Archive for September 2009
Illustrator Brian Despain animates a mystical assembly line of robots that roam the stark backdrop of bleak and innocuous industry. As a self-professed Star Wars fan, it is no wonder that Despain creates droids that seem to be marching towards some unseen force or contemplating their scrap heap origins. Numbers also factor heavily into his work emphasizing individuality’s rally against factory uniformity. The number twenty-three emerges quite a bit as well which intriguingly brings up the “23 Enigma“. Despain’s robots could invite you to tea at an electrical picnic one moment and ask you to take on stormtroopers in 1950′s dystopia the next. Brian’s work was most recently exhibited at Roq la Rue Gallery as apart of the “Lush Life” group show.
“No matter the piece or the end result, it’s the art that we do for ourselves that wholly reflects us as people. It is that art which is purest, it is that art which holds the most magic…”-Brian Despain
Trained as an industrial designer, author and illustrator Thomas Aquinas Maguire understands the nature of good design and designs beautifully surreal scenes of nature in his books. Maguire’s quiet narrative, A Growling Place, follows the adventure of a young girl who looses her teddy bear and finds her voice against a snarling bunch of bullies. A Growling Place is haunted by an atmosphere of dreams where foes become friends and sparrows are silent guides. Each creature breathes beneath tangible textures and tea stained accents. Maguire’s characters are a gentler evolution of Bosch’s fierce species that leap off the page and vibrantly speak with little text. Maquire continues to dream in his upcoming book, Three Little Dreams.
1) Is there a story behind your middle name, “Aquinas”?
I was born to Catholic parents and inherited this unique historical name from my father. Thomas Aquinas was a 13th century catholic philosopher. He defined God in logical terms and in doing so attempted to prove God’s existence. In the following centuries countless philosophers issued both arguments and agreements to his “Summa Theologica”. It was admirable as an attempt to reconcile mystical ideas with logical thought, but it’s kind of exhausting to read.
2) Many of your illustrations are very textural. You mention that you’ve even used tea as a medium. What are some other mediums that you would like to experiment with? Also, do you have a favorite tea?
It’s tough to break away from a workflow that I enjoy and find successful – watercolor and graphite are my two favorite media. They have supported my range of expression perfectly for a while now. My newest work is 100% graphite, and I’m using it in an less refined way with messier strokes and fills. I have a few more ideas that I’d like to approach with the watercolor and graphite techniques. It’s a bit of a tragedy when the ideas come more quickly than the time it takes to produce them. Since A Growling Place, I’ve taken the media for granted – considering new media has been a low priority.
Building a style from scratch again actually sounds tempting. In the future I’d like to experiment with a style of glowing and transparency – microscopic or astronomic glow. It would probably be digital.
Irish Breakfast is my favorite tea. I like to work late at night and it helps me along. It also has a nice “bear-like” color. There are tea stains all over my studio – which is kind of gross, but also kind of cool (to me). I wonder if I painted my room with tea…
3) Your stories involve animals. What else in nature inspires you?
Right now, my favorite thing about nature is mystery. After several years of simply enjoying the aesthetics of nature I’ve had a few brushes with boredom and apathy that were completely terrible. They were really the result of my own laziness – expecting to be “inspired” exclusively by something visual – asking nature to do the inspiring for me. That “something for nothing” attitude was a result of a lack of experience and I’m glad to have matured. Currently I know that “not knowing” and “finding out” keep my spirit young and if I’m not always looking for a new mystery then I get restless, crabby and upset! Reading about solved mysteries is almost as exciting. Nature holds all of the best mysteries because they’re real. Imagine that there’s something out there that we don’t know about – that’s the best! Someday I want to be a scientist.
4) When did your first start writing and drawing? Do you remember your first drawing or story?
Nice! That’s a question we should all try to answer as it requires you to close your eyes and pull up the memories. I honestly can’t remember my very first drawing but I had a lot of fun trying. Most of my favorite childhood memories involve the night-time, looking out of the window and things that glow. I wish I could remember the very first drawing. I bet it was an incomprehensible scribble. I was probably just happy to move a stick around on paper and make a mark. I probably felt like a genius… or similar.
5) What inspired your story, A Growling Place?
The book was created while I was living and working in Denmark. Those two years provided a wide range of feelings and experiences that compelled the creation of A Growling Place. The time was characterized by loneliness, confusion, peacefulness, playfulness and imagination. I had a chance to re-connect with a lot of the emotions of childhood and naturally did so by creating that story. For me the book symbolizes the mishmash of influences affecting my life during my years in Denmark. When I first finished the book I felt like I hadn’t expressed my intention clearly enough but looking back I can see all of the reasons why it is what it is. Musically, I’d say that the influences ranged from Randy Newman to Sigur Ros – does that seem like a strange mix? Try “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” by Randy Newman.
6) Please tell me a bit about your upcoming book release, Three Little Dreams.
With Three Little Dreams I wanted to experiment with a different story telling format. Each story is circular – the ending is the beginning is the ending. You can read them over and over seamlessly (like counting sheep).
When the books are released you’ll notice that they aren’t bound traditionally, but are very long strips of paper that fold and unfold. The images are polyptych. They can be read traditionally as an image progression or the reader can step back and look at the story as one image – like a singular representation of a memory. I’d like to continue to explore stories as memories and to portray the passage of time in different ways. A traditional story book format reinforces the concepts of past, present, and future naturally and for good reason. Three Little Dreams is my first attempt to break out of those conventions in order to present different expressions of time and sequence to children. I think it’s really important for humans to understand time in different ways, however subtly. I am creating the follow up to Three Little Dreams in a similar way – but it is much much longer.
7) What advice do you offer upcoming illustrators and authors?
Only artist Dan May can make something so amorphous absolutely adorable. He creates creatures that look like an embryonic hybrid of Sendak’s Wild Things and places them in illuminated worlds of fuzzy color. Dan May’s solo exhibition The Nature of Things to Come is currently being held at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, California.
Author and illustrator, Brian Lies‘ has been busy as a… bat. Mr. Lies’ most recent book, Bats at the Library, observes the humorous hijinks of young bats exploring a library-a rite of passage guided by an older and more bookish bunch. Bats at the Beach is the first of the batty series and the band of bats continue their recreational haunts in Bats at the Ballgame, due out the end of 2010. Mr. Lies is also a prolific illustrator ranging from such titles as See the Yak Yak by Charles Ghigna to the sly sleuth series, Flatfoot Fox by Eth Clifford.
1) What was the first story that you recall writing?
We’re going WAY back here, probably to second or third grade. I think the earliest one was about a snake and a cricket who invent a sort of flying boat/car and go on great adventures together.
2) What do you love about illustrating (and writing) children’s books?
My favorite thing is imagining a new world or a twist on a familiar one, and trying to make it feel as though it could really exist. I sometimes have young readers ask, “Do bats really go to the library (or the beach)?” That’s a great question to get!
3) How did you first get discovered as an illustrator?
I started off as a political illustrator, but my childhood dream was to write children’s books. One day when I was getting started, I was in a store and talking with an acquaintance about illustration when the woman in line ahead of us turned around and asked if I’d ever done children’s illustration. It turned out she was the Art Director at Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books! We set up a portfolio review, and a month or two later, she offered me my first book to illustrate. The amazing thing is that I had her contact information in a sketchbook, and was already planning to send her some of my work to look at!
4) What inspired you to use bats as your main characters and what are your “band of bats” up to next?
I didn’t grow up thinking I’d ever write a book about bats! My then 7-year-old daughter saw a frost pattern in one of our guest room windows one winter morning and said, “Look, Daddy–it’s a bat, with sea foam!” Sure enough, the silhouette on the window looked like a happy bat with wings outstretched, waist-deep in foamy ocean waves. I thought “That sounds like a book,” and once she was on the bus, I started writing notes of what I thought bats might do if they went to the beach. I’m doing another bat book right now, Bats at the Ballgame, due out at the end of 2010. It turns out that bats love baseball, and have been playing and watching it as long as humans have.
5) What advice would you give other illustrators and writers seeking publication?
A lot of people want to be published authors, but aren’t quite so keen on the writing part of it. It’s much more important to focus on your craft–the writing and illustration skills–than to focus on whether or not you’ll get published. You may be able to get somebody to publish your book, but If your skills aren’t strong, the story won’t be strong, and no amount of great marketing is going to make your book successful. If you’re dedicated to your craft, though, you’ll constantly improve, and at some point someone will be willing to publish your work. I think it’s also a great idea to join the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and learn as much as you can about the children’s book market BEFORE you start submitting your work. It’s important to make your presentations as professional as you possibly can–and not knowing the submissions guidelines can really hurt your chances of getting published.
6) What other projects are you currently working on?
I normally focus on one single book at a time, although I collect ideas and bits which might go into other stories later. I don’t know what will be next after the book I’m illustrating now. I have a number of ideas, ranging from picture books to novel-length things, but it all depends on which idea calls to me the strongest.
Deborah Noyes is the illustrious author of such unique and haunting tales as The Ghosts of Kerfol and Angel and Apostle. She is also the editor of such horror anthologies as Gothic! and Encyclopedia of the Dead. Ms. Noyes guides us through the dark in the following interview:
1) What is the first story that you recall writing?
Early in grade school, first or second grade, I remember the teacher handing out nifty blank books with Froot Loops’ Toucan Sam repeated on the covers (donated by Kellogg’s?). Kids get blank books for projects all the time in language-arts classes now, but back then, it was s a great and solemn responsibility.
In mine I wrote the story of a girl whose adopted stray cat unexpectedly has kittens. Mean Pa threatens to put the kittens in a sack and drown them in the bathtub if the girl doesn’t find them a home at once, so she bravely circumnavigates the neighborhood with her sad repartee and a red wagon full of mewling kittens. I think she ended up with a blister on her finger from ringing doorbells, which suggests there was a lot of repetition in this story.
2) In addition to other books and authors, what else has greatly influenced your writing?
The natural world and animals, which figure into almost every book I write, at least metaphorically; history, which I ransack on a regular basis; and music, which for me feeds the emotional narrative.
3) Several of your books and anthologies deal with “dark” or supernatural themes. What attracts you to these themes? Did you ever encounter anything supernatural as a child?
I dedicated my first anthology, Gothic, to my mom—“who kept the dark away, but not completely.” She’s a fan of popular gothic and horror writing and always had novels around by writers like Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart, Stephen King and Anne Rice. I got my mitts on these at a young age. One night I’d be reading Little House on the Prairie or Caddie Woodlawn and the next, Salem’s Lot, and I loved both strands equally well.
Growing up, what I craved most was a good story, and that meant genre fiction, especially horror, sci-fi, and other speculative forms. I had that taught out of me in college—or nearly—in favor of Literature with a capital ‘L’. But luckily I discovered writers like Poe, the Brontes, Shirley Jackson, and Angela Carter, and saw that you could succeed between the poles.
Now I definitely crave a telling that’s as satisfying as the tale. For the anthologies I’ve done, my goal was to pair the best literary stylists working in YA with great, spine-tingling themes that kids respond to. I don’t go for slasher horror, shock-and-splat, that sort of thing, but I love an eerie atmosphere, that rich dread you feel when you’re reading a tale that’s well paced and plotted and psychologically intense.
As for “encounters,” I’ve had the sort all imaginative children do, impossible to explain and impermeable to adult reason and logic. I was a master at scaring myself silly. The grown-up me is devoutly empirical — the wonders of the natural/visible world occupy me no end — but I agree with Einstein that imagination is more important than knowledge, that mystery is paramount.
Looking into the dark is just another kind of inquiry, I think, like watching a caterpillar become a butterfly or observing the cycles of the moon. The monsters in our hearts and minds are as real as any mystery we can apply the scientific method to — if only for what they reveal about us — and as deserving of attention.
So I believe in metaphor as a way of understanding the world, and ghosts and monsters are eloquent metaphors.
4) In addition to being a diverse writer, you are also a photographer. Do you feel as if writing helps you visually with your photography or vice versa?
I know they must inform each other, but I think I got into photography because it’s a completely different way of seeing. You have composition and color (or the lack: I like black & white best) to think about, but the whole process is more visceral and instinctive. I have a lot to learn about visual art though, and I’m sure if I were formally trained, I’d feel bound by the same zillion rules of theory and technique that I’ve absorbed as a writer. For now it’s a relief — and liberating — not to know what all those rules are. Photography started as a hobby, but I have a habit of incorporating my hobbies into work, so I can play more.
5) What advice would you give authors who are trying to get their first book published?
Getting it written is the better part of the battle, but I’d say make sure it’s ready before you submit — as good as or better than comparable books on the market. Try to get perspective before you send it out, take some time away. If you can’t do that, think seriously about any personalized rejections you get; seek out a good critique group or an agent willing to roll up her or his sleeves; and revise and revise and revise.
Having an agent helps. It’s almost essential now, unless you already have a relationship with a publisher or are able to attend a lot of conferences and meet editors in person, which is also/generally a good idea. SCBWI is a great resource.
6) What other projects are you currently working on?
Just turned in the copyedit on an adult novel called Captivity, out this Spring with Unbridled Books, and am in the early stages of a YA about a doppelganger and plague in Florence. I’d love to travel and take more pictures, but nothing in the hopper yet.
Illustrator Scott Altmann captures the worrisome edges of childhood where fear is more likely a gremlin under your bed than a grimacing bully at your back. Altmann creates unearthly dimensions where the innocence of childhood is seasoned by a heroic sense of duty. His characters are armed with swords and a certain sageness beyond their years as they face fantastical creatures hiding in the eerie mists. Scott’s supernatural sensibility has appropriately appeared on the covers of The Mysterious Mr. Spines series. He has also contributed to the role-playing realms of fantasy with artwork for Wizards of the Coast. Altmann enticingly invites you to explore the fascinating worlds of foreboding with one eye over your shoulder.
Yep. Monsters need to know how to potty, too. Despite monster specific specs such as being 200-300 years of age and at least 7 feet tall, How to Potty Train Your Monster by Kelly DiPucchio also applies to the terrible-twos. Illustrator Mike Moon captures the comical and endearing trials of toilet training with his colorful monsters swathed in saggy diapers. How to Potty Train Your Monster is a funny and informative guide that reminds you to “never leave your monster alone with a roll of toilet paper” and always wash your er, um…paws.
- Reading level: Ages 9-12
- Hardcover: 32 pages
- Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1423101820
The best traps are sometimes our own. The Spider and the Fly is one such cautionary tale of cunning invitations and culinary twists of fate. The Spider and the Fly was originally penned by Mary Howitt in 1821 and recently interpreted by illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi of Spiderwick fame. DiTerlizzi narrates the story as a silent film with the Spider cast as a charming Rhett Butler arachnid bedecked in pinstriped trousers who seduces a doe-eyed fly in a flapper dress. At first, the Fly is suspicious of the Spider’s persuasion to step into his parlor. The Fly is aware of the Spider’s reputation yet oblivious to the futile warnings of the spider’s ghostly victims desperately making food gestures. Eventually, the Spider appeals to the fly’s vanity satiating both his appetite and arrogance resulting in a smug warning to the self-indulgent reader. DiTerlizzi’s cinematic illustrations heighten the intensity of Howitt’s noir-ish tale of suspense and morality weaving his own delightful blend of dark comedy.
- Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Sometimes books speak to us and other times, they are softspoken. The Scarecrow’s Dance by Jane Yolen is a contemplative story about a free-spirited scarecrow who sets out on a journey through a sea of corn. The scarecrow whimsically wanders the fields until he sees a small boy saying a prayer protecting each member of the farm. Moved and inspired by the boy’s heartfelt wishes, the scarecrow returns to his post with a rejuvenated sense of purpose. The Scarecrow’s Dance is spectacularly illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, capturing the subtle and supernatural spirit of Autumn. Ibatoulline uses honey colored hues that bleed into the Wyeth-esque expanse of the fields. Yolen’s twilight lyricism and Ibtaloulline’s earthen imagery reflect the serene shift of harvest and the internal sense of self.
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
I have found shells that trapped the looping sounds of the ocean. I have even found sea cliff hieroglyphics but I’ve never encountered anything as fascinatingly fantastical as the Melville camera that washes up in Flotsam by David Wiesner. Flotsam is a silent narrative told through the history of images discovered by a young boy wandering the beach. Each photograph is a self-portrait of the individuals who previously found the camera and reflects the camera’s mysterious origins dating back to the turn of the 20th century. The camera also surprisingly documents the secret life of sea creatures revealing civilizations floating on the backs of starfish and pufferfish balloons adrift above the ocean. The dramatic perspectives in each illustration completely immerse the reader in the discovery of the camera and wonderment at its photographic story. David Wiesner’s unique storytelling not only makes you believe in the endurance of the past but also encourages you to believe that all of your “notes-in-a-bottle” wishes sent to sea will come true in the future.
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Clarion Books