Fans of John Patrick Green’s bestselling InvestiGators series will soon have some new turf to explore in the Gatorverse when First Second debuts a spinoff graphic novel series, Agents of S.U.I.T. Launching on February 21 with a book of the same title (which has an announced first printing of 500,000 copies), the series is written by Green and Christopher Hastings and illustrated by Pat Lewis. The second installment, Agents of S.U.I.T.: From Badger to Worse, is scheduled for February 2024 release.

The similarly pun-filled new series is standalone yet complementary to InvestiGators, starring Mango and Brash, two vest-wearing, crime-cracking alligators who work for S.U.I.T. (Special Undercover Investigation Teams). The original middle grade series, which added its sixth book, InvestiGators: Heist and Seek, last September, has been published in eight languages and has more than 1.5 million copies in print since its 2020 kickoff.

Agents of S.U.I.T. spotlights some of the sleuth colleagues of Mango and Brash, including Cilantro the chameleon, protagonist of the debut caper. Here, after she finally gets a coveted field assignment, Cilantro finds herself—literally—in the middle of a field, where her orders are so vague that she’s not sure what she’s meant to investigate. But the aspiring agent soon gets up to speed as she uncovers a sheep-led workers’ rights revolt and an alien invasion conspiracy... for starters.

The Collaborative Team Coalesces

Green, Hastings, and Lewis, all veteran comics creators, came together on this creative endeavor somewhat randomly. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in 1997, Green established a long-term relationship with Disney, writing and coloring Disney and Pixar comics for Disney Adventures magazine and then drawing for Phineas and Ferb. He collaborated with writer Dave Roman on multiple series and served as publisher of Cryptic Press and began publishing solo graphic novels with First Second in 2016, when his graphic novel series, Hippopotamister, debuted. Kitten Construction Company followed, as did InvestiGators, his breakout series.

As the popularity and scope of InvestiGators grew, Green said, “I began talking with my agent Jen Linnan and First Second editorial director Calista Brill, about how it would be great to do a spinoff series to further expand the InvestiGators cast,” he said. “That plan would provide fertile ground to do different things in the same wheelhouse, and with a coauthor and illustrator on the spinoff series, I would be able to continue writing InvestiGator books and juggle that with guiding a spinoff—and with luck, avoid burnout!”

Green proposed “auditioning” potential coauthors and illustrators for Agents of S.U.I.T. and suggested that applicants submit samples of their work anonymously. After perusing these “blind submissions,” he, Linnan, editor Steve Foxe, and others on the First Second team narrowed the candidates for coauthor and artist to two for each position, and Hastings and Lewis came out on top.

Hastings, who attended SVA some years after Green graduated, recalled first meeting him when Green and Roman gave a presentation at the school about making indie comics. “John really left an impression on me,” Hastings said. After graduating, he went on to create the webcomic Adventures of Dr. McNinja and co-create the Unbelievable Gwenpool series, and was a writer on several other publishing projects.

Reading about Green’s new series, Hastings realized that he “was easily able to lock into John’s vision,” and submitted samples of his work as requested. When he got the nod, he was excited to embark on what was a new creative track for him. “I have worked with plenty of artists before and have drawn comics written by other authors,” he explained, “but this is the first time I am working with a cowriter. John and I both come at it from different places, which works well. I sometimes say it’s a process where we’re able to patch each other’s holes. I have a more traditional approach. John sees the world through puns and has a clear comedic vision, which is super fun.”

Adding the Crucial Final Touch

Soliciting blind submissions was also successful when it came to finding a final piece to the collaborative puzzle. Well versed in the genre, Green was keenly aware of the critical artistic and collaborative skills a graphic novel artist requires.

“With a graphic novel, there is a lot more back-and-forth between a writer and artist than with a picture book,” he said. “Comics must be more intertwined with the words, but also stand on their own. In this series, once Chris is done with the full script, Steve and I work with Pat, and a lot of times I will suddenly think of more jokes to squeeze in the visual storytelling. It’s an unusual process—the whole thing is almost like making a stew—you can sample it along the way, but you don’t get the entire tasting experience until the very end.”

Pleased to be tapped for the project, freelance cartoonist and illustrator Lewis said, “I’ve been a fan of John’s for about 20 years, and we’ve worked on things together in the past. I knew that anything he was attached to was going to be great.”

The artist’s experience has lived up to his expectations. “I think we lucked out in that John, Chris, and I are on the same wavelength in terms of our humor,” Lewis said. “And working on this series has been much more of a partnership than previous things I have illustrated. John makes suggestions about how he might draw something differently, and I’ve never before received that level of feedback. It’s almost like I’m taking a master class in cartooning through this collaboration. It has been very gratifying.”

Agents of S.U.I.T. by John Patrick Green and Christopher Hastings, illustrated by Pat Lewis. First Second, $10.99 Feb. 21 ISBN 978-1-250-85256-4