“I want to know what’s your favorite book that you have made?”
I get this question often. And it’s not easy to answer. I have a short answer, “When I work on a book, it usually takes quite a long time to finish it, so I become attached no matter how it does or what people think of it. I like all the books I’v done.”
But my real answer is that I do have favorites – but they are favorites for different reasons.
While Earthling! was a ton of work and I’m not likely to pursue a 260 page graphic novel again, it was a big story that I wrote and illustrated. It gave me the opportunity to take my characters on a very long adventure.
The Book That Eats People was the first ‘real’ picture book I illustrated and it is so zany that I still enjoy paging through it. I wish more picture books had this weird, subversive but innocent joy to them.
And a book like The Great Thanksgiving Escape means a lot to me because it was the first picture book I wrote and drew. It was great fun working with an editor who helped craft the story so my intentions were clear.
Each of the books have some aspect that keeps them near-and-dear to me. Some books are more work, because of revisions requested or perhaps I had a hard time figuring out how to solve the narrative issues. Sometimes an editor leaves in the middle of the process or the publisher decides to to take the book in an entirely new direction. This can cause frustration and insecurity, but you have to work through it. In the long run the negatives seem to fall away and I look on each book fondly because some aspect of making it involved a new challenge for me and the book is a physical reminder of the time I spent learning to overcome difficulties and execute my ideas as best I could.
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I love writing and drawing. I feel very lucky to be doing it. I spent many years of my life in offices and cubicles. I didn’t dislike them and I very much enjoyed the people I worked with, many of whom became good friends, but the jobs didn’t engage me to the degree my job does now.
But most days I still have to pull myself into my office because I want to spend all day outside working on my yard, working in the garden. I just walked out to the front porch and immediately ran back inside because I knew if I spent one more moment out there I would start a project. I’d get my ‘outside’ boots on and find plenty of things to do on this beautifully day.
I think it best if I stay in pajamas and slippers thus making outdoor activities less socially hospitable in the neighborhood.
I am talking myself into sitting down and working. Keep the computer on. The cup of tea nearby. I learned a long time ago that in the commercial arts one can’t wait for INSPIRATION. Or a long wait you might have. Work gets done by sitting and doing it. And doing it agin.
So here I sit, willing myself to work.
I have 2 or 3 projects on my desk that need my time. Some new illustrations I’m very excited to start. Book revisions that need attention and no doubt – further revisions.
Maybe if I open my blinds and the window I will feel a better balance between my inside work that needs doing and my desire to be outside. Or will I let the computer sleep and reach for my outside shoes?
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Some great pictures of my visit to Hogan Cedars Primary school in Gresham. I had an awesome time. So many great questions from kindergarten kids up to 5th graders. We discussed books, writing, illustration, animation and even video games. All creative work that students can imagine themselves doing.
Here’s just a few pictures of the art they made for my visit. I met some of the artists who created these. Just great stuff!
And a present from Lisa who coordinated the visit! FruitStripe Gum! My daughter and I are in chewing gum heaven. Thanks for such a wonderful time!
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Happy Blue Creature & S. Beckett
I am often asked about my favorite books and inspirations. I’m uncomfortable with that question in regards to kids lit as I don’t separate genres and styles well. I like what I like and it all plays a part in my work.
I understand from a business perspective why we have genres and demographics, but I have a difficult time relating to the world according to marketing categories as I think most of us do.
Starting in high school I fell in love with the writing of Franz Kafka. (I even illustrated a take on one of his short stories) The ultimate young adult existential gateway books. And yes – that lead to Camus and Sartre and Borges. Many of the books introduced to me in an excellent high school literature class taught by Mr. Bernauer. (Thanks again for World Lit!)
And that experience propelled me to becoming a Comparative Literature major in college. And while I loved it, I had good reasons for moving on to 2 or 3 additional majors before I graduated with my BFA.
But all the books I love wash together. Some of Stephen King’s short story collections, Lord of the Rings, the picture poems of Kenneth Patchen, The Unamable (by Beckett), Jim the Boy, The Book of Illusions – the list goes on and on – and these run hand-n-hand with Bannock Beans and Black Tea, The Peanuts comic strip collections, The Little Prince, comics by Lewis Trondheim and picture books by Mo Willems. Low art, high art…it doesn’t matter. I enjoy them all and love when a book mixes in a bit of all those disparate human point of views. But to effectively sell a book, you best be one thing. But of course, the best books never are just one thing.
My literary enjoyments remind me of a Joseph Campbell quote: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”.
He was addressing mythology, but I find this is an apt description of what drives my desires in reading too.
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I’m hearing so much about ‘young reader’ graphic novels from librarians and teachers – it’s like it’s 2001 again.
Back in 2001 and 2002 there was a lot of interest in graphic novels at schools and from bookstores. But that first wave of interest from the large publishers resulted in older reader GN’s and now the interest seems to be in projects for 1st grade and up, or even K and Pre K.
My GN, Earthling! reads too old for where the interest is now. But no one is quite sure what they want. It seems they are looking for a book with slightly more plot than a typical picture book and some of the graphic sensibilities of a GN, but with smaller page counts. I see some books out there that seem to fit into this new description but they are exceptionally slap-stick in tone and that gets old fast. I’d like a little more story.
I’d love to do a hybrid GN project like this and honestly I’ve been working on a few – not ready for unveiling yet – but there is a ton of potential in a format that is picture book like, but an easier sell to older readers. It’s interesting how far we’ve come since graphic novels and comic book style art were considered a poor cousin to the High Art of illustration.
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I talk about the power of pencil and paper when I speak at schools and libraries.
Tools that every kid knows how to use and yet, when combined with an active imagination, they are the best starting points for any type of idea: A film, a book, a video game. The humble pencil and paper is far more dynamic tool than my Wacom tablet or Photoshop or my iPad.
I have been working digitally for close to 16 years now but my sketchbooks carry my history is such a satisfying way. The biggest technology change to my pencil and sketchbook in that time is that I use automatic pencils now instead of having 4 or 5 sharpened pencils (well, they started out as sharpened) in my backpack. But keeping enough pencil leads in the pencil is easier than keeping a battery charged.
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