Drew Brockington does not own a cat. While he spends his days drawing them — and imagining their exploits in space — the Minneapolis author and illustrator behind the popular CatStronauts graphic novels is (gasp) allergic.

"This is a hot topic, especially with kids," said Brockington, who will be appearing at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center on May 6 at 2 p.m. as part of the Talking Volumes Spring Series.

"I'll give a school presentation and I'll drop that bomb, and the kids will get mad at me, like, 'What are you talking about?!?!'"

No one is more disappointed about this, he said, than his own 7-year-old.

Still, Brockington, whose newest Waffles and Pancake spinoff books feature CatStronaut Waffles and his little sister when they were kittens, hasn't lived an entirely cat-free existence.

Growing up in Saugatuck, Mich., he'd head over to his grandma's house to run around in the woods with his cousins and play with her many outdoor cats. (One of his characters, Mission Control's Ozzy, is named after one of his grandma's kitties, it turns out.)

From a doodle … to the moon

The world of the CatStronauts — which now includes 10 books and counting, plus an upcoming board game in the works with St. Paul-based Atlas Games — began as "a doodle in my sketchbook," Brockington said.

Brockington and his wife had recently moved to Minneapolis from New York. He was hunting for a job and trying to sketch every day. "One day, I drew a cat in a spacesuit eating a bag of kitty treats. The next day, I drew another cat, and then I kept drawing them," he said.

He created a 12-page mini-comic featuring the characters and took it to zine festivals, comic cons and shows. As Brockington describes it, at an expo in Bethesda, Md., a fellow with the look of "an old gold prospector" came up to him with a deal to get his little comic into comic shops around the country.

Then an editor at Little, Brown and Co., killing time before dinner, wandered into one of those shops, happened to spot Brockington's comic, and got in touch. They worked together on a pitch for a graphic novel, and then ... crickets. For eight months.

"I was getting worried," said Brockington. "And then he wrote back, and he's like, 'Hey, good news. Can I call you tomorrow?'"

It turned out the publisher wanted not just one CatStronauts book, but a whole series.

Wish fulfillment

Brockington jumped into research, and was able to realize something that so many wish for but few are able to achieve: He got to go to space camp. As an adult.

"It was amazing, because everybody in my group also never went as a kid," he said.

At the famed camp, run by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., Brockington joined other adult campers, including two recently retired lawyers there as a "retirement gift" to themselves and a pair of married chemists.

They did the same program the kids do, just in an all-adult group — staying in bunk beds that look like they belong in a space station and eating in the cafeteria.

"At one end is all the kids, and then the other end is a table of adults, and you're still eating mini-corndogs and star-shaped tater tots," Brockington said.

He soaked it all in — touring an actual Saturn 5 rocket and experiencing simulations of a space shuttle launch, a moon landing, and life aboard the International Space Station.

If readers look closely at the panels of a CatStronauts graphic novel, they can see details from those glorious days at space camp. "One of the biggest takeaways was realizing how many switches and buttons there were," he said. "One thing I tried to keep doing in my backgrounds is to make sure there were just walls and walls of buttons and switches and things to turn off and on."

For many kids, graphic novelist is just about the coolest job imaginable. When Brockington speaks to groups of young people, he often offers a little advice:

"Get a folder or a sketchbook, and just keep filling it with drawings," he said. "I didn't start drawing all the time until Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out and I was like, 'Leonardo's the coolest' and I drew them every day."

"The more you draw, the better you'll get at it," he said.

More about Talking Volumes

Talking Volumes, the literary collaboration between the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, is going on the road for a special series this spring. The program brings high-profile authors to Minnesota for a live interview with Kerri Miller, later broadcast on MPR, accompanied by in-depth Star Tribune stories about the writers. Get tickets here: mprevents.org

The spring series includes:

May 6 at 2 p.m. — Drew Brockington at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center.

May 18 at 7 p.m. — William Kent Krueger at Mitchell Auditorium, College of St Scholastica, Duluth.