Archive for the ‘books’ Category

I’m just finishing the cover on the first picture book I wrote and illustrated. It will be out in the autumn of 2014 from Candlewick Press.

Let me say this about book covers – they are the toughest element in the book making process for me. This is no surprise because they have proven to be enormously impactful on a books’ success, so a lot of different people at a publisher have input. The covers are important not just for consumer sales in the retail environment but also when the publishers show the books to the retail buyers.

I used to believe that covers were pretty straight forward. But the more I tackle picture book covers the more I realize they have a unique set of communication needs. This is due in part to the duel audience of young reader books. They need to communicate to both adult book buyers and young non-reader book ‘readers’. A few books back I had done a cover I was pretty happy with and I got feedback from the marketing department on my design/illustration ( it should be noted that with picture books the cover is most often a collaboration between the illustrator and an art director or book designer ) and you know what, they were right! I know artists are always supposed to be upset and willing to fight the fight against ‘marketing’ department advice, and I have done that from time to time, but on this project that had a great POV that I hadn’t thought of. And we created a really good cover because of the notes.

So I’m open to plenty of discussion when it comes to the cover. And plenty of revisions, as long as I think it’s headed in a good direction.

bepawrdOne of my favorite covers from a book I illustrated is for The Book That Eats People. This was conceived of by the designer and editor I believe after we made a few runs trying out different approaches. The designer had the idea to make our names look like sharp teeth. What a great touch!

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Great  piece in Publisher’s Weekly on how indy bookstores are having scavenger hunts during the summer. And how one bookstore has kids searching for Green Beans. Especially the ones with mustaches! Click here to read it.


Of course you ALL know about the bad green beans that take parents captive. That play dice. That dance and make … well, if you don’t know get a copy of David LaRochelle’s wonderful book. And I’m not just saying that because I did the illustrations! Really.

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I am in no way an expert on the history of books that are small in size, but I have collected quite a few through the years. I don’t know why…I just realized that I have several boxes of some very odd, almost always mass-produced (these are NOT artisan creations) books that are just really, really small.


This is named, obviously, Chooch, The Little Engine. It’s copyright states it’s Vol 2, book 13, from 1966. A series produced by Cracker Jack Miniature Books. It measures 1.25 x 1.75 inches. A double page spread would be a whopping 2.75 inches wide, though it has no double page spread.


I recently acquired another book released a few years ago from IDW. It’s a collection of the cartoon work of Sergio Aragones, who was and still is my all time cartoon hero. Called Groo The Wanderer, Artist’s Edition. It’s one of a series of books printed by IDW that are at 100% size of the original art done by the artists. They shot the actual art pages, white out, notes, printing comments and all. It’s beautiful. Remember a few months ago I was going to stop buying books…well not so much.


It measures in at 12.25 x 17.25 inches and DOES feature double page spreads that are 24.5 inches wide. WOW.


Here are the two books and a Sharpie for reference.


Little book and big book getting along just fine. But sharing the same shelf is probably not in their futures.

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too many books illustration. Mark Fearing

too many books illustration. Mark Fearing

Here’s an update on my book-letting. Two months ago I wrote about my need to get rid of books. That perhaps being buried alive by books in my studio isn’t the way I want to go…though honestly, it’s not a bad way all things being equal.

And now for some blog-honesty…I haven’t gotten rid of one single book.

I tried. We had visitors for Thanksgiving and I tried to talk them into taking some books with them to read on the way home. But they already had plenty of books.

It gets worse…I recently purchased three new books and my bet is the Holidays will see me get at least one or two or three or more. So I am losing the ‘war on books’. I may never move from this house. I don’t have the energy to box-up all these books…

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Too many books…

Too many books. Too many shelves packed with books.

There, I said it. I have too many books and they are beginning to weigh on me more than I want them to. So it’s time to start deleveraging. So to speak.

It’s a big decision to make. But I plan on getting a box, then going through all the books on my shelves and I will keep only the books that fill that one box. No more, no less. I have too many tomes that I haven’t looked at in 15 years. I have those ‘Art Of’ books from animated films. Probably a dozen of them. Beautiful big, heavy, books. Love the art in them.Wonderful to casually page through, like I have time to casually page through anything anymore.

I do almost all of my visual research on the web now. I have directories full of art samples. I find myself going to the books less and less often for research. Either because of sloth or…well mainly because of sloth. This will not be an easy task but I need to clear the overstuffed shelves, the stacks on tables, the piles on the floor.

I’ve done this with CD’s and DVD’s and records and cassettes. Media storage nightmares all of them. I have three or four comic book cartons that need to go too. I’ve managed to ignore them, stick them in the back of the studio, move them to different corners, but honestly – it’s time. I realized I haven’t looked at what’s in those boxes for many, many years. Some I don’t think have been opened since I moved from Wisconsin to LA. Oh my. I feel even older now.

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About a Book Wednesday stops in the groovy 1970’s this week. Another bit of ephemera from my dad’s studio. This is a graphic novel from 1971. And oddly enough, it’s in traditional paperback size. It’s by Gil Kane, who has quite a history in comics.

Blackmark is a great example of 1970’s sci-fi, fantasy. How can it be anything else when the cover tells you, ” First in a series of daring adventures featuring Blackmark in the primitive world of the future.” And judging by the cover imagery they mean sometime in the 1980’s. That’s when swords were big. Anyway, I don’t believe there were any more published in this format. And it’s easy to see why.

The artwork is vital and competent, but the book is sunk because of the typesetting and design. As you can see from the spread below, the drawings are not so elegantly placed in-between large blocks of truly ugly typesetting leaving unnerving white space throughout the narrative.

Typesetting in the 1970’s wasn’t the image wrapping fun of using InDesign in 2012. I’m not 100% sure if this was issued first in a magazine format from Marvel or not, but some of the images are split so oddly by the spine that I can’t believe they are actually planned double page spreads. I’m sure there is a comic book expert that knows more about this book. But it’s definitely another step in the world of ‘graphic novels’. On the title page they refer to it as “A new fusion of images and words in an action book – the next step forward in pictorial fiction.”

In my experience, at least in the U.S., Will Eisner is often credited with being the artist/writer who created or at least popularized the term ‘graphic novel’. His A Contract with God came out in 1978. And Eisner himself credits Lynd Ward for inspiration. I’ve discussed on this blog before a wonderful original printing of Lynd Ward’s Vertigo that I have.

But in paperback format this particular combination of words and pictures leaves a lot to be desired. It neither celebrates the excellent artwork or makes the story easy to digest. Reading it feels a bit too much like homework. And this posting is feeling too much like a research paper, so I’m out of here!

You can pick yourself up a copy for yourself on ebay if you wish.

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Character vs. plot. Like the friction between dogs and cats, liberals and conservatives, bakers and monkeys, there will never be a quiet moment between which is more important to fiction. Actually I think most people agree it’s character. But I liked my intro.

Every editor, every development executive, my mom – they will all tell you that characters are more important than plot. That a great book, a great TV series (for kids or adults) a great film – is about characters the audience likes and wants to spend time with. Those characters can be under the ocean, in space, in a desert, they can be dogs, humans or monsters. But the characters need to draw you in.

So recently I was a little surpirsed when friends were sharing ideas for kids books and they all started with the location/setting/plot device. I was introduced to strange worlds, bizarre underground caves, even an old western town – before I met anyone. It’s a lonely way to talk about a story. By placing that information first, the creators seemed to be admitting that character is taking a back seat to location and/or plot.

Whenever I am trying to flesh out a story I start writing about the main character, or one of the main characters. (writing 101, I know). I write a page about the character before I ever TALK about where they are or sometimes, what they are. And when I develop the story I try and look back at this start and remember that no matter where the story takes this character, the character comes first. Their failures, their desires, their resentments. Even in a picture book this can be helpful.

Now that I’ve written this, I will work even harder to make sure I follow it!

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My dad is cleaning out his studio bookshelves and I’m receiving boxes of books. I found this one in the last shipment. It’s from 1943, edited by Donald Wollheim, one of the founders of modern American sci-fi as a writer, editor and fan.

The cover still looks great and has flying cars. Flying cars are always off in the future aren’t they?

The book has a few stories I hadn’t come across before (see below).

Sadly the book is in its last stages. It can still be used, but it’s close to its last read. There is no price on it, though on the back it says “Ship this book to a boy in the armed forces anywhere for-only 3¢”

It’s a Pocket Book Inc. release and doing a bit of research it turns out that Pocket Books produced the first mass-market, pocket-sized paperback books in America. Starting in 1939. Its now a division of Simon and Schuster. I have 25 or 30 old paperbacks I am making my way through. They are next to worthless I suppose but I enjoy them for a lot of reasons. The old paperback smell reminds me of the libraries and of my dad’s studio too. Also the excitement of seeing what was at the time a brand new Big Idea. Paperbacks. Cheap books to bring great literature (or not so great) to everyone. They have a unique energy and display some odd design choices because it was all so new. And science fiction was slowly making its way into the minds of millions of readers. I troll these books looking for early stories by Philip K. Dick and other sci-fi writers that enamored me when I was young.

And how can you beat ‘Fantastic Tales of Super-Science’ across the top.

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I got to watch rain dance across the open fields on my way down to Salem last night for a book signing.  I’d like to thank the Morningside Elmentary school for being such a great host. I had a ton of fun meeting creative kids and talking about ‘drawing’ stories.

I was also really excited to be talking to kids about Earthling! for the first time (Thanks to Chronicle Books for some early support for Earthling!) as well as signing favorite copies of The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, The Book That Eats People and So You Want To Catch Bigfoot.

Thank you to the staff and parents and students who came out to celebrate books, illustration and storytelling. I saw some wonderful student books in progress and was excited to see so many students creating original tales of monsters, aliens, penguins and lemons!

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My daughter really enjoys working/playing/learning on her iPad. She has a few games, some educational, some just dress-up Barbie type stuff. She has some videos and TV episodes. She likes some of the books on it as well. But she does not like using the iPad when it comes to bedtime.

I think there are a few reasons why, but I find it surprising given how much she likes using the device at other times. So here is a short list of my completely unscientific (AKA – guesses) reasons as to why she still prefers traditional picture books at bedtime.

1.The light from the iPad doesn’t calm her down. Even a story about bedtime is still radiating light and energy to build the images on the screen. This isn’t particularly relaxing.

2. The traditional books are more tactile. She flips back and forth EASILY. Even though you can ‘flip’ back and forth on the iPad, it’s not the same sense of before and after. It’s further abstracted because of the device.

3. Traditional picture books are usually bigger. And the larger images and compositions with white space are more fun to look at in general.

4. She has a lot of dead tree books books to pick from. Even with a well stocked iPad, there’s no comparison. We have books we own, she has library books from school and the city library. She sometimes raids my book shelves for even more picture books.

I happy to see that she still relates to traditional books even though I have not tried to push her away from the iPad in anyway. I think the traditional format of a book is still the best fit for bedtime. But, when we travel on an airplane I wouldn’t trade the iPad for anything!

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