Kids in the 8-12 age group are inundated with chapter books, and to a slightly lesser degree, graphic novels, so it’s rare to come across a format that truly stands out as unique. But Heavy Sketches Among Worldly Distractions, written and illustrated by Red Rohl, does just that—it’s a book made, in large part, from sketches the author drew as a child, providing drawing tips, and incorporating facts on various subjects likely to interest kids, like pirates, zombies, Greek mythology, and much more. The book was a Foreword INDIES Award Finalist for 2016, and I decided to find out more about the book and its author, a teacher who is combining art and facts as a learning tool in his books, and in his visits to schools.
What’s your given name? Where and when did the nickname “Red” come from?
My given name is Chad. The name Red Rohl was created when I taught first and second graders. During the celebration of Read Across America week, I had the class create books and, like Dr. Seuss, everyone came up with a pen name. I chose Red for its simplicity and the fact it went well with my last name. Years later, I came to find out that the grandfather I never knew was also named Red. That’s when I knew I had to keep it!
Heavy Sketches shows all the interests of a red-blooded American boy. Tell us briefly about your childhood, how you got started drawing, any formative experiences with art, and the approximate age that most of the drawings in Heavy Sketches were created?
My childhood memories are full of spending time in the woods, playing football and soccer, and sketching whenever I had the chance. I loved to draw monsters that were inspired by reading the Lord of the Rings and watching Star Wars. I was always “drawn” to doodling. I never took any classes. I just kept practicing and I found that sketching was a good outlet for me to get my ideas on paper.
The drawings in Heavy Sketches are a good balance of sketches that I saved from about eighth grade through college. I’ve added many “filler” drawings to complete the book.
Throughout the book, you show a love of factoids relating to the subject at hand, whether it’s Abe Lincoln, the environment, brains, or French fries. Where do you come across those? Do you make notes of them somewhere?
Those factoids and side notes are a combination of notes taken in class, information shared with my own classes over the years, and also from current research I’ve done on subjects.
Tell us about the path to publishing. Heavy Sketches is an unusual book. Did anyone flat-out tell you, “It’ll never work!”?
Yes, I sent out Heavy Sketches to numerous publishers and agents. I was told it was too different and distracting! I had one agent tell me it was too “teachy.” Well, that is why I created it. Heavy Sketches is a book that kids love and can learn from. With the encouragement of my wife, we decided to form our own indie publishing company so we could bring this unique book to print.
You mention in the book that you’re easily distracted, and that some teachers said you had ADHD. Have you ever been diagnosed? Do you have students or other readers with ADHD, and if so, have you noticed a difference in how they react to your book as opposed to the traditional chapter book?
I have always been easily distracted. Even in college, I would spend time daydreaming or doodling on the sides of my paper. I don’t think kids like me were actually diagnosed or labeled back then. I know my parents never thought it was a big problem. I just learned to get around it.
Yes, many of the students I have taught over the years have been ADD/ADHD. They love the fact that Heavy Sketches is non-sequential, visual, and filled with numerous side notes. It’s not overwhelming for them; practically every inch of the pages in the book are filled with something to capture their attention.
Future plans: what’s next? Another sketchbook?
Heavy Sketches Volume II is already out and I’m hoping to launch the 3rd installment in the series this August. I am also working on US history and science themed editions. My ideas for spinoffs are endless.
I’ve taken a leave of absence from teaching to use the Heavy Sketches series as a platform for my visual literacy program for grades three through high school. I’m on a mission to help teachers who are struggling with bored, distracted students by bringing some fun back into the classroom. The response has been extraordinary. Not only are students engaged in reading but, this visual approach prompts kids to become active learners. Teachers love the results they are seeing. I’m also taking time to work directly with students; encouraging them to develop their own creative talents by participating in the Art, Comic & Writing Contests sponsored by Heavy Sketches.
Peter Dabbene wrote the graphic novels Ark and Robin Hood. He is a reviewer for Foreword Reviews, and his poetry and stories have been published in many literary journals, collected in the photo book Optimism, and in the story collection Glossolalia. His latest books are Spamming the Spammers and More Spamming the Spammers.