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Here Be Invisible Dragons

One recent evening I was browsing my Twitter timeline and I saw a wonderful and glorious thing. Friend of The Lab, Jocelyn Oudesluys (AKA: Quarksparrow), had made a children’s book adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Invisible Dragon story from his book, The Demon Haunted World.

I proceeded to share it with my fellow Lab contributors at which point we all flipped out.

You can read Jocelyn’s story here. (do it now and then come back. I’ll wait.)

It’s just too cool and adorable not to share with everyone. So I wrote to Jocelyn, letting her know how much we all liked her work. I then asked a few questions that she was kind enough to answer for us.

Mad Art Lab: When did you first read Sagan?

Jocelyn: I read “Contact” in high school, after seeing the film. I started into his other books in university, when I went from natural history geek to everything-science geek. I didn’t get around to “Demon-haunted World” until about a year or two ago, as it’s intended to be introductory and I thought I’d progressed past its intended audience, but it really is well written.

MAL: Did the invisible dragon story strike you right away?

J: When you’re convinced you’re right, it can be hard to see your opponent as anything other than deliberately obstinate. I think that’s what I like so much about Sagan’s essay — it’s purpose isn’t to disprove something, but to make a true believer understand why their position isn’t reasonable. His goalpost-moving and elaborate excuses reminded me of the narratives in children’s books — everything just get increasingly ridiculous.

MAL: Can you tell me a little about making your book?

J: I love drawing dragons. Mythological creatures are so open to interpretation that you really can’t get bored with them. Since it’s aimed at a young audience, I kept them cute — but I love the juxtaposition of toothy and pudgy so much that I probably would have done that anyway.

The punch line of Sagan’s essay — what’s the difference between and invisible dragon, and no dragon at all? — got me thinking about this book about unicorns I had as a kid. The caption on the final page said that we couldn’t know for SURE that unicorns didn’t exist, so maybe they really were real? As a kid, I found it to be a really compelling argument, and it’s the complete opposite of Sagan’s point — so I had to throw the unicorn in at the end.
The text was the thing I struggled with the most. Prose has its own rhythm, and limiting my vocabulary really interfered with that. It’s hard to construct a sentence that’s suitable for very young readers without making it awkward. I don’t know if I was entirely successful at that.

MAL: Do you hope to publish it (can you, considering intellectual property rights)?

J: I honestly have no idea where this falls under intellectual rights? Or how one goes about publishing things. I didn’t think about it too much when I was making it — it was just something I really wanted to do once I got the idea in my head. It would be pretty awesome to see it in print, though (I’m a total dead tree addict), and lots of folks have asked me about it. So .. maybe? I don’t know yet!

MAL: What else would you like to say about it?

J: It was a lot of fun to do! And a lot more work than I’d expected. I’ve got other story projects in my brain queue, though, and I learned a lot of things that should make the process a little smoother next time.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us Jocelyn. It’s so damned good!

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Brian George

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator who lives and works in the Van Beardswick neighborhood of Brooklyn. His fierce love of cheesecake is often (but not always) thwarted by his intolerance for lactose. He will draw and paint for your amusement (‘amusement’ is archaic Etruscan slang for ‘money’). Visit his portfolio, follow his tweets @brianggeorge or on G+


  1. February 24, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    I would like to give a very good garage-home to the acrobatic little purple guy who can stand on one finger. There’s plenty of junk for him to play with, and I’ll come pet him every day after work.

  2. February 24, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    I love this so much. Jocelyn, you made something awesome. The payoff at the end is kind of brilliant.

  3. February 28, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    I am such a huge fan of this. Thanks so much fr sharing, Quarksparrow!

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