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Comic Books, Cartoons, and Video Games: An Interview with Doug TenNapel

July 7–11, 2014   |   Vol. 120, Programs 11–15

Hear comics writer, cartoonist, and video game designer Doug TenNapel discuss storytelling and homeschooling on this week’s Home School Heartbeat!

“Be a master of the arts, be a master of writing, be a master of philosophy, and you will naturally become the best storyteller of your generation.”—Doug TenNapel

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Homeschoolers are active in every field of work—and that includes entertainment! Today on Home School Heartbeat, host Mike Smith interviews Doug TenNapel, a homeschooling dad and a storyteller.

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Doug TenNapel, a homeschool dad who is also a comic writer, animator, and video game designer. Welcome to the program, Doug!

Doug TenNapel: Hi Mike!

Mike: Now Doug, you have a broad resume in the entertainment world, including a lot of work done for companies such as Dreamworks and Nickelodeon. Can you tell us a little more about what you actually do?

Doug: Well, animation is kind of where I got my start. I love studying movement, and I’ve always been big on drawing. But I’ve also had to do some scriptwriting, and I also write and illustrate my own graphic novels—I have four of them through Scholastic. And right now I’ve been doing some show running for Veggie Tales.

Mike: Well obviously this is creative work that you’re doing, and so why do you think it’s important for us to know about what you’re doing?

Doug: Well as an artist who is also a Christian, or I should say, as a Christian who is also an artist, I love these mediums, and I want to encourage other Christians to work in these mediums. This is just another place where we can communicate the true, the good, and the beautiful. And for that reason, Christians ought to be concerned with mediums that convey the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Mike: So I hear you saying Christians should be involved in this type of creativity, is that right?

Doug: Yeah, you know, we have a century of Christians not being so influential in pop media and mass media, and I think we’re ready to get back into it now.

Mike: Well, Doug, this sounds really fascinating, and next time we’ll be discussing how your faith plays even a more important role in what you create. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Doug TenNapel is with us again today. And Doug, you often explore the Christian faith in your work, especially your comic book work. Now, why is Christianity significant to you, and what kind of benefit does it bring to your storytelling?

Doug TenNapel: Well, Christianity is me. I mean, I am in Christ, so Christ is all to me. He is my point of view. He is who I’m trying to align myself with. And so it starts to benefit my storytelling. And in every story, the most significant point, is kind of this turn, where everything that was going one way is suddenly turned on its head, or destroyed and brought back into some other place. In my view, Christ is that turn in all of human history. So if you look back on the, where Jesus was kind of stuck in our world history, He is this amazing story. And so, when I’m drawing a comic book, and I’m at the end of that second act, about to go into the third act and finish up my story, where the character’s going to have this giant turn of events, it feels very Christian to me. No matter what happens in the story, the big turn, the big hinge of the story, is a very Christian level of drama in my view.

Mike: Well Doug, I want to be honest with you. I find this very inspiring, and I believe our listeners will also. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Doug, you decided to homeschool your children, and what made it a good choice for your family?

Doug TenNapel: Well, you know we have four kids. And for probably about six years, we just really loved the freedom that homeschooling offers—we felt that we were raising individuals instead of programming them into a big giant bureaucratic group. And we got to really cater the teaching to each kid’s personality style. My kids were very academic. We might spend part of the day maybe more into science, so I would do a little bit of science. Or they’d want to go bb gun hunting, so we’d go bb gun hunting. My oldest daughter who is twelve is just a reading whiz. So it really let us cater the class to them.

Mike: Doug, it sounds like you’re doing a lot of teaching there. How do you and your wife work this out?

Doug: Well my wife is definitely the commander of the school day. You know, I’m not at all as detail-oriented as she is. But there are times when, you know, it could be art time, or philosophy time, and then I’m tapped in to really help with the kids on that stuff. I deal with them on ethics, or even Bible teaching. And of course when it comes to art, I’ll sit down and show them how to draw anything they want. That’s my special skill.

Mike: Well thank you, Doug. It’s always encouraging to see how homeschooling offers so much flexibility to fit each family on a unique personal level. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Doug TenNapel, a homeschool dad and comic book writer is with us again today on the program. Doug, what is something you’re working on right now?

Doug TenNapel: Well, right now I’ve been hired by DreamWorks and Big Idea to roll out a brand-new Veggie Tales series for Netflix, coming out later in the year.

Mike: Well this sounds really interesting. So what grabs you about this story? Why are you so interested in it?

Doug: What’s neat about Veggie Tales is that I get to really express my faith within the works. So for so many years on other TV shows, I’m not able to really let my faith shine in the stories and in the characterization. But in Veggie Tales, that kind of storytelling is welcome. And I also get to merge my animation background, to bring what I know in that medium too in a really unique way. And because it’s a comedy we get to have a lot of fun and just be kind of goofy, silly, and funny and creative.

Mike: Well Doug, that sounds really great. And next time we’ll hear advice for homeschool students who want to pursue a career in storytelling and entertainment. You won’t want to miss it! And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Doug, I know there are many homeschool students who really hope to make a career out of telling stories—in books, comics, video games, films, or other media. What professional advice can you give to these students?

Doug TenNapel: Well, Mike, my first piece of advice is we need you! Never before have we needed these kinds of artists. And of course, homeschoolers excel, so we really welcome them in these fields, especially the arts. Schools are so starving for good art, and if you look at a lot of the new curriculum going through schools, a lot of the animation has been drilled out of the material. I think this is a rare opportunity for homeschool students to really get in and learn how to write, learn how to draw. And that’s where I would have all the homeschool kids focus, or on the hard-to-do skills. Those are the things that most of your peers will quit at and rather go off and play video games or something. Instead, really learn. Take your English lessons seriously, take your art lessons seriously, take your history and philosophy lessons seriously, and really go in and be a master of the arts. And you will naturally become the best storyteller of your generation. It’s a good time for homeschool kids to get into this stuff.

Mike: Doug, can these students make a living doing this?

Doug: Oh absolutely, they can make a very good living at it.

Mike: Well Doug, these are very helpful words of advice. And thank you again for joining us this week. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Doug TenNapel

Doug TenNapel was raised in the town of Denair, California. In 1994 he created Earthworm Jim, a character who would go on to star in video games, toy lines, and cartoon series. An Eisner award–winning artist, Doug’s recent graphic novels, Iron West and Cardboard, were cited by ALA as Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

Doug is also the author and illustrator of such acclaimed graphic novels as Tommysaurus Rex, Ghostopolis, and Bad Island. He lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with his wife and four children. His website is tennapel.com.

Source: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/doug-tennapel

Photo taken by 5of7.

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