Russell Weinwright is just trying to survive middle school.
On campus he has to deal with his creepy science teacher, questionable school lunches and some bullies. He’d really rather just draw in his notebook than pay attention in class.
He’s also part swamp monster.
“The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid,” written and illustrated by Kirk Scroggs, is Russell’s personal chronicle of his daily adventures. The journal-style, middle-grade graphic novel was released Tuesday from DC Zoom.
“He’s got algae for hair, face tendrils and a giant tree trunk arm. You can’t get any more outcast than Russell Weinwright,” Scroggs said in a recent phone interview. “It’s a struggle for him. And I think everyone can identify with feeling either uncomfortable or a little out of place, especially in those middle school years.”
The pages of his journal reveal how Russell uses humor to deal with some of the angst that comes from being “the ultimate outsider” and not knowing who he is or how he came to be. But it’s also clear Russell has people who love him, including his parents, who took him in as a mysterious swamp baby, and his best friend.
“He’s got one great friend, Charlotte, who’s his champion,” said Scroggs. “She really won’t stand for it when he’s moping about.”
Scroggs explained that although he didn’t keep a journal when he was younger, he definitely was drawing all the time, much like Russell.
“I doodled on every piece of paper I could find,” Scroggs said. “I should have been paying attention in class and instead I’m drawing every monster you can imagine. Everything was just monsters and creatures and aliens and anything sort of wild and out there.”
The book itself is meant to look like a spiral-bound notebook with lined pages. Russell’s journal entries — which are a mix of prose, detailed drawings, doodles and more traditional comic book panels — are made to appear like they were created using everything from pens, colored pencils and markers. Mysterious splotches and food stains also help add to the realism.
“I really wanted it to look like an actual notebook that might have been confiscated by a teacher,” said Scroggs. “Where it’s just completely creative, completely free-form and like it’s just a direct link into the brain of an eighth grader.”
In addition to the excitement of working on a project featuring appearances by established DC Comics characters, Scroggs said he enjoyed the artistic freedom of working in the journal format. And he already has a new project lined up.
Scroggs is writing and illustrating “We Found a Monster,” another journal-style, middle-grade graphic novel for DC slated for a fall 2021 release. “This time we’re going full monster,” said Scroggs.
“We Found a Monster” will follow Kacie, whom Scroggs described as a “nerdy, creative kid” who is a “self-proclaimed outcast and proud of it.” Forced to attend summer school by her dad, she is partnered with classmate Zandra, “whose head is permanently in the clouds.”
“One day they’re exploring town and they discover this monster that has washed up under the pier,” Scroggs said. “It’s gigantic, furry, it’s got horns, it’s got tusks, it’s bright purple — and they realize this monster needs their help.”
According to Scroggs, it’s only after taking this creature in that Kacie realizes that this might not be Zandra’s first monster encounter, and that there might be a whole world of secret monsters out there.
“One of the fun things about ‘We Found a Monster’ is it’s gonna have monsters from the DC Universe,” said Scroggs.
This will include forgotten monsters such as those that previously only appeared in the margins of other more well-known stories. The story will also feature monsters based on folklore, such as Japanese yokai.
Scroggs hopes that through these journal-format graphic novels, kids will see that they can create their own comics with whatever materials they have on hand.
“One of my main objectives with ‘Swamp Kid’ was, I wanted kids to pick it up and feel inspired to create their own story and draw their own graphic novel,” Scroggs said. “Grab your own notebook, grab a marker and just go to town and tell your story.”