Advo Q&A: MSUM alum creates online comic

While most English majors have an interest in writing and some go on to pursue jobs in teaching and writing, one MSUM alumnus has made a career as a web based comic book writer and a co-owner of a renowned publishing company.

Ryan Jacobson, who graduated from MSUM in 1998, is known for his popular comic books titled “MONSTER NINJAS.” The comics debuted in May 2013 and they’re for all ages. Most of Jacobson’s work is based via web comic. It’s all free to read on MonsterNinjas. com and to view on YouTube.

How did MSUM prepare you to become a better writer? 

Oh, in so many ways. There are all the obvious things, like learning when to use “who” vs. “whom.” And there were those essential lessons, such as how to create a resume. But on top of that, it was the variety and the practice of writing so often for so many diverse assignments. It was reading a thousand different books from a thousand different genres. It was learning to write to deadlines and discovering that it is, in fact, possible to write something longer than 500 words.

What is your ideas process of writing stories? 

Ideas come and go, but I know I have a good one when it becomes an immediate obsession. I’ll be reading a book, working at my computer or just daydreaming, and inspiration will strike. If it’s a really good idea, it will consume me. I’ll become completely useless for a few days; my mind won’t allow me to focus on anything else. I usually have about two good weeks before I become completely bored with it and feel a compelling need to move on to something else. This is why I have a fair number of books that ended up being co-authored.

So, my first step is to outline the entire story in as much detail as possible. This is important because it becomes easier to return to the project in six months or to hand it off to another author. But, while I still feel it, I work as fast and as furious as I can, for as long as I can stomach it.

What is your favorite genre to write? 

Comic books are the most rewarding to me; I love holding a finished comic book in my hands. But they’re also the hardest to sell and the most painful to write. I love creating stories and writing dialogue, but a comic writer must also describe every panel of art in the book so that the illustrator knows what to draw. That’s the really hard part. It feels like math homework.

My favorite books to write are picture books and early reader chapter books, mostly because I can usually finish a draft before getting bored with them. And I like writing about monsters. With young readers, there’s a very fine line between appropriate and scary. Kids don’t want to be scared, but they do want to think they’re being scared. I enjoy writing to that.

Got any advice for young aspiring writers out there? 

Well, when I’m talking to elementary students, I tell them to read lots of books and to practice writing every day. Of course, that’s true for any age, but I guess a little more “grown up” advice would be to know what you’re getting into.

When I started writing books, I inadvertently traded in my social life. There’s my family and then there’s writing. It’s hard to find time for much else. (Of course, that probably has more to do with me than with being an author). Also, if you think “author” is a full-time job, think again. Most authors aren’t Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. A typical author makes somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars per year. And finally, know that when you sign up to become an author, you also sign up to become a marketer. Writing the book is the easy part. Selling the book is where the real work begins. An author isn’t usually obligated to do any marketing, but it sure does help.

And here’s a bit of free college advice that has nothing to do with anything: If it’s offered, take ballroom dancing; you’ll never regret knowing how to do that.

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