Welcome to StephenEmond.com - you've found yourself at the online home of writer and illustrator, Stephen Emond. My credits include HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and the EMO BOY series from SLG Publishing. View my archived autobio comic strip LEMONS here, comment on my blog or send me an email to say hello and come back often to get the latest!

Current Project:

Book Three - BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS, August 2015.

Walter Wilcox has never been in love. That is, until he meets Naomi, and sparks, and clever jokes, fly. But when his cop dad is caught in a racial profiling scandal, Walter and Naomi, who is African American, are called out at school, home, and online. Can their bond (and mutual love of the Foo Fighters) keep them together? With black-and-white illustrations throughout and a heartfelt, humorous voice, Bright Lights, Dark Nights authentically captures just how tough first love can be... and why it's worth fighting for.

Steven Universe

Posted on Saturday, July 25th, 2015

With just a couple weeks to go until the release of BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS, I have been home the past week as sick as I’ve ever been, coughing and sneezing and trying to sleep. And watching Steven Universe! I figured I’d use the time to do a nice drawing and color it up and everything as long as i was home. What a great show! Hopefully I don’t forever associate it with illness.

Steven Universe

Steven Universe


Posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Here’s a review roundup for BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS, so far! It’s out August 11th, we’re less than a month away!

Kirkus – Starred Review

“The pressure experienced by couples from different ethnic backgrounds is realistically intensified for this sweetly likable pair when Walter’s dad arrests a black teen for burglary and is accused of assaulting him, igniting debate and anger in their neighborhood and at large. Most impressive in this emotionally charged novel is the way each of the characters is fully imagined; they emerge as complex individuals who are shaped by a variety of factors and are not portrayed as simple heroes or villains.”

Voya – Starred Review

“This illustrated novel is timely and realistic. Walter’s voice is funny and true, and the banter between him and Naomi is clever and engaging. The depiction of their budding romance is sweet. The illustrations add an interesting layer to the tale. The racial scandal, white cop against black teen, offers a nuanced depiction of a divisive, current issue. The online community is portrayed perfectly, demonstrating how the knee-jerk reactions of angry, anonymous posters have real-world effects. Walter undergoes real change and growth.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“Emond raises difficult questions about racism, crime, and civil rights, without promising or providing easy answers. As in Happyface and Winter Town, illustrations share part of the storytelling weight; Emond’s stark b&w imagery, mostly cityscapes and neighborhood scenes, dovetails with Walter’s interest in comic books and noir films, while underscoring his idea of the city as a “mood ring,” reflecting what one brings to it.”


“Emond’s take on a ripped-from-the-headlines story is decidedly understated and deeply rooted in the characters and
the setting. The fictional East Bridge comes to life in Emond’s gorgeous, inky, noir-infused cityscapes, and the richly imagined inhabitants add verisimilitude to the novel.”

School Library Journal

“The story focuses on Walter trying to reconcile reality with the way he has been raised to see the world and Emond handles it authentically, including making it clear that Walter is just starting to understand the bigger issues like his own privilege.”

Also here’s a look at the cover! This is the first cover I designed myself, so happy with how it came out!


And thanks to Faith Erin Hicks, Michael Buckley, and Mariko Tamaki for the kind words we used on the back!


BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS – first two reviews!

Posted on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

We’re just a few months away from the release of BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS! The first two reviews are in. Booklist gave a positive review:

“Walter Wilcox has always wanted to blend in, especially since his parents split up and he moved to the city with his police officer father. Then Walter meets a cute, funny, black girl named Naomi, he is surprised to find she actually seems to like him back. Walter’s life, and his and relationship with Naomi, becomes complicated when his dad is accused of racial profiling. Officer Wilcox says he was just doing his job, but Walter knows what he hears around the dinner table and that parts of his dad’s story don’t add up. When the couple’s relationship becomes a hot topic online, it might be too much for them to handle. The story focuses on Walter trying to reconcile reality with the way he has been raised to see the world and Emond handles it authentically, including making it clear that Walter is just starting to understand the bigger issues like his own privilege. While Walter and Naomi are well developed, other characters lack dimension, which is unfortunate, given the book’s focus on perception and stereotypes. The author’s illustrations, interspersed with the text, help set the mood, as do references to today’s social media climate. Though similar in topic to Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down (Holt, 2014), this readalike is more inward-focused, instead of examinging the effects of racial profiling on the greater community.

VERDICT A timely choice that will get teens talking.”

And Kirkus gave it a STARRED review!

“First love, racism, family strife, and the Internet’s culture of anonymous cruelty are some of the many themes explored in this illustrated novel by Happyface (2010) author Emond.

High school senior Walter, who is white, lives with his dad, a cop whose career has nose-dived in the years since he and Walter’s mom divorced and they moved from a middle-class suburb to a working-class neighborhood in the city. Anxious and endearingly awkward, Walter has done his best to fly under the radar with his peers, until he falls hard for his friend’s sister: smart, witty, harp-playing Naomi, who is black. The pressure experienced by couples from different ethnic backgrounds is realistically intensified for this sweetly likable pair when Walter’s dad arrests a black teen for burglary and is accused of assaulting him, igniting debate and anger in their neighborhood and at large. Most impressive in this emotionally charged novel is the way each of the characters is fully imagined; they emerge as complex individuals who are shaped by a variety of factors and are not portrayed as simple heroes or villains.

There are no easy answers to the issues at play in this story, and fittingly, there is much that is left open-ended. Readers will be left with plenty on their minds and in their hearts.”


Posted on Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Been working on my art in between projects. Some day I’ll get back to doing something in comics!


Bright Lights Cover Blog, part 3

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

My editor, designer and myself all liked the fire escape cover, but thought there was a charm in the heart-shape cover that was worth exploring. Worst case, it didn’t work out, best case, it had an iconic look to it and could be the best cover yet. So I set off to re-do the art.

The design was good from the start but I wanted to give it more effort since the first time I did it, it was just a for-fun piece to set tone. Decided to bring more detail to Naomi’s face first. Much like with the pair on the other covers, I drew them many times trying to get something good, and it did take a while!


And I again tried a lot of different options for the design, including a traditionally done painting, which was ill-advised.


Eventually we had something we all decided was the best, and that cover is floating around now, although I’ve done some tweaking since, including warming the colors, lighting Naomi a little better, and making the BG inks a dark brown to help push Walter and Naomi forward a bit.

A couple months of work, and we have our cover to BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS!


Bright Lights Cover Blog, part 2

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

So after going through all the various sketches I did in varying stages of completion, my editor and designer and I settled on 3 to fluff out with a little more detail. They were:
Pitch A, Naomi and Walter standing on a rooftop overlooking the city. The dark night above them, the bright lights below.
Pitch B, Walter and Naomi embraced on the fire escape. It has the city vibe I was clearly hooked on while also showcasing the characters. We also toyed with the idea of having cast members in windows of buildings but it was distracting and the windows were too small.
Pitch C, Walter and Naomi under the bright street light by themselves, while the busy world hustles on around them.
Pitch C was knocked out of contention early on while the other two went through a plethora of alterations. One thing I learned doing this was every little tiny thing could be changed and throw off the whole look of the cover. There were so many options, would it look better brighter, more saturated? Should there be more windows, more buildings? How much space should the logo take up? How much space should Walter and Naomi take up? Is that a good pose for them? It became really easy to lose myself in modifications, a little change here, a change there. My editor would ask me for one thing and I’d make 17 adjustments before sending it back. It was easy to get lost.
And there was the logo. I had the image of a hand-scrawled logo early on but I tried a ton of different logos to see if anything else really jumped out or captured the tone of the book better. Even the hand-written logo was done over and over and over to find just the right look.
Here’s the rooftop cover with a variety of logos. I also was thinking it could look like a poster or old pulp novel cover too at some point, hence the frayed edges.
And an example of the kinds of tweaking I would do – should it be cell-shaded coloring? Painted? Warm? Cool? Are the lights bright enough? Too bright?
And then I tried varying color methods, more comic book-style, heavily inked and noirish, etc. Each of the covers went through quite a few different looks.
Of course, ultimately we didn’t go with any of those. I’d included the heart-shape cover in the bonus materials and my editor and designer thought it had a real charm to it. And so I set out to make the final cover, which I’ll write about in my next blog.

Bright Lights Cover Blog, part 1

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

So last summer I had the opportunity to design my own book cover, which, despite being an artist myself, is not something I’d done since the Emo Boy Graphic Novels and comics back in the day. I had a very talented designer named Ben Mautner do the covers for HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN, and since those were always so well regarded, I was happy to have him do the job. He’d left that position to work on his career in DJing though by the time BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS was nearing completion, plus I’d changed companies to Roaring Brook at Macmillan, so I requested a shot at doing my own cover.

I always make concept art and “tone pieces” for my books and even just for pitches and ideas to kind of further translate how I expect a project to feel, so with very little stress or analysis put into it, I’d done covers for HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN and every other pitch I’ve made, they just never actually got published anywhere. With BRIGHT LIGHTS I’d done tons and tons of art already so I figured it’d be pretty easy to nail. It was not.

So these blog posts are going to show a lot of art and all the work that went into making this cover. It’s an incredibly important part of the book as it’s the very first thing anyone sees, it’s job is to pull people in to pick up the book, read a little of it, research it. There’s a million books sitting there on the shelf so yours needs to scream out “Hey, take a look at me! Forget these 2 guys next to me!” The importance of a good cover design cannot be overstated. The fact that the folks at Roaring Brook let me take a stab at it shows a lot of trust and I didn’t want to let them down, so we worked very closely, analyzing every little detail until we arrived at something everyone was happy with.

I’m going to break this into 3 blogs – the first will show my initial pitches. The second will show my “serious contenders” and all the revisions I did on them. And the third will show the evolution of the final cover.


The very first image I did was actually very close to the final image, I had the idea of Walter and Naomi standing back to back, them against the world, arms linked in a way that their shoulders formed a heart. This was just for me, a tone piece to get excited about the book and show the concept visually.


Another early piece involved the city, which, like the world in Winter Town, I counted as the “third character.” For some reason in my head I always pictured the book as red. Red and purple, really, but I pictured a red book on the shelf, and after the yellow of Happyface and the blue of Winter Town, that seemed like a good fit. This was a very minimalist idea for how the cover could look.


Once I was legit pitching covers, I wanted to have a wealth of options and make sure I explored every idea I could muster.



I was still stuck on this idea of the city being the main part of the cover, and had this idea of a building forming the spine and part of the front and back, so it had a more design-y element to it. The blue cover was still too close to Winter Town, especially with all the white.

Overall I pitched a whole bunch of potential covers before we picked 3 to further refine, which I’ll go over in the next post.


Teen Writing Articles

Posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Quick update, I know I’ve linked to a few of these articles before, but every now and again I get an email asking for advice on writing, and I usually include these in my replies. So in case it’s helpful or interesting to anyone, here’s the full list of articles on my writing process I did in 2013.

2015, A Busier Year

Posted on Monday, December 29th, 2014

We looked back at 2014, and it was glorious. So what does 2015 have in store?


The past few years have been spent working on Bright Lights, Dark Nights. I don’t know how it’ll play out upon release, that’s up to the world, I suppose, but the writing of it was a bigger and more detailed process than I’ve had before. The nature of the book itself required a lot of TLC, it’s a very delicate story that deals with some heavy issues that only grew month by month as I worked on it. The way it mirrored our current society by the time I finished was honestly pretty shocking to me – there are things in this book that I thought were pushing it and ended up being light compared to events that actually occurred. It was important to capture the right tone and get all the details and it took a long time to get there but I couldn’t be happier with it or more proud. Bright Lights, Dark Nights is my big event of the year. In August it’s finally going to be out on shelves, this thing I started back in 2011 will finally be a real live book. Scary.

I imagine I’ll have some talking appearances once it’s out this summer but its early still, so I guess stay tuned for that.


In the meantime, I’ll have to get a new project going! I hope to not take 4 years in between every project, I’d be much happier having a book out every year or two. One of the complications I encountered once I started thinking about what’s next, was how do I top what I just did? I feel like Bright Lights is steps above anything I’d done yet, and while I had a handful of ideas for YA, for the most part they felt like a step backwards. My initial reaction to that was to try something entirely different. As I was finishing the book and working on the cover, I became very excited about the idea of doing a Middle Grade book. Something funny, with a bunch of art, lighthearted, a complete 180 from the heavy themes of Bright Lights, Dark Nights. Rather than try to “top” what I’d just completed, I’d go to a whole new field and start from scratch with no comparisons. I plowed my way through a pitch that I was pretty excited about, but (author transparency!) my editor and agent felt it needed a lot of fine tuning. In retrospect I think I was taking all of my adult sensibilities and tossing them into an idea with a bunch of middle school kids. Middle School kids = Middle Grade, right?
And then I got really into Emo Boy. I kinda missed the guy and felt I could do better with him, I could certainly do far better than what I’d done a decade ago. I had a bunch of ideas and got into the idea of bringing him back for a GN series, but that fell apart before long as well for a few reasons (“what’s emo?” “That’s been done before – by you”)

So where I’m at now is this character came into my head that really intrigues me. And this world around him. It’s in the YA realm, which I think will please my editor, but so far that’s what it is – a few puzzle pieces, a character, a world, a tone, a few scenes, potential twists. I can see the book, the people in it, I can feel it, but it’s lacking the story that makes it an actual book. With all the other projects and with the holidays and all the gift-crafting I’ve done this month I haven’t had a single session to sit in silence and actually work on this, though, so that’s what I’m looking forward to the next month or two, is getting to dive into this world, poke around, figure out what the story is here and how to tell it. And hopefully at some point this year I’ll be at work on my fourth novel. And hopefully it won’t take 4 years to finish it this time!

2014 – The Quiet Author Year

Posted on Saturday, December 27th, 2014

I like this time of year – even though the transition from December to January is just another day/week/month, it’s a good time to check in and make new plans and resolutions and also to look back at the year before.

Sadly, I just now realized I missed my tradition last year of looking back at the year before and looking forward to the year ahead, so I can’t compare what I’ve done to what I’d planned on doing. I can’t even fully recall what I was up to at the split of 2013 and 2014 aside from the same thing I’ve been doing for a few years now, finishing up Bright Lights, Dark Nights. And I’m sure my number one goal was to finish it up by Spring, which I came closer to than I had every other year I gave myself the same goal.

Maybe it was easier to write a year-in-review post on the years that I did a lot of varying things. Even in 2013 I had some video game stuff and the Penumbear release. A lot of authors can put out a book every year, which leads to a lot of stories and “life events.” That’s how it went for me with Happyface and Winter Town, those were busy years! The past few, not as much.

The big life event for me in 2014 was being unemployed from March to June. That was a new experience that added a lot of stress and anxiety, but also a lot of freedom and the time to actually finish up my third book, something I don’t think I would have without that time. I could still be working on it right now if I was exclusive to the few weekend and evening hours I could squirrel away. Usually I’m not one to say “everything happens for a reason” or “everything always works out in the end,” I take the more pessimistic notion of well, sometimes things suck and end suckily. But, in this case, I was afforded a few months of writing time to finish my novel and found work just in time to keep my apartment and it did indeed work out well.


After that, I worked on the cover for the book, my first time designing my own cover. Fun fact: not many authors design their own covers! In the process I found a LOT of respect for cover designers as this was no easy feat at all. I’m going to do a 3 part blog series on the process with a lot of development art soon so I’ll go deeper into that soon enough.

In September and October I did an illustrated short story for an anthology Roaring Brook is putting out next year. I’ll talk more on that next year, I suppose. This too was harder than I expected, and took a lot more time than I’d planned but I’m happy with the results.


I’ve been toying with what to do next, and even put together a full proposal for a Middle Grade novel that ultimately was put aside for retooling. I also played around with some ideas for an Emo Boy reboot that ultimately didn’t pan out. As of now the plan is to do more YA, but for a moment in between projects there was a world of possibility, graphic novels, Middle Grade novels, fantasy series. It’s good to have options! I’m still not entirely positive where I’m headed– but I’ll talk more about that in my next blog, 2015, looking forward!