“It’s ‘The Sopranos’ for 7-year-olds.” — Anselmo “Sweat Beak” Rossi
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Birds of a feather do flock together, and in Emmy-winning creators Jeff Sikaitis’ and Jake Wheeler’s debut graphic novel, a misfit mafia of seagulls looks to stay the top birds in Shoretown despite their many blunders and bonehead decisions in “The Gullfather: Birdsy Seagull: Vol 1. A Seahawk Situation” (June 6, 2023, Books Fluent).
The Gullfather himself, Birdsy Seagull, rules the roost with a fistful of feathers. And with a little help, but not much, from his ragtag crew: salty-mouthed Joey “One-Wing” Grella, handsome slacker Sammy “Vinny” Gullian, glamorous and dangerous Birdabella, and Birdsy’s well-fed enforcer, “Quack Quack.” They say they’ll stop at nothing to be the top crime birds on the boardwalk, but they pretty much stop at everything — snack time, nap time or any other reason — much to Birdsy’s ire.
In the first book in the series, “A Seahawk Situation,” Birdsy and his crew are at war with the owners of the boardwalk eatery, Zen and Out, after they erect a wooden security seahawk to scare the gulls of Shoretown. Things escalate quickly after One-Wing battles Seymour the Wooden Seahawk and Vinny starts an indoor fireworks display. In retaliation, One-Wing gets birdnapped, and Vinny is almost made into curry, but just when Birdsy has nowhere left to turn, enter Birdabella, the wild card. Will Birdsy remain “king of the boardwalk” or will the humans get the upper hand and start to encroach on the empire he and NonnaBird built?
Piling on the action, silliness and a lot of heart, this oddball family is brought to life in a dynamic, arresting visual graphic novel format. For fans of “Bad Guys,” “Last Kids On Earth” and “Dogman,” the absurd adventures of Birdsy and crew are everything young readers want in a new series.
“The Gullfather: Birdsy Seagull: Vol 1. A Seahawk Situation”
Jeff Sikaitis and Jake Wheeler | June 6, 2023 | Middle Grade/Graphic Novel
Books Fluent | Paperback, 9781953865250 | Hardcover, 9781953865267
JEFF SIKAITIS and JAKE WHEELER are Emmy-winning creators and have storytelling experience across a wide variety of formats from original series, branded content, physical products and publishing. They have won a number of advertising awards and have created content for ComedyCentral, Sports Illustrated, Viacom and hundreds of blue chip brands. “The Gullfather: Birthday Seagull” is their debut book.
In an interview, Jeff and Jake can discuss:
- Their backgrounds in the entertainment industry as writers, content creators and Emmy winners
- How the book is perfect for reluctant and avid readers alike, with engaging and visually stimulating graphics
- Why the two decided to pivot and start writing books for middle grade readers
- The unique ideas and elements Jeff and Jake are bringing to the market for middle grade literature
- How graphic novels in general can be a great way for reluctant readers to kick off a burgeoning love for literature
- What’s next for The Gullfather series and other projects the two are working on
An interview with Jeff Sikaitis and Jake Wheeler
1. First and foremost: How did you two meet and start working together?
Our friendship started at Boston College and turned into a creative partnership in New York City after we graduated. We have been creative collaborators for 20 years and have shot documentaries, written award-winning TV commercials, directed branded content, created web series, and written sitcoms and screenplays.
However with success, as it were, two things happen: lives begin to diverge, and creativity becomes more “serious”. The Gullfather series was not only a chance for us to rekindle a long-term collaboration, but also to return to a time of more innocent, irreverent and silly and adventurous writing. It was one of those “the spark is back” projects for us. We got the band back together and it’s been a blast so far.
2. How did the idea for “The Gullfather” come about?
We were at Penfield Beach in Fairfield, Connecticut, and while watching my kids play on the playground in the foreground, we saw this scene unfold in slow motion. A mouthy seagull swooped in and stole a kid’s bag of chips. And while it was happening, we saw surrounding the seagull what looked like his crew. Then after the successful heist, we watched the crew enjoy their spoils in another part of the beach. We remarked, “That was like watching a mob racket,” and then we started ad libbing and riffing on that concept while we were at the beach. Putting on voices, doing some back and forth improv.
As we left, we remembered how fun creativity was in the purely silly state, no client, no studio (so far ;). It could be absurd and wild and still clean and wholesome – and not only was it enjoyable, but there was a sense that inane could also be successful. We threw around lines like “Sopranos for 7-year Olds”, and it just seemed to be something worth pushing. If for no other reason than for ourselves and the kid in each of us.
3. How did writing a graphic novel for children differ from previous writing projects you’ve worked on?
In one sense, there’s a craft to each format, and in this one, there was some difference to telling a story in stills and leaning on art to carry a lot as opposed to the moving image. However, there’s a constant that cuts across all our work which is the same — and that is, who the characters are. Do you care about them? Do you want to spend time with them? Do they have personalities that win you over? It started with the humanity — or birdanity, or avianity? — whatever you want to call it.
Then, similar to a lot of our content projects, we built out a bible for Birdsy, his crew and Shoretown. Fleshed out the characters, the character dynamics, the boardwalk environment, our desired look and feel/moodboards. And then just really started experimenting with the tone and voice of the characters. Once we felt like we had distinct and memorable characters and we could easily write and create exchanges between the characters, we moved into story development. In parallel to story development, we had our artist (German Torres) start working on character designs. Once we had our voice and visual language locked in, we moved into the writing phase. And because of all the character work we had done, the writing of volume one was really fluid (and absurdly fun) and we finished the first draft within two weeks. Then the editing and evolving took probably another month.
In terms of the writing, the biggest thing was making sure:
- It was middle-grade appropriate.
- It was entertaining.
- It was fast-paced.
- And it was layered entertainment: enjoyed by kids, could be enjoyed by a parent who picks it up, and had a re-readability (OK, that’s not a word) every time you read it or looked at a page you picked up/discovered something new — detail in the environment, facial expression of character, joke within a joke, etc.
4. What were some of the hardest parts about writing the book? And what were some of the more fun aspects?
We are big believers in “the journey is the reward” or actually part of the reward; our main reward is creating a hit franchise that is held in the same regard as “Bad Guys” and “Last Kids on Earth.” But the hard parts are usually needed to get to the end state we wanted. Whether it was editing out jokes or scenes that were extraneous, to giving some scenes more breathing room but not much, they were hard in the moment but we knew that they were necessary evils.
The fun part was collaborating together again. Jake lives in Montana and I live in Fairfield, and we don’t get to collaborate at the frequency we once did. So it was great to reignite our creative partnership and get back to what we love doing: creating stories and characters, and writing. And hopefully “The Gullfather” can win some fans and earn some heart to allow us to continue our frequency of collaboration.
5. What was it like working with artists Geman Torres and Leisha San for the book?
It was such a rewarding process. And while we are not artists, we have art direction and film backgrounds so we had a very fluent short-hand with German.
But German is a phenomenal talent and his ability to take our stage directions, crude storyboards, and script and then translate it into this kid-friendly work of art was awesome. We also worked with him to create a sophisticated aesthetic in terms of color palette and in certain cinematic framings that break the “panel” so to speak.
The end result, we believe, is that every pane is a mini movie poster — detailed and visually arresting in its own way. One of the things we are most proud of is how strongly the visual comedy comes through. A reader could absorb the story by just looking at the pictures. However as writers we don’t recommend this. At least not on the first or second… or third read. After that, it’s cool.
6. What are some lessons young readers will be able to take away from the book?
First and foremost that reading is awesome and can be more or equally as entertaining as a screen, device or TV. We strongly feel that graphic novels, when crafted the right way, have the same ingredients as a hit show or movie: visually arresting, immersive entertainment and a range of emotions that hit even harder because of the visuals.
But besides falling in love with a series and characters, if you really deconstruct the story and Birdsy and crew, “The Gullfather” is about the value of friendship, the importance of family (no matter how screwed up and dysfunctional they are), the power of teamwork (even if it doesn’t yield the greatest results) and at the heart of everything, fighting for what you believe in — which in this case is Shoretown and Birdsy and his crew’s love and attachment to their boardwalk home.
7. No spoilers, but what part of the book are you most excited for readers to see?
To laugh. Period. And, well, to enjoy the ride. In some sense we’ve made reading so, so heavy. There are a lot of heavy lessons that we seem to impart onto reading from adult-land. Not that any of those aren’t necessary and well-intentioned. But as readers, and as humans, laughter and joy is part of the equation we can’t forget.
Also, I would mention, there’s a reason that mythology and fables and fairytales are still popular today. They can offer lessons we want to transmit in an appealing and memorable way.
But if we had to drill down into a scene, we are excited for readers to read/see
the encounter between Seymour (the wooden eagle) and One-Wing and Vinny. Hijinks with hilarity with some visuals that will have you in stitches. That is one of many scenes that captures
our brand of storytelling and entertainment.
8. What’s next for The Gullfather series? Are y’all working on other projects as well?
Literary domination. No in all seriousness, we have two other volumes scripted out, so hopefully when we see traction and we see readers fall in love with Birdsy and crew, we will release those. We also think the series has screen potential, so we are going to explore some script-to-screen paths as well.
Outside Birdsy, we have a few properties in the works, but one we are really excited about is Magic Paper Society: Five neighborhood boys sneak into an abandoned paper factory and leave unknowingly with stacks of magical paper. They soon discover this magic paper turns them into the coolest, strongest, slightly bizarre superhero version of themselves. But there’s just one little hitch — they didn’t happen to grab an instruction manual. So they have no idea when, why or how they get transformed into their superhero selves. And the factory was demolished days after their visit so they will never have an instruction manual. This, of course, leads to lots of excitement, confusion and awkwardness for the boys and their adult superhero alter-egos as they navigate middle school problems and battle their eternal enemies who always seem to be lurking around the corner.”
That is written, illustrated and ready to go after Birdsy tops the bestseller list.
Sample pages from “The Gullfather”
Sample pages from “Magic Paper Society”
A former award-winning journalist with national exposure, Marissa now oversees the day-to-day operation of the Books Forward author branding and book marketing firm, along with our indie publishing support sister company Books Fluent.
Born and bred in Louisiana, currently living in New Orleans, she has lived and developed a strong base for our company and authors in Chicago and Nashville. Her journalism work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications. She is now interviewed by media on best practices for book marketing.