Barry Lyga fell in love with reading through comic books. Although some grownups told him comics would rot his brain unless he outgrew them, neither thing happened. Lyga went to Yale, where he majored in English, then worked for 10 years in comic book publishing. Lyga credits the comics form with teaching him about plotting and character development, lessons he put to use in writing his first book, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton).
Unsurprisingly, the YA novel stars a comic book geek who hopes his own graphic novel will be published, so he can leave behind the bullies who torment him and the family that misunderstands him. Lyga, 35, had published short stories before and had written a novel for adults that had generated some interest, but writing Fanboy—which he admits is somewhat autobiographical—was a very different experience. "The entire book just popped into my head all at once," he says.
Just months after meeting agent Kathleen Anderson of Anderson Literary Management at a writers' conference in January 2005, Margaret Raymo at Houghton Mifflin bought both Fanboy and his next novel. Raymo remembers being instantly drawn in by Lyga's writing. "I stayed up late, I didn't put it down until I finished," she says, joking that Fanboy came in so perfect that "I did practically nothing [to it]."
The book's graphic novel influence led to some unique marketing, including a VidLit—a short animated promotion for the book narrated by Lyga, which is linked to from Houghton Mifflin's Web site and Lyga's own fanboyandgothgirl.com. On Lyga's site, fans can also keep up with the characters—and the comic book industry—by reading the characters' fictional blogs. "I didn't just want to put up a Web site that said, 'Hey, here's a book, go buy it,' " Lyga says. He says writing the blogs has been easier than he assumed it would be, especially Fanboy's entries. "So much of him is me that's it's very, very easy to tap back into him," he says.
Fanboy has been extremely well-received, garnering two starred reviews and making School Library Journal's 2006 Best Books list. And Jeremy Checkik, director of Benny and Joon, is currently in negotiations for film rights.
Lyga says he has wanted to be a writer since he was a child, but he assumed he would need another career as well. He recalls his grandmother's reaction when he told her his dream in the second grade. "She looked right back at me and said, 'Oh, you want to starve.' "
But with Boy Toy—a tale that takes place at Fanboy's high school, but with a new cast of characters—coming out next fall, and a fantasy series in the works, Lyga is now able to write fulltime from his home in Pennsylvania. "It's the best job in the world," Lyga says.