Ben Franklin For Beginners is a Middle-Grade/Young Adult biography told in a graphic novel format, meant to be read and digested for people of all ages. Former Montrose resident and current art school professor Tim Ogline authored and illustrated this latest in the “For Beginners” series. We sat down with him to discuss the work.
Why Benjamin Franklin? You state in the preface that at the time of printing, there were 3,463 English-language books that include Franklin as a catalogued keyword. What inspired you to write the 3,464th?
The notion of writing a Benjamin Franklin book actually arose from a confluence of coincidence. I happened to be driving by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in the spring of 2003 and I heard a story on NPR about the upcoming tercentenary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth just three years away in 2006, and it hit me: I wanted to do an alphabet picture book about Ben Franklin. This led me to begin work on B. Franklin A to Z, which is still currently under development; but yet it was actually my third Ben Franklin book project (Ben Franklin For Beginners) that was published first.
How long did the research for this book take? What sort of resources did you allocate?
I’ve steadily amassed scores of books since the 90s and have done a great amount of reading on Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution as I’ve always had a great interest in that period, but my research for these specific book projects began in earnest in 2003. I’ve also spent a great deal of time researching tremendous online resources such as Leo Lemay’s documentary history and “The Papers of Benjamin Franklin” (sponsored by the American Philosophical Society and Yale University) among others, as well as digging deep into out-of-print books presented by Google Books.
Additionally — being local to Philadelphia (which is, of course, Benjamin Franklin’s hometown) — I have had access to historic places and museums such as the Benjamin Franklin Museum at Franklin Court, the Franklin Institute and the Independence National Park. I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at exhibitions and artifacts that document Franklin’s life.
I’ve had a fondness for “For Beginners” that goes back to 1985 when I was a junior at Montrose High School. I remember loving their Freud For Beginners book. I met Dawn Reshen-Doty, the publisher of “For Beginners” at a trade show and talked about how much I enjoyed Freud. We had a conversation about their line and I mentioned that they should consider including more American History titles … and my enthusiasm for Benjamin Franklin became quite apparent. She asked me what I was currently working on and after I had mentioned my alphabet book and the historical fiction graphic novel projects, she encouraged me to pitch them a Benjamin Franklin book for their imprint. After the show I produced a sample chapter with text and illustrations, and a few months later we had a signed contract to produce Ben Franklin For Beginners.
Ben Franklin For Beginners is a Middle Grade/Young Adult oriented biography (but is all-ages friendly) of Ben Franklin that discusses his life in topic oriented, richly illustrated chapters that detail Franklin’s achievements in numerous arenas. I think what sets this book apart stems from its presentation … which is where the role of design and storytelling comes in. I constantly tell my students at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art as well as at the Moore College of Art & Design that everything we do in design — whether we’re producing a book, designing a logo or building a website — is about organizing information and telling a story. It’s all about making subject matter accessible.
What’s your favorite bit of Franklin trivia?
My single-favorite piece bit of Franklin trivia stems from the efforts to form the State of Franklin. For a brief period from 1784 to 1790, the State of Franklin (originally Frankland for the “Land of the Free”) was formed from eight counties attempting to secede from western North Carolina and had petitioned the Continental Congress to join the Union as a sovereign state. The State of Franklin’s efforts to join the Union failed to gain the two-thirds majority vote in the Continental Congress as required by the Articles of Confederation. The territory ultimately joined with Tennessee in 1790.
What was interesting is that the State of Franklin had initially drafted a constitution that barred preachers and lawyers among others from holding elective office. Can you imagine it? A government run by common sense.
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