Chris Schweizer Discusses His Latest Graphic Novel, Fix A Car! from First Second’s New Maker Comics Series
Last week First Second kicked off it’s newest graphic novel series, Maker Comics! One of the first two titles released was Chris Schweizer’s Fix A Car! which seeks to teach young readers some basics about vehicle maintenance. As someone who has popped five tires in the last year alone, this was probably the most relevant topic they could have covered out the gate.
Fix A Car! follows a group of teens – and preteens – as they take part in an after school car club. The simple premise gives readers a chance to learn along side the characters who, in addition to wanting to know more about cars (and earn extra credit), are facing everyday challenges readers may find relatable. From changing a flat tire to recognizing kids’ tendency to burn out when tackling too many extra-curicular activities, Fix A Car! covers a wide variety of topics in a fun graphic novel format.
If you’re like me and lack the attention span to watch a YouTube video on basic car maintenance but you love to read comics, then Fix A Car! is perfect for you. We had a chance to talk with Chris Schweizer about the book shortly after it’s release. Check out his answers below!
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, Chris!
So first off: how did you get so good at drawing cars? The illustrations are awesome. Have you always enjoyed drawing them?
I have not! Cars are, according to comic artist lore, one of the three trickiest things to draw (the others being horses and hands), because they have to look a certain way and if you get anything wrong it jumps out! Since they were always very hard for me to draw when I was younger, I just didn’t bother. But I did a book a few years ago where I had a ten-page sequence in which a truck was being chased by a monster, and I found that I loved drawing the truck during the chase scene. That got me drawing more cars, and made me excited to do a whole book with them.
Follow up: Were there any particular parts of the car that you found challenging either to illustrate or even just explain as you worked on Fix A Car!?
So many of the engine components were too close together to get any sort of clear photo reference, so those parts were often tricky because I had to work out of my head, using the manuals to make sure I was correctly drawing how those parts interacted with each other. This was especially tough when I had from-below angles, since the manuals showed those parts from above.
One of my favorite parts of the story was actually Ms. Gritt explaining the importance of slowing down and driving safely to Mason. Were there any other practical tips you wanted to share with young readers that maybe didn’t make it into the book?
I have two rules for myself: I keep the front seat clean in case I ever see someone who needs a ride (especially in rain), and I try to remember to strap down any especially heavy cargo that I’m carrying (power tools or cinder blocks or spare tires, that sort of thing). No car accident is good, but they can be a lot worse if something heavy turns into a missile that launches itself into the passenger area.
Half of the characters in Fix A Car! – including the fabulous Ms. Gritt – are female. With all the stereotypes about cars being a “boy” interest – was that a conscious decision in your character design?
It was. I didn’t see or read much kids media (beyond what was recommended to me, invariably the best stuff) until I became a dad, but these past few years have given me a lot to think about regarding what I want to see and what I don’t want to see regarding how gender is handled. So I wanted it to be an even split, but I also didn’t think I had room for more than four kid characters, so originally I had three males and two females. My editor, Robyn Chapman, pushed me to keep trying, and I realized that rather than add another kid character “type” and risk having to lessen the number of repairs to account for her, I could take my “expert” kid and make that character twins. This meant I could have the gender parity that the book needed, and I could keep the same number of repair activities. It also made the twins, Esther and Rocky, richer characters than either would have been individually, because they could play off each other in fun ways.
At the end of your book you mention your beloved Jeep Cherokee but much like Abner we all had a first automotive love. What was your first road baby? (And did it have a racing stripe?)
I had an enormous elephant-gray 1988 Chevy Suburban, a monstrous lumbering car that I could fit a lot of friends into and very comfortably sleep in when I was traveling, or taking breaks during work. I did not take good care of it, I’m afraid. It didn’t have a racing stripe, but I did make a hood ornament for it, a little plastic sculpture of a musketeer that I spray-painted silver.
Your biography in the back of the book indicates you’ve done a lot of very cool and very different things for a living. If you were to do another “Maker Comics” book what topic would you choose and why?
Probably nothing as real-life practical as Fix a Car! I love making costumes and props for my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and my cousins (and for me, though I haven’t for years), but Maker Comics already has an excellent costuming book coming out from the very talented Sarah Myer, who is a professor at the college at which I used to teach. Maybe there’s an audience for Maker Comics: Create a Historical Diorama! or Maker Comics: Build a Playset!
Lastly, what do you hope young readers can take away from Fix A Car!?
If you haven’t had someone show you how to do it, car maintenance can seem insurmountably complex. But it isn’t! There’s a lot to learn, of course, but we learn things every day, and cars aren’t any tougher than the other stuff, it’s just that we generally have less experience dealing with them. Learning the basics can help you to avoid a lot of expensive and potentially dangerous problems, and give you a sense of pride for having learned it. I’m hoping that kids who read Fix a Car! will have the confidence to take that journey.
Fix A Car! is out now and available in-stores and online. You can check out a preview here! Or pick up a copy for yourself and learn to check fluid levels, replace windshield wipers, jump-start a car, and (most importantly if you happen to be me) change a flat!