Writing Tips – The Nelly Gang

I’ve never had a graphic novel creator on my blog before so for me, today is a very special day.

Inspiring author and illustrator Stephen Axelsen is visiting DeeScribe Writing as part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of his hilarious and colourful new book, The Nelly Gang, published by Walker Books.

Although I have never been much of a comic reader, I loved The Nelly Gang from the first word and cheeky illustration.

Cover 72dpi

This book has everything – a great story, fabulous illustrations, humour, adventure and one of the main characters is a goat (Queenie). There’s also brave and adventurous Nelly, the leader of the gang and her friends, Jin and Miro.

Nelly’s gang has a big challenge ahead of them. After finally striking gold, Nelly’s Pa has been kidnapped. In a race against time, Nelly and her gang must get him back – and retrieve the gold.

The Nelly Gang is compelling and easy to follow (even for a comic novice like me) and the illustrations are hilarious – expressive and active with lots of fun detail.


The Nelly Gang first appeared as a series in the New South Wales School Magazine in 2009.

Creator Stephen Axelson explains, “I love the graphic novel format, and I love history of all sorts, Australian history, bushrangers, paddle steamers and goats.”

Although it’s a humorous book, The Nelly Gang has clearly been thoroughly researched and accurately depicts the clothes, setting, characters and events of the time in history that it represents.

This is a really fun way to teach kids about the goldfields and bushrangers (and goats).

Illustrations and text work seamlessly together to create a rollicking read with lots of historical detail woven in.

More about Stephen is available at his website.

View The Nelly Gang book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuuGtAejBf4&feature=youtu.be

Want to know how Stephen created such a masterpiece?  Read on. He has some great tips for us.



Ten Tips on making graphic novels.

Here are some tips I have assembled, based on my experience as a writer and illustrator of graphic novels, bearing in mind that I am not a World Authority or an Expert, since I’ve only written two: The Nelly Gang and it’s sequel Nelly and the Dark Circus (in production).

But I have had extensive experience working in “Sequential Art” for The School Magazine’s cartoon series and a graphic novel The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim written by Cassandra Golds.

Here are my tips.

#1 Look at dead people's workLook at dead people’s work


and alive people’s too. Read lots of graphic novels. Don’t be intimidated by the really, really good ones. This is difficult. I am often intimidated, but dauntingly brilliant work also makes me try harder.

#2 Hate your own work.Hate your own work.

Maybe not hate, but be a bit dissatisfied. Not constantly frustrated and self-loathing  but a little bit of misery can be very healthy for your craft, and the pay–off, when something is finished and people are lauding and applauding, is enormous.

#3 be brilliantBe brilliant.

Think of an excellent, truly original story. This is difficult of course. If nothing startling comes to you, try retelling of myths, legends, fairy tales – all  wonderfully rich sources.

 ‘Why are we here?’ and  ‘Where do ideas come from’. The first question is tricky.

The  answer to the second is easy, and the same for the graphic novels as for any writing.

Ideas come from everywhere: everyone you have ever known, everything you’ve ever read, listened to, watched. The real skill, like blending whiskey (apparently), is in the distillation – finding the threads that interest you most and weaving them into a whiskey soaked tapestry. Hah! Some of the earliest strip stories were tapestries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry

Think BIG start small. Don’t be too ambitious to begin with. Avoid 128 page extravaganzas. Start with a single A4 page story, but one with a beginning a middle and an end.

#4 Write for HollywoodWrite for Hollywood
Or at least think of your graphic novel as if it is the storyboard for a movie. Use the frames to zoom in and out, pan, extreme close ups, rapid progressions and slower scenic frames.

Be Speechless

Try writing your story without words. See how much meaning you can carry in pictures alone. It is a visual medium. Words are important of course, but the pictures are more important.   They carry most of the plot, expression, mood.

#5 Think of the Children!“…Think of the children!” *

If your graphic novel is for young people, keep the story pretty simple; not too many points of view or time shifts The frame shapes and progressions, text setting should be clear.

(*Helen Lovejoy of The Simpsons)

#6 Turn of pageTurn of Page.

Demand that the page be turned. The last frame of each double spread must have a baited hook dangling, luring the reader to turn the page.

Illustrate backwards.

Set a page limit early on.  Start at the beginning. Once the story is fairly well established and you are underway, illustrate from the last page backwards. This helps to make sure you’re story will fit. Moving bits of a graphic novel around  is not like moving bits of a novel or a picture book. Individual pictures in their frames all interrelate and are not easily shuffled about.

Gratis Eleventh tip.

#7 Plan to be a CentenarianPlan to be a centenarian.

Graphic novels can take a loooong time to make. Not so much the writing. Writing is a doddle compared to the illustrating.

The Nelly Gang Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday September 14th  – Launch at The Story Arts Festival, Woodlands of Marburg. Megan Daley will be the launcher.

Monday September 16th – Children’s Books Daily  www.childrensbooksdaily.com
Review and book launch update, giveaway

Tuesday 17th September DeeScribe Writing https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
Review, ten tips on graphic novel making

Wednesday 18thSeptember– Kids Book Review
Review, giveaway

Thursday 19thSeptember– Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog  sherylgwyther.wordpress.com
Writing and Illustrating Graphic Novels

Friday 20thSeptember-Soup Blog
Review and Interview

Saturday 21st September – BuzzWords
The Value of History, plus review


8 thoughts on “Writing Tips – The Nelly Gang

  1. Hilarious and helpful. Had no idea Stephen was a Simpsons fan either. It fills in a lot of gaps for me…in the most wondrous of ways. Thanks to you both. This is a gem of a book. 😉

  2. Yes indeed Dee. I had the pleasure of featuring it on Boomerang Blogs a few weeks back. I had erstwhile not been heavily into graphic novels or picture books, but am finding them more and more gripping and worthwhile the deeper I delve. A great visual literacy medium for kids too.

  3. I love the cover and the storyline is sure to captivate kids with a sense of adventure and humour. I will be buying it for a young reader with this in mind.
    Great tips, love the humour and thanks for another great post Stephen and Dee.
    Oh, and I love that one of the main characters is a goat because I love goats. They are all characters!

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