November 12, 2013
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes, Books

We Stole :01 Designer Colleen AF Venable’s Identity

by MK Reed and G. Means

When we were writing the script for The Cute Girl Network, before Joe came on board to draw it, we had some general ideas as to what most of the cast looked like. We knew that Jane, the main character, would have blonde hair worn in two long braids in the back. We knew that her would-be boyfriend Jack would be tall and skinny (somewhat based on MK’s husband who is seven feet tall and weighs 80 pounds). But when it came to Harriet, the leader of The Network and the main antagonist in the book, we had nothing.

JackJane_FSB1We had her personality down. We knew she’d be smart, forceful, and organized. We knew she’d be young, attractive, and fashionable. But when it came to her actual appearance, everything we discussed was either too severe and made her look like a caricature of a villain or way too passive and made her seem unbelievable as the force of nature she is in the book.

There were many late night phone calls and frantic emails discussing the matter. Eventually, we said we just need her too look smart, cool, and stylish like… like… Colleen AF Venable! Yes! Perfect!


For those who don’t know, Colleen is the Art & Design Editor here at First Second Books. She’s also a fantastic children’s book author and pretty much the coolest person we know. She’s creative, classy, and has an air of complete competence about her (she even regularly uses lasers. LASERS!).  Armies would willingly follow her to their deaths (though their deaths would all be from too many puns).


We would like to state that just Harriet’s appearance and love of YA novels are based on Colleen. Personality wise, they couldn’t be further apart. As far as we know, Colleen has never founded a city-wide information clearinghouse of ex-girlfriend to warn unexpecting young women about all the unsavory males in the dating pool. Though she did co-found Lumberjack Day.

And yes, we got Colleen’s permission first.


Jump ahead a year and half, and Joe has finished the interior art and has filled it with images of Harriet/Colleen aggressively trying to get our book’s lovebirds to break up. So how does Colleen repay us for such slander? By designing a totally awesome cover!

Besides Harriet’s look, the other thing we hadn’t figured out beforehand was the cover art. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas but nothing seemed right.





At some point, Colleen pushed all our half-baked ideas aside and designed the whole thing over from scratch. When she unveiled the final cover to us, we were all impressed. She somehow turn just a few design elements into an image that conveyed whole (pretty complicated) plot and made it look like the fun romantic comedy it’s intended to be. We love it!


In the end, we learned that Colleen is a wizard and we’re lucky she uses her powers for good and didn’t smite us for stealing her face.

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