The culmination of Lily Wojtkowski’s burgeoning creative life came on her 11th birthday, when she received two pets that would become her main source of inspiration. Wojtkowski, a fifth grader at the time, had already been drawing comics for about four years. But his pets, at that time, were more of a hindrance than an inspiration.
You see, Wojtkowski loved her hermit crab, but she wasn’t quite sure how to illustrate it.
“I wasn’t very good at drawing crabs,” she says. “But rats are another story.”
Wojtkowski means that literally and figuratively, as she has demonstrated to the world. The 12-year-old self-published her first comic book, ‘Pretzel Rat’, at the end of 2021, and she is now working on a sequel to the book which she hopes to publish in the new year.
This new offering, “Pretzel Rat: A New Era,” continues where the first book left off by recounting the adventures of his pet rat Pretzel. And now she has two new rats, Biscuit and Baxter, who will also be characters Pretzel interacts with on the printed page.
Wojtkowski says she was inspired by artist Bill Watterson, who drew “Calvin and Hobbes,” but she cautions her designs aren’t exactly humorous. The Pretzel Rat books focus more on fantasy adventure than comedy, but they’re still grounded in reality.
After all, says Wojtkowski, adventures are made up but real rats exist in real life. And before they came into her life, she says, she could never have imagined writing about them.
“I wasn’t exactly afraid of rats. But I had never met a rat in real life, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Wojtkowski, a student at the Manatee School of the Arts. “My mother suggested researching rats. So I did a lot of research and learned about rats. And then I was really excited to have rats because it’s like, ‘Oh, they’re actually like dogs just really tiny.’
The rats live in a large cage in his bedroom, Wojtkowski says, but they’re often allowed to roam around a room under supervision. Once, she says, she forgot to put them back in their cage, and when she returned to her room, they had eaten her blinds.
Do rats know their own name? Wojtkowski says she’s not sure exactly how smart they are, but she describes how to interact with them like you would your bird or your cat.
“Rats are very friendly,” she says. “They won’t bite you. They might nibble on your fingernails or groom your fingers. But most of the time, rats will show affection; they are very social. They are also very hyperactive and want to run all the time. In fact, I started with two rats. Unfortunately, one of them died, so we had two more rats. Now we have three.
Wojtkowski hopes to attend Ringling College of Art and Design, and she expects comics to be at least a part-time job when she gets older. Her mother, Kate, helped her with the self-publishing process, and Lily says she especially loves the work of creating the comics.
It can be laborious; a storyboard can take a week to develop, and a page can take her up to three hours once she decides how it should be drawn and colored. His first book was 24 pages, which meant it took him a long time to draw it out in his head.
“Sometimes the words come before the drawings, and then I’m like, OK, it works,” she says. “And then sometimes I draw a picture and it’s too empty. Wait, what should I write here? So, I’m going to think about it, what if he says that? I will write this. And if I like it, I’ll say “Yeah”, and if I don’t, I’ll delete it and start over until I find something that fits Pretzel.
Wojtkowski says many students at her school have their own creative outlets, but she doesn’t know of any classmates who have self-published their own comic or graphic novel.
Her book, which sells online on Amazon, has traveled the world; Wojtkowski sent copies of “Pretzel Rat” to his family in South Africa, and a netizen requested special delivery all the way to Australia.
Locally, “Pretzel Rat” books are available for purchase at Suitcase Sweets in Lakewood Ranch. Wojtkowski, who also makes gifs, animations and art dolls, says there may be another Pretzel Rat book in her after ‘New Era’, but she can pursue different creative projects as well. .
When does she do most of her work?
“It depends on the day,” she said. “If I have a lot of work in class, then probably no doodles that day. If I don’t have a lot, I’ll probably doodle a lot. Then I’ll come home and I might color it in. Some days, I draw a lot at school but I don’t draw at home because I’m tired.
One thing is certain. Wojtkowski fans eagerly await the next adventure in which Biscuit, Baxter and Pretzel reunite.
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