that will gain my books popularity among all readers, particularly if I aim to get my books into the education market! Yet they are inherent to my style of humour, which tends to draw largely on stereotype, cultural idiosyncrasies. I can’t stand the generic, squeaky clean, predictable kind of humour you see in so many commercial animation movies these days. I steer clear of that, knowing that doing so probably costs me book sales, but that’s just a choice I make. I believe that those who appreciate my books are out there somewhere and eventually we’ll find each other.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I like to meet new authors through social media and establish a friendly and mutually rewarding relationship with them, focused but not limited to our respective writing. This sometimes leads to me offering to interview them for my blog. In this way I am now friends with Fantasy author Michael Ross, children’s author and oceanographer Gloria Barnett, climate change author and geographer Neil Kitching, and eco-fiction author Kevin Albin, among others. Each has something to share that I can learn from, whether it’s tips on book promotion and contacts, or technical expertise that I can tap into. It’s really all about exchanging our respective ideas, interests and techniques, and also seeing that we’re not alone in writing what we write!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
If you want to write to make a living, get used to the idea of also being an entrepreneur.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
So far the hiring of my publicist, who has got me interviews and exposure.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, by Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson. The reason it’s under-rated is because it is in the shadow of the original Dune book by Frank Herbert.
What are you working on now?
Book 4 of my ongoing climate change comic series: The Adventures of Captain Polo: Pole to Pole.
What do you have coming soon?
Once I publish Book 4 of my comic series, I’ll need to pretty quickly start planning Book 5, because that will be a sequel. I’m also thinking of creating some low-content books, such as book of puzzles about climate change, the environment, wildlife etc.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I guess the obvious thing, that may not have been apparent so far in this interview, is that I am an author / illustrator of educational eco-fiction in the format of comics and graphic novels. The ‘eco-fiction’ category is not mainstream by any means, but I have encountered more than one author who writes in it, so I think it should become a mainstream genre in its own right. My comics are all about the natural environment, conservation, climate change, things like that. All bear a message about taking better care of the planet, and all combine non-fiction (arising from thorough research) and fiction, in the form of a funny, adventure-filled plot with human and non-human characters.
I do it all myself, from the research all the way through to the artwork, plot, characters, design, layout, publishing and marketing. It’s all a bit too much for one person, so when I am able to I’ll probably need to outsource things like the marketing stuff I guess.
The other thing I’d like to share is that by profession I am actually a conservation biologist with nearly 30 years of experience working (and living) in Latin America. I use this background to fuel the technical content of my comic books, and I believe that comics are actually a very effective medium with which to bring awareness and education to not only kids, but adults too.
Thanks for your time!
Alan can be found at all the major social media sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube, as well as his own website https://alanhesse.com – just click on the link you want and away you go!
You can buy his books on Amazon – here’s a link to the box set of his Captain Polo books BUY ME NOW
But before you leave, let’s check out a page from one of his books!
Thanks so much for reading – let me know what you think!