Archive for the ‘writing fiction’ Category

Here are some samples from The Boy Who Was Swallowed by a Tiger and The Thing with No Head ebooks which will be out on Apple’s iBookstore in October. They feature a more straight ahead ‘cartoony’ style and give me an opportunity to indulge in drawing crosshatched lines.  One is told in verse, in fact I’m still editing it…the other a simple prose style with a folktale flavor. Click on them to see them larger.



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The ebooks I’m working on have final covers. Now I’m just proofing the interiors again. I’m sure you will be sick of hearing about them by the time they come out in October. But It’s been fun to write, design and illustrate some books that are driven by something I’d like to see, but they may not have a broad audience. That’s one issue that I think about a lot. I am often taken by ideas and projects that are not going to resonate with a large audience (see Robot Boys!). Sometimes they can be altered and revised to work in a new way that opens them up. But sometimes they just are what they are.  I have learned a great deal seeing this through so I am excited to use these little ‘hobbies’  to try things that are a little more edgy.



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Some more art from cards and letters generated after school visits. Thanks to all the kids for the time and effort they put in on these cards!


From: Kora C.

Aliens and bad books. The story of my life!


From: Edward B.

That’s a book that eats people!



From: Erin S.

She captured so many of the characters from my books!


From: Jacob V.

Another Earthling! Fan. The inside of the card was like a comic book page too!


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The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the film The Shawshank Redemption. It’s focus is on the continued revenue stream the film provides for the studio that owns it. What’s more interesting is how a movie is released, is pretty much ignored by the  movie going public and then lives on as one of the highest rated films of all times.

This has happened before with films like Citizen Kaen and Casablanca.  These movies came out and no one seemed to care that much. But they go on to entertain generations.

In the WSJ article they mention that the film may have been overshadowed by Forrest Gump at the box-office which was the BIG movie the year it was released. Forrest Gump was an enjoyable film, but when I watched it again a few years ago it seemed pretty forced. The truth is that Forrest Gump has not held up very well through the years, while Shawshank has.

This same situation happens with books. There are of course mega-hits right from the start.  But often those works hit so big because they channel some moment of cultural zeitgeist perfectly and it resonates. Like a flashlight bouncing off mirrors, it can light up an entire room. But ultimately it’s only got a triple A battery behind it. It doesn’t last.

The strength that comes from perfectly capturing the moment can make the work feel flat and dated in a short time. For me TV shows, especailly sitcoms, are the most obvious examples of this. (with a few notable exceptions.) If you watch the most successful shows from the past, say 1956 or 1973, it quickly becomes obvious that they are badly dated in both big and small ways. Watching the show becomes an exercise in irony.

Even the shows that were tops in 1982: Dallas, Three’s Company, Joannie Loves Chachi – ouch! Yet, at the time they commanded huge numbers of viewers.

This is just a permutation of the debate on commercial art vs. fine art. Is what we’re creating going to stand the test of time? Does that issue matter since we can’t consciously control that aspect of our work anyway? Do we too often make alterations to work to feed into the current trends and desires vs. making something that might resonate with a deeper sense of ethos, pathos and logos?

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So I’ve been negligent in talking about what I’m working on right now. I think this is because it’s real work to me. Something I already focus on all day long (and often evenings) and when I get to my blog duties I like to get away from all that. I’d much rather talk about important stuff like National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day – which is May 15th.


Cropped sample from The Great Thanksgiving Escape. Out Sept. 2014 from Candlewick Press.

But what AM I DOING?

Right at this moment I’m typing and – drinking tea. Really good Chinese Breakfast from Numi Tea. (no I wasn’t sponsored to say that – it’s just  that they make the best bagged black teas right now)

I am also finishing a picture book I wrote and illustrated for Penguin that will be out next year.  I’m also about a third of the way done with a picture book I’m illustrating for Hyperion.



I’m starting to plan some marketing for the picture book I wrote and Illustrated coming out this Sept. called The Great Thanksgiving Escape, which is being released by Candlewick Press. (I just received the first two sample copies on Saturday!) This is a book inspired by Oregon in many ways. You’ll see when you read it and get to the end (So order it now! what are you waiting for!?) This is the first picture book I wrote and illustrated. I got to wear both hats. And a wig. And clown shoes.


After that I have a bunch of exciting projects I will blab on about later, including three more picture books I am thrilled to be illustrating.

Now I need to walk the dogs, yet another of the quotidian that keep me from ‘real’ work.

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Democracy is a loaded word. Everyone has their own working definition. Is our government system here in the U.S.A. MORE democratic than Athens in the 5th century BC? We know the ‘will’ of the people is often ugly, reactionary and short-sighted. In knowing that should we defend democracy as the best choice among bad choices?

And what does it have to do with commercial art?

Everything and nothing. As a commercial artist we can’t pretend that we live in a void where commerce doesn’t matter. People ‘vote’ by purchasing access to the ‘art’ they like. A book. An album or digital download. A film. A video game. That’s what I depend on to pay my bills.

Right now it seems what people want in their movie house is repetitious movies of super heroes fighting one another. This strikes me as an amazing turn of events for a genre of fiction relegated to the lowest levels of attention for generations. The ‘modern’ comic book genre has been around since the 1930’s in America. At the peak of comic book popularity a few titles sold millions of copies a month. Like a video game would do these days. Now the few comics that sell in any number at all are very lucky to sell 10,000 copies in a month. So it’s literally a bankrupt form of fiction from a commercial standpoint. And yet this genre is the biggest draw in the world on the movie screen.

So why did a genre of story that existed for 80 years and only at the edge of most people’s awareness, grow into the global phenomena and dominate the moving pictures business? Why now?

Is it a perfect storm of demographics? Young people are still going out to movies in fairly impressive numbers. They have more money to spend and they want spectacle. Is this the result of the Nickelodeon and Disney TV generations looking for a rapid series of cuts and bright colors, obvious bad guys and non-threatening narratives? Good guys win. Bad guys die. Unless they don’t so there can be a sequel. And isn’t that really what Hollywood has always, mostly made anyway?

Granted they made Batman serials in the and 40’s, but they never found great success. And they never became feature films with big stars. There were also TV shows and cartoons through the years. But again, nothing that indicated they were anything more than a niche within entertainment programming. And after Tim Burton’s Batman in the 1980’s and the spawned sequels, the genre seemed to run out of gas and become something of an after thought.

I’m not interested in being a critic of the current films. Some are better than others. I just find the their success in cinema astounding. I don’t understand why superheroes are such big bushiness in films right now. But there is no doubt that a genre all but laughed at for generations now dominates the box office. The ‘Movie Democracy’ has spoken.

More tomorrow.

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The book below looks like a great read. Creativity, INC. by Ed Catmull, he of Pixar fame, talks about the need to make mistakes.

No, it’s more than that, he talks about how making mistakes means you’re pushing yourself and looking for new solutions. After all, if we don’t try anything new and only do what’s been done before and how it’s been done before – we guarantee we don’t do anything new.


I like advice like this, but I’m always a bit suspicious of advice and UNLOCK your creativity type books. The cynic in my head says things like, “I’m better at the mistake making part of life. Just not good at the doing it right part.” or “Great advice. But I don’t want you to be a pilot of a plane I’m on.” But I will be getting a copy of this book.

Here’s a link to the Brain Pickings site and an article by Maria Popova.

From the book about mistakes:

“[Many people] think it means accept failure with dignity and move on. The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy — trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it — dooms you to fail.”

Below is an interesting quote which speaks to me as I like to keep my work evolving as I do it. I don’t like planning out that one tight, super specific sketch. I like to discover and react as I paint a page in a book. This is a more difficult route no doubt, as I never have a point where I just turn off my brain and ‘color’ or ink lines. I’m reworking the whole thing as I work. At times I think I make doing picture books as hard as I can…

From the book: “If you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them — if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line — well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work — things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal. Moreover, you cannot plan your way out of problems. While planning is very important, and we do a lot of it, there is only so much you can control in a creative environment. In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed). There’s a corollary to this, as well: The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.”

Thanks George for sending me the link!

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