Thursday, September 18, 2014

A CAT NAMED TIM by John Martz - Giveaway!

A CAT NAMED TIM by John Martz is sort of like Richard Scarry for the more mature set. It's a series of stories of adorable and endearing characters such as "Doug & Mouse, Connie (a girl with big glasses), Mr. and Mrs. Hamhock," and of course, "Tim" - all in one book. It also reminds me a bit of Hello, Mr. Hulot in it's mini-story, yet graphic style approach. John stopped by to tell us more about it...

Q. John, Congratulations on A CAT NAMED TIM! How did the book come to be?
Thanks! I have illustrated a handful of picture books for kids, and Annie at Koyama Press told me she was interested in publishing comics for kids and young readers, and asked if I’d be interested in something like that. My kids books up to this point have all been written by someone other than myself, so I jumped at the chance to do a book for kids in which I was both the author and illustrator.
     Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Q. Koyama Press does funky graphic novels and artsy books for a wide age-range. Some of their work is definitely not for kids, while other works are for the kids at heart - like yours. How did you hook up with Koyama Press?
I first met Annie at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. We had emailed a few times before then, but hadn’t met. She expressed interest in my comics, and we’ve since worked on a few projects together, including The Big Team Society League Book of Answers, which is a collection of jam comics, and certainly not for young children. My style is heavily influenced by picture books and newspaper comic strips and Saturday morning cartoons, and while I don’t always do kid-friendly work, I do think I come somewhat naturally to it, and working with Annie and Ed Kanerva has been a joy.

Q. Who do you consider your target audience?
I didn’t have a target audience in mind when I began working on the book. I wanted primarily to take the improvisational process I learned from working on both Team Society League and my comic strip Machine Gum, and apply it to a kid-friendly cast of characters. As the book took shape I saw potential to accommodate children who can’t yet read or are just learning; the scenarios and gags are fairly uncomplicated, and it’s mostly wordless. The minimal dialogue there is is more textural than textual, and I hope that the illustrations and scenes allow children to make up their own stories and explanations for what’s going on.
     Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Q. There are very few words in A CAT NAMED TIM, mostly series of illustrations with very clever twists. Can you describe your format?
The book is primarily a series of double-page spreads, each one an independent gag or scenario. I don’t know if I can easily sum up the format other than to say that I enjoy playing with the formal elements of comics, and trying different panel layouts and different ways of directing the reader through an image or a series of images. I’m particularly drawn to the idea that comics don’t need to be read solely panel-by-panel, and that inviting a reader to examine the page as a whole, and see different moments in time simultaneously, is something unique to comics and illustration, and a fun thing to exploit.

Q. What is your illustration method and how do you conceptualize the stories behind your narratives?
Each scenario started in my sketchbook as super-rough barely-legible-to-anyone-but-me thumbnail drawing. A sketchbook allows me to get ideas out my head quickly and with minimal fuss. These thumbnails are often only a starting point, and I like to save some of the final problem-solving, details, and specifics for when I’m working on the finished art.
      The illustrations for this book were drawn digitally in Photoshop. The process is similar to the way I learned to draw comics, in which I start with a “pencilled” line drawing of the page that acts as the skeleton of the finished artwork. I put together a palette of colours for the entire book, and I do a quick low-res colour study for each page before starting the final art so that the painting/colouring process itself, which is mostly done on a single layer, involves little to no thinking as all the planning has been taken care of.
     Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Q. It's truly an unusual book, and yet one that I think will really grow on people. Kids will love studying all the fun things you include in your illustrations. What were your influences with all the little details going on?
You mention Richard Scarry in your introduction, and his books were a huge influence, of course. I loved his books as a kid, and I could spend hours poring over all the little details and miniature dramas in his busy pages. I have so many other influences, but for this book a short list would have to include Richard Scarry, Jim Henson, vintage Sesame Street, Sergio Aragonés, Where’s Waldo? books, Hanna-Barbera, Super Mario games, and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Q. How are you getting the word out about A CAT NAMED TIM?
The book debuts/debuted at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda Maryland, and I’m doing a joint launch party with Britt Wilson for her Koyama book Cat Dad, King of the Goblins at the kids comic store Little Island in Toronto on October 26.
      I’m grateful to be published by Koyama Press. Annie has fostered a lot of community and good will in the comics world, and that sort of thing (in addition to putting out good books) goes a long way in terms of generating buzz and support.
      You can also follow me on Twitter, @johnmartz, which is my social media platform of choice.

Q. I look forward to seeing more from you in the future!

Enjoy this great video about John and his work (or CLICK HERE if the video gives you any issues):

John has also been very active with the TD Summer Reading Club in Canada.

Koyama Press has kindly agreed to send a free copy of A CAT NAMED TIM to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dinner with a book club!

So for the last eight or nine years, my local postmaster, Stephanie Dover, has been waving her hands over my manuscripts for good luck when I ship them off from the post office. Needless to say, we've gotten to know each other and become friends. She's been so amazingly supportive, cheering on my publishing successes.
     So, I was so flattered when she said that it was her turn to choose the book for her book club and she had chosen A BIRD ON WATER STREET. I was even more flattered when she invited me to dinner to meet with her book club and talk about the book. What a sweetheart, what a sweet thing!
     From the left, Pat, Marie, El, Stephanie, (me), and Bernadette asked great questions - they even asked two stumpers which I have to research now.

     Truly, when a book heads out the door, it is no longer yours - it becomes the property of the reader. I love that, because I love hearing what parts of the story stand out to different people. It means they've made it theirs. They are relating to the story through their own experiences rather than mine. And it is so fun to watch that happen.
     What an absolute treat! THANK YOU Stephanie!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Coloring Page Tuesday - Crows Nest

     Friday is Talk Like a Pirate Day! Methinks our young pirate might run the ship aground if he keeps his nose buried in Treasure Island instead of on the view in front of him. Arrrrrrr!
     CLICK HERE for more pirate-themed coloring pages!! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**
**eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environmental/Ecology/Nature Category**

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hispanic Heritage Month 2014

Today kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15th through October 15th. Per the official website:
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.
     Want to help celebrate? Learn or teach some Spanish using my bilingual picture books:

     Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón and Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la planta de chile gigante.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


There's a new book coming out by Ben Tripp called Kit Bristol: The Accidental Highwayman, and the trailers for it are absolutely HILARIOUS! Click the image to see one, but GO HERE to see them all - it's worth your time. SO inventive!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

MIchelle Knudsen's EVIL LIBRARIAN - guest post and giveaway!

A dear friend of mine - Michelle Knudsen (of THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN, THE LIBRARY LION, etc...) has a new novel coming out called EVIL LIBRARIAN and it is a hoot! I'm thrilled she stopped by to talk to us about it today...

People often want to know the story behind a story — where the idea came from, what the process was from blank page to publication. The later stages are usually easy to talk about, but the beginning part is always hard for me. I try to pay attention, when I first start to get an idea, because I know people are going to ask me about it later ... but I’m usually just so excited to feel an idea coming together that I don’t want to think too much about where it came from and risk messing it up. Ideas can be fragile things when they first begin to materialize. And then of course once it feels solid enough to hold up to more intense scrutiny, often I’ve forgotten what the initial moment of inspiration actually was.
      Here is what I do remember about the very beginning of Evil Librarian: I wrote the first draft of the first chapter in late March/early April 2009. I was in my second semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, working toward my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and needed a break from the heavier fantasy novel I was focusing on as my main project. I seem to remember starting it while on a plane, but I may be making that up. It was only the second time I’d attempted a novel in first person (the first being my other VCFA novel-in-progress, started a few months before). I’d been purposely choosing first person at school because it was hard for me; close third person was my go-to POV, and I wanted to push myself to try different and more challenging things. It had been a real challenge with the first novel, slow and sometimes painful, but Cyn’s voice in Evil Librarian came so quickly and naturally to me that writing her story was a pleasure. I had no idea what the story was going to be about when I began. I just started writing. And then I liked it, and I kept going.
      I kept working on Evil Librarian throughout my MFA program (along with my other novel, various picture book drafts, critical essays, etc.), and by the time I graduated I had about 80 pages. I sent those to my editor, who liked them (yay!) and then worked on a synopsis to show her I could figure out where the story was going to go. And then I wrote another, longer synopsis, and then a chapter-by-chapter outline (another first for me) and then eventually I had the whole novel, which went through another couple of revisions under my editor’s guidance and then a lot of last-minute tweaks and fixes until they finally made me stop touching it and it was done.
      One of the hardest things about this book, other than eventually trying to figure out what was actually going to happen in the story, was getting past my fears of trying to be funny. At the beginning, I could see that at least some of the initial pages I’d written were funny; my advisors at school thought they were, and when I read little parts out loud at occasional writerly gatherings, the people listening laughed in all the right places. That was nice. When you read something serious to an audience, even if it’s great, the most reaction you get in the moment is sort of a hushed “hmmmm” sound. But when you’re funny, people laugh. Sometimes a lot. And it feels like very honest feedback — there they are, in the moment, reacting with pleasure to your work. It was amazing. But then I realized I had to keep being funny. On purpose. How could I manage to be funny for an entire novel? What if I couldn’t? What if only the beginning was funny, and then everyone kept waiting for the next funny part and it never came?
      One of my MFA advisors wisely advised me to stop worrying about it. I had enough other stuff to worry about; the plot, for example, since in the beginning I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. And I had Cyn’s voice, and Cyn was funny. So if I just kept going, it stood to reason that more of her humor would come across, and I could trust her to keep my readers engaged and laughing. So that is what I tried to do. And of course there was a lot of other stuff to focus on: not just the plot, but what I wanted the book to ultimately be about, the themes underneath the story, the relationships among the characters, the pacing and the (hopefully) exciting or scary parts and the integration of all the musical theater elements that Cyn and I both loved so much. It ended up being a story about a lot of things, I think, and also brought back a lot of my own high school memories, which were wonderful to re-experience. My high school friends are still some of my best and closest friends today, and although none of them actually make a specific appearance in the book, all of them influenced my take on this story and my vision for what Cyn’s high school experience was like.

Visit other blogs on Mikki's tour for EVIL LIBRARIAN:
WhoRuBlog, http://www.whorublog.com/ - 9/9/2014
Elizabeth O. Dulemba, http://dulemba.com - 9/13/2014
Random Chalk Talk, http://randomchalktalk.blogspot.com/ - 9/10/2014
Books 4 Your Kids, http://www.books4yourkids.com/ - 9/11/2014
Green Bean Teen Queen, http://www.greenbeanteenqueen.com/ - 9/12/2014
Katie's Book Blog, http://katiesbookblog.com/ - 9/15/2014
Word Spelunking, http://www.wordspelunking.blogspot.com/ - 9/16/2-14
Book Chic Club, http://www.bookchicclub.blogspot.com/ - 9/17/2014

Candlewick has kindly agreed to give away one free copy of EVIL LIBRARIAN to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Linky List - September 12, 2014

From The Guardian - Margaret Atwood's new work will remain unseen for a century - Must read this, it's really interesting!

From PW via The Telegraph: Should Writers Be Paid To Read? Hmmmm!

Via PW: Nielsen to Hold New Children's Book Summit. Interesting.

From Mashable via PW: Sleep in the Homes of These 8 Literary Legends. (I want to live in Steinbeck's studio - how adorable!!)

From This Picture Book Life: Fashionable Picture Book Characters (and no, Fancy Nancy is not among them!)

From Forbes via Publishers Lunch: Forbes has released their annual list of guesses at what the top-earning authors made. Please don't think this is anywhere near what the rest of us make! This is so outside my realm of reality I can't even imagine!

From NPR via PW: How 'Gatsby' Went From a Moldering Flop To a Great American Novel - fascinating look at how the book caught on after the author's death

From PW: A Hot Summer For Indie Stores... "PW’s informal poll of nearly two dozen indie bookstores found that many overcame a tough winter and are, in fact, up for the year. Some are way up. Parnassus Books in Nashville is one of several stores to report double-digit sales." Gads, I love to hear that!!

At Brain Pickings via PW: Maurice Sendak's Darkest, Most Controversial Yet Most Hopeful Children's Book

At BoingBoing: Great Childhood Books of Yesteryear (for adults only)

Thursday, September 11, 2014


FLASHLIGHT by Lizi Boyd is a fascinating book. As a teacher of Design in the picture book MFA program at Hollins University, I often talk to my students about directing the reader's eye - usually through the use of light, contrast, saturation, etc. FLASHLIGHT hits all those buttons and more! With strategically located cut-outs and the flashlight beam highlighting small mysteries, I kept flipping back and forth through the book to catch vignettes I'd missed, like babies in a nest, or bugs in a bush. Truly, the book is brilliant. I'm thrilled to have Lizi here today to ask her about it!

Q. Lizi, congratulations on such a lovely book and all the fantastic praises it's receiving, like "This is creative genius at work" from Kirkus! How did the idea for this book come to you?
My black labs, Zuli and Olive, went out for an evening ramble. I was working and suddenly realized they’d been gone for a long time. It was late fall, pitch black outside, so I took along a flashlight. I could hear them in the apple field below our house and when I caught them in the beam of light; their eyes, collars, the apples, field grasses were all in color. It was so utterly cool and simple. At that moment it became the idea for a book. My theory about ideas is that they’re all only ten feet off the ground and whomever reaches up and plucks it down gets to do it. I was excited this one was mine.

Q. This is a wordless picture book. How did you get the idea of it across to Chronicle Books?
At the time I was working on INSIDE OUTSIDE, another wordless book so It wasn’t surprising to Chronicle. The next day I prepared a black paper mock up book and starting sketching it out. My mock ups are pretty tight and they have a somewhat finished feel and look, although they're not elaborately done. When I’m presenting an idea it seems best to show a mock up where there isn't a need for a ‘visual leap’ between a rough rough sketch and a finished piece. The closer the idea looks when it's presented the easier it is to ‘see’ where it can go.

Q. You must have dummied this up a million times to get it all to line up just right, yes?
Thank you for appreciating how many go arounds one might need for such a seemingly simple book. Luckily it wasn’t even close to a million. I did do several rounds of mock-ups and many ideas for possible die cut shapes. Sara Gillingham, brilliant art director, did plenty of thinking too and Binh and many others in the production at Chronicle. It was truly a collaborative work.

Q. What is your illustration method?
I used designer’s gouache on 100% cotton rag.The paper was quite unforgiving so it was very careful work and because it was rag I had to do several coats of the gouache to get the colors to pop.The die cuts were not part of the finishes so I used templates to trace out the reveals. There was a bit of reconfiguring of the die cuts by Sara Gillingham once all the paintings were done. Sara has a great eye and sensibility and knows all the computer tricks which I don’t know... here in a studio surrounded by two hundred plus paintbrushes.

I did most of the gray line illustration while I was at our summer house on Lake Sunapee. This is where I met the Luna moth, the tiny white spiders who crawled onto my paint tray one night and the small white moths. Our house sits by the water on one side and the woods on the other. I’d hop up, go hunt for some little forest greens, mushrooms i.e. and bring them back to the table. I finished the book in Vermont but needed to make a terrarium to remind myself of the Sunapee woods and all the smells.

Q. I love how the boy is curious, but when he loses his flashlight, it quickly turns to the animals being curious about him! How did where you live influence the story?
Living in the country influences my work in many different ways. I take long walks with the dogs everyday so I‘m always seeing ideas along the way. And any work that’s going on in my studio is encouraged by these walks; the road, the quiet around me, subtle changes always help me to imagine different possibilities and directions.

Q. How are you celebrating the release of FLASHLIGHT?
I had a wonderful launch party at our house/studio in collaboration with The Norwich Bookstore. We had a basket of little gray or black flashlights. I’d never done a launch party so it was really fun to celebrate this book.

Q. What's next in the works for you?
The next project is different and has a bit of text. It’s working title and likely it’s final title is The Big Little Book. I’m in the midst of the sketches so I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s still changing and showing me new directions. It’s a skinny, tall book, so look for it in 2015.

I will! Wishing you much continued success!
Check out this lovely book trailer!

CLICK HERE if the embedded video gives you any trouble.

Chronicle is generously offering one free copy of FLASHLIGHT to one of my lucky winners. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Picture Book Month Calendar Now Available

I'm proud to once again be involved with Picture Book Month in November hosted by Dianne de las Cassas. Every year I create the calendar which lists all the participating authors, a theme for each day, and lots of my coloring pages (some which you haven't seen yet). Teachers and librarians need a little time to organize their plans for the month, so the calendar is being released early. You can download the full color or black and white version to print out at the Picture Book Month website (CLICK HERE). Of course, I have coloring pages available for most of those themes, so I hope you'll take advantage!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Coloring Page Tuesday - E is for Elephant!

     As a continuation of filling in my alphabet gaps, I give you an Elephant! Okay, okay, I've drawn elephants for you before. But they're just so danged cute and fun to draw!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**
**eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environmental/Ecology/Nature Category**

Monday, September 08, 2014

September is Child Protection Month

During the month of September, my publisher for A BIRD ON WATER STREET, Little Pickle Press will donate 25% of all book sales made on our website if the purchaser applies KidpowerSafe as the promo code at checkout. Very cool! I hope you'll help!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Lois Lowery and Jeff Bridges on Colbert

Via Salon - "Watch Lois Lowry and Jeff Bridges explain what a dystopia is to Stephen Colbert":

Click the image below if the embedded video gives you any trouble.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

A FALLING STAR by Chantel Acevedo - Guest Post and Giveaway!

Chantel Acevedo will once again be my kind host at the Auburn Writers Conference in November. She's so generous to other writers, so it is my great pleasure to help her celebrate the release of her latest book, A FALLING STAR. Take it away Chantel!
      One of the questions writers are often asked has to do with inspiration, and the places where ideas come from. I thought I’d share with you where the idea for A Falling Star came from.
      First, you need to know that it was an idea twenty years in the making. Second, you need to know that A Falling Star is set against the backdrop of the Mariel Boat Crisis of 1980, and the Cuban rafter crisis of 1990—two massive Cuban exoduses ten years apart, with enormous consequences for the island and for South Florida. In the story, Daysy, a 14 year old girl who arrived in Miami as a child as part of the Mariel boatlift, discovers that her parents have been keeping a very tragic secret from her. So, Daysy goes on the hunt for answers to her past.
      The story is inspired by the very true Mariel story of my childhood friend, Arlenys Casanova. She was five when she came to the U.S. with her parents as one of over 100,000 Cubans who sought exile on our shores over the course of one spring. Upon disembarking in Key West, she was lost for hours among so many thousands who milled about the docks. Her parents, panicked, inhibited by the language barrier, searched and searched, exhausted by the boat ride, terrified that after everything they’d gone through, they’d come to a new country only to lose their daughter. Arlenys was found, eventually, in the arms of an elderly blind man, who huddled with her in the shade, waiting for someone to come and claim her.
This is a photo of my favorite writing spot, which is in my living room, beside my colorful bookshelves, with my grandparents' engagement photo from Cuba looking on. My grandmother, who is still with us, is a wonderful story, and I feel as if I owe my artistic sensibilities to her.

      Arlenys gifted me with this story when we were fifteen, sitting on the sidewalk waiting for another friend to emerge from her house. She told it casually, softly, and I always remembered it.
      When I sat down to write a story about the many ways that Cubans have come to the U.S., Arlenys’ story bubbled up in my imagination, and I found myself asking, “What if parents never found her? Or worse, what if she’d been lost at sea?”
      Those are the horrifying and gripping questions that novels are born out of, and so Daysy came to be. I will be forever grateful for that afternoon in Miami, when Arlenys told me her story, for her enduring friendship, and for her parents, who had the courage to seek a better life for their little girl and brought one of my dearest friends into my life.

Bio: Chantel Acevedo has received many awards for her fiction, including the Latino International Book Award and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literature Fellowship. A Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, Florida, Acevedo has spent time in Japan and New Zealand as a Fulbrighter, and currently resides in Auburn, Alabama with her family, where she is the Alumni Writer-in-Residence and Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Auburn University. Acevedo’s fiction and poetry have appeared inPrairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, North American Review,and Chattahoochee Review, among others. She is the editor of theSouthern Humanities Review, the founder of the annual Auburn Writers Conference, and the author of two additional novels, Love and Ghost Letters (St. Martin’s Press) and A Falling Star(Carolina Wren Press), as well as a novel for young adults, Song of the Red Cloak. A new novel, THE DISTANT MARVELS, is forthcoming from Europa Editions. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami.

Chantel has generously agreed to give an autographed copy of A FALLING STAR to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Linky List - September 5, 2014

From Electric Lit - great info graphic about libraries in America, by H&R Block

From Shelf Awareness at Flavorwire: 25 Vintage Photos of Librarians Being Awesome

From Shelf Awareness at Scottish Book Trust: Scottish Children's Book Awards Shortlist

At Boston.com via PW: Children's Book Illustrator Takes Heat for Ferguson Drawing - Mary Englebright - yes. Read more about it at Betsy Bird's Fuse #8

From Shelf Awareness: Image of the Day: Campaign Stop at Avid Bookshop

Also from Shelf Awareness: "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter," at the Fifth Avenue (at 42nd Street) location of the New York Public Library, is in its last days. Curator Leonard S. Marcus will host a farewell toast in the library bookshop on September 7, 3-5 p.m.
I saw it, and if you're a kid lit lover, you really shouldn't miss it!

At The Scotsman via PW: JK Rowling honours Malala Yousafzai at the Edinburgh International Book Festival!

At NPR: How To Sell Diverse Books: A Bookstore Owner's Advice (Elizabeth Bluemle of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Vermont talks to Audie Cornish)

From SLJ, Ferguson Libraries Step Up to Serve Community in Turmoil

San Jose Mercury News via PW: 50-State Look At How Common Core Playing Out in US - how's your state doing?

From Shelf Awareness: Politics & Prose Presents The Writers' Cottage - groovy!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

FRANK! by Connah Brecon - Giveaway!

Some illustrators are so brilliant, their books are luscious treats to enjoy. Such is the case with Connah Brecon’s new FRANK! Although a longtime illustrator, Connah is relatively new on the US kid lit scene, so I’m delighted to get the chance to know him better…

Q. Connah, congratulations on FRANK! How did this book come to be?
Hi Elizabeth & many thanks for the compliments. I'm sure, like most illustrators I spend most of my time viewing others work & just hanging my head, thinking I might as well just give up right now. There are so many talented illustrators around at the moment, so it's really lovely to hear something good about yourself.
      Frank! came about through one of those happy coincidences, my daughter had just started Primary school & we (the parents), kept getting subtle hints in the school newsletter regarding promptness. I joked with my daughter about why the students might be late to school & of course the excuses/reasons just got more & more bizarre. I had recently drawn this bear character, who became Frank, & he was lounging on my desk, so it seemed a perfect fit. You might notice the dedication is to the students & staff of the school, who I jokingly refer to as being 'always on time'. Initially I intended Frank to be the only animal character in the story, so he would stand out but as I began sketching the spreads it became obvious to make the characters a nice mix of human & animal. Most of my stories come about through a lovely collision of characters/sketches & story ideas. The process never seems to be exactly the same twice. Some come together easier than others but it's always a very organic process, there is no template to creating the perfect Picture Book.

Q. You’re from down under - what’s the children’s book scene like there?
Actually I'm from the UK but currently live in Melbourne with my family. I am decidedly British. *smiley face*
      The Kidlit scene here is thriving as it is elsewhere in the World & I put that down to the range of children's lit that is currently being produced. There is such a wide spectrum of work/styles available to buy at the moment, which has really thrown a spotlight back onto the scene, alongside a book savvy audience. We suffered such a drought in quality work through the eighties & nineties which, in hindsight, will make this period we are in seem like a golden age in children's publishing. A couple of years back I was speaking to a well known Australian illustrator who berated me with the news that Picture Books were dead & that apps was where it was going to be happening, well, we've all seen what's come of that *looking at you (name removed for liable reasons), famous illustrator*. & just the other week I was informed by a big publisher here in Melbourne that they were sorry for not being able to offer me a publish date prior 2017. That's a healthy place for children's publishing to be.
      So, super rosy is the short answer.

Q. I ADORE your style - can you walk us through your method?
Thank you Elizabeth.
      Well, everything starts with a sketchbook & pencil (old school). Once all the spreads are drawn up (on paper), I scan them into photoshop, cut out each character & begin painting beneath that paper layer. This retains the original pencil line plus you get to keep the paper texture, helping, hopefully, to remove that digital feel from the illustration. For a while I was quite paranoid about my work looking too digital but now with Frank! I think I've found a happy medium. With the background art I like to work fresh from scratch in photoshop, trying to allow happy accidents to occur, which is me trying to replicate what happens when you work traditionally. I use found textures over the top of colours to enable a more tactile look. Generally though, the overall art has a way of working itself out for each book. & with each new book you try to push the art further & I think this relates to the previous question, there are so many great books being produced at the moment that as an illustrator you are forced even more to up your game. You're not just competing against yourself but all the other great books out there. Not that you should overly dwell on such issues but it definitely lurks there in the darker recesses.

Q. I’m so intrigued by your color palette. Was that a quirky accident, or a planned decision?
Thank you, that was a compliment right? (Me: YES!)
      I've always been known to have a more muted palette which I think just stems from my personal taste in colour ranges. But with FRANK! I made a conscious decision to broaden that palette for certain aspects of the book & also throw in some big splash pages from left field. It's another method of introducing energy into a story & also me testing myself, can I be happy that the sky is yellow given that the sky is never yellow in reality. When you create a Picture Book or any story come to that, you create a unique World that these characters inhabit, if your colour choices are believable in that World then it's a win. So, I think with each new book there should be a new World, still recognisable as yours but different. & in a way each story does kind of dictate your colour choices to a degree, the feel, the sentiment of the story comes through.

Q. What’s been your illustrative journey and how did you break into children’s books?
So, I studied art at tertiary level; this is way back, back before the internet, I'm old right? I fell into illustration by accident. My girlfriend at the time was an illustrator & I saw how I was painting these monumental canvases & not making any money & here she was painting these little cute illustrations & making money, it was an easy decision to make. I spent a decade in editorial illustration before moving out here & landing my first Picture Book with Lothian Books. I just called them up, went in & they said "you should try writing your own stories too". I mean, maybe that was a put-off but I did & ended up publishing three of my own Pictures with the wonderful Helen Chamberlin, then the senior editor. Since then I have basically worked in education chapter books & Picture Books. The educational market was very lucrative here until recently when the big publishers started moving everything offshore to India! Sorry Indian people of the World. I also taught illustration for a few years & that was fun, except the paper work, they should have given me someone to do that job. Short sighted education system!

Q. Was there a defining moment or revelation in your path to becoming an illustrator, or in defining your style?
Not as such, I think I've happily landed on my feet a few times in my career. I'm sure it's a lot like life in general, if you keep working at what you love eventually you hit gold. As for the style thing, I try & stay fresh as much for myself as anyone else. You always manage to find something while working, some mistake that works out that you want to pursue & explore. There is also that pursuit of perfection, the gap between what you see in your head & what comes out on the page & of course that gap never narrows.

Q. There are lots of funny signs hiding in FRANK! Is there a story behind those?
I wish *counts dollar bills*. I just love background detail, incidental information if you will. If books are Worlds then they should be filled with detail, all the fluff helps to support our main characters. I do really admire illustrators that can tell a story with minimal visual effort, it's a talent in it's own right. Detail is just something I can't help doing. But it is nice to ask what the heck that sailor is doing in town at a Charity Dance Off?

Q. Now that America knows about you, you have more books in the pipes. Can you share more about them?
Hello America! Pleased to meet you.
      Alongside FRANK! I have a second Picture Book coming out late December 2014 through Philomel Books. THERE'S THIS THING is a love about a girl who likes a... well, that would be telling. Besides that I have a few scripts that are doing the rounds now, so fingers crossed.

Q. Thanks so much and I wish you much continued success!!
Thanks Elizabeth, it was great talking to you.

Connah has very generously agreed to send a signed copy of FRANK! all the way from Australia to one of my lucky winners! Must live in the US or the UK to win - enter below!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...