What is The Universe Verse?
The Universe Verse is a scientifically accurate, rhyming comic book about the origin of the universe, life on Earth and the human race. It's a 90-page graphic guide to almost every major milestone in the history of our existence. It was written and illustrated by James Lu Dunbar over the course of 7 years, from 2007-2014 and was initially released in three sections: Book 1: BANG! (about the origin of the Big Bang and the origin of the universe), Book 2: It's Alive! (about evolution and the origin of life on Earth) and Book 3: Great Apes! about the evolution of the human race and the dawn of civilization.
Thanks to a Kickstarter Campaign in September 2014 it is available available in a hardcover that consists of all three sections together in one book. There is also a video and audiobook available.
Why did you make The Universe Verse?
I made The Universe Verse because I believe that the scientific story of our origins is a fantastically exciting and interesting one which should be accessible to everyone, especially children. I believe the ideas of science and evolution to be some of the most powerful ones in existence and I want everyone in the world to understand and appreciate them, because I think that will help make the world a better place. I think children are naturally curious and are still forming their personalities and preferences so I wanted to make a book that would be appealing and engaging to children, in the hope that they will grow up to love science as much as I do.
How did you make The Universe Verse?
I made The Universe Verse a little bit at a time. Ever since I was a little kid I've enjoyed writing, illustrating and making books, and I've spent a lot of time over the years drawing comics and working on various illustrations and book projects. I began working on The Universe Verse in earnest in 2007 when I was living in Boston for a year. I spent several months in the public libraries of Boston checking out books about the relevant science, including some books for adults and others for children. At the same time I was exploring a variety of illustrated books, including graphic novels for adults and children's picture books, and trying out a variety of illustration styles.
I wrote the first draft of the whole thing back in 2007, but since then I've made thousands of changes. In order to make the project more manageable, I tackled the three parts one at a time, editing, illustrating, printing and promoting each section as it's own book. For each book I start the illustration process with lots of doodles and sketches to brainstorm and explore ideas. Then I played around with panels and page design until I have sketches for each of the pages. I scan these sketches into Photoshop where I paint/draw the final illustrations using a tablet and stylus and lots and lots of layers. Before this project I had not done a lot of art on the computer, so there was definitely a learning curve, and the illustrations in the book reflect that by getting more detailed and refined as the story progresses.
For printing the paperbacks I've used a wonderful service called CreateSpace, it's run by Amazon and they do low-volume, on-demand book printing. They make it easy to order cheap copies of your own book to sell yourself, or they'll sell it on Amazon for you and send you a check at the end of the month.
When I was getting ready to illustrated It's Alive!, the second book in the series, I thought I should try Kickstarter to see if I could raise some money for the project. That went very well, so when I finished illustrating the third and final book in the series I decided to do another Kickstarter to see if I could raise the money I would need to do a hardcover print run. That also went well.
A big part of the success of those Kickstarter campaigns was the network of bloggers, podcasts and other people in the media I had built up after promoting the first two books.
This project has been a TON of work. And frankly, there's still a lot of work to be done. I'm going to switch into promotion mode for the next few months and see if I can't get some good press and sell a few copies. I imagine that at some point in 2015 though I'll have taken this about as far as I can on my own and I'll be looking for a literary agent with some experience and connections in the world of children's books, science books and schools.
Of course, I've got more book projects in mind, I hope to be creating books for the rest of my life!