Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
Skelanimals turns cute inside out with its skeleton crew of characters. The Skelanimals have gone from bone bearing graphics and plush dolls to a full blown fashion and accessory line. Stripped of skin but full of heart, each animal is characterized by its doe-eyed skull and black and white skeleton suit. Skelanimals is licensed by Art Impressions, Inc. based in Calabasas, Caifornia. Art Impressions, Inc. is also the mastermind behind the space-age, girl-power troupe, “Milk Way and the Galaxy Girls” and the kawaii brigade, “Wittle Bittle“. Cindy Bailey, CEO of Art Impressions, Inc. reveals the spirit behind the Skelanimals and explains why we can’t stop being haunted by them.
1) What inspired the idea for Skelanimals?
Skelanimals first came to life as the subject of a self-published children’s book by Mitchell Bernal, an accomplished animation artist. To help his young son cope with the death of a family pet, Mitchell came up with the novel idea of portraying the afterlife in a humorous way, creating a collection of animals who met odd and untimely ends as a result of their own silly behavior. The book’s humorous poems about each animal really brought the characters to life and formed the starting point for our development of Skelanimals as a broader lifestyle brand.
2) Where and how did you first promote Skelanimals?
We launched Skelanimals plush, keychains and magnets at leading U.S. trend retailer Hot Topic in 2006. It was so popular that in 2007, Hot Topic featured full boutiques showcasing junior and young men’s apparel, loungewear, stuffed animals and plush backpacks, purses, totes, wallets, ID cases, keychains, bag charms, shoes, socks, hair accessories, fragrance and cosmetics, tinned candies, pins and patches, posters, throws, magnets and stickers.
3) What do you think makes Skelanimals so popular?
One of the keys to Skelanimals’ popularity is its unique mixture of cuteness and edge. Skelanimals are light-hearted, cute and cuddly, never ghoulish or horrifying; irreverent but not offensive. As a result, the brand has been embraced by people of all ages, nationalities, and personalities…it hits that magical middle point between cute and cuddly and dark and edgy!
4) What is one of your favorite Skelanimals accessories?
The crystal studded panda necklace from PINKO in Italy!
5) Can you give advice to someone trying to get their intellectual property licensed?
The most important thing is to have a comprehensive collection of art including main characters, patterns, boarders, and main images. It helps to have a back story about the brand and/or its characters (personalities or stories about each character). You must also have a marketing plan outlining the demographic, target market and support that will generate consumer awareness for the brand such as (depending on the demographic) plans for animation, an interactive website, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter as well as promotional & advertising plans to support your retailers.
“He was a real kid once, just like any of us” begins the supernatural legend of the Pricker Boy; the son of a fur trapper hardened by lies and taunts transformed into a creature with a protective skin of thorns who haunts the woods. The Pricker Boy is a campfire favorite amongst Stuck Cumberland and his childhood friends who meet each Summer until a mysterious package containing mementos of their youth challenges their belief. Slowly, the truth begins to reveals itself hiding just beyond the Widow’s Stone, prickling the bond of friendship and trust. Reade Scott Whinnem is the author of The Pricker Boy; a paranormal fable that both plunges into the depth of darkness at the edges of reality and captures the darkness of human depth.
1) Was there a “Pricker Boy” story that you grew up with during your own childhood?
No, but we did have the story of old Carob Astor; a murderous hermit who lived in a house in the woods out by the reservoir. He grew crazier as he got older, eventually becoming nocturnal and wandering around town looking into people’s houses while they slept. Eventually, he started mangling people and the police had to hunt him down and kill him. But evil like that couldn’t die, of course. I’d tell the tale and then we’d head out into the woods in the dark to see his house. It was a ridiculous story but what a great scare. My early encounter with the Pricker Boy came in the form of a nightmare that I had when I was extremely young. In my nightmare, a boy whose entire body was covered with thorns lived in the bushes near my grandparents’ house. I could see him from the edge of the yard as he tried to crawl out and grab me. I knew he was going to drag me under the thorns but I was too scared to move. I woke up screaming. I was about seven or eight. Now, over thirty years later, I get to bring him to life for everyone to enjoy!
2) What stories (or movies) and legends scare you now?
I’m not scared by much but then again, I refuse to watch a lot of modern horror. Many modern horror movies just try to make people feel uncomfortable by showing torture and mutilation. As I said earlier, I was writing that kind of thing when I was a teenager. Doing that is a lot easier than writing a good, spooky ghost story.
I can’t remember the last movie that really scared me. I go back to the classics; all the way back to the original Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. I’m not going to say that they’re still scary after all these years but they have great atmosphere and emotion. The only writer who really frightens me is H. P. Lovecraft, and that’s because he leaves so much of his work open for the imagination to play on. Right now, I’m reading Ancient Images; my first Ramsey Campbell novel which has great atmosphere.
3) What do you think are key ingredients for good horror and suspense?
The scariest real life stories are the ones that defy explanation and I mean unexplained phenomena as well as unexplained human behavior. Too many stories, especially movies, try to tie off all the loose ends and explain everything away. Take Jack the Ripper, for instance. That case still fascinates people today because it wasn’t solved and because his behavior was so bizarre. People have theories as to who he was and why the murders stopped but no one will ever know for sure.
Sadly, when it comes to horror, too many writers create wonderful atmosphere only to have the story climax with a chase scene and a gun fight. Fred and Velma pull the rubber mask off the monster and then explain away all the tricks he was able to perform. Perhaps there’s a cheesy wink to suggest that the monster isn’t really gone but usually everything gets packed away nice and neat.
I think that good horror isn’t afraid to leave the door cracked just a bit. I didn’t try to explain away every little thing in The Pricker Boy but I did try to satisfy the reader. The few things that aren’t explained in the end are hinted at and left up to the reader’s informed judgment. I hope that because of this, the story will stick with people for a while after the last page is read.
4) What sort of comments have you received from both adults and young adults who have read The Pricker Boy?
I tried as much as possible to avoid indicators of time in my writing, so my characters don’t spend much of their time texting, emailing, and playing video games during the course of the book. Because technology plays no significant role in the story, my adult readers have been able place the time period of the book during their own adolescence, which has made for a nostalgic ride for them. Consequently, the story seems to work for adolescents and senior citizens alike. I like the fact that the book is accessible across age groups.
So far, the response has been great. Several people have told me that they had to turn on a few extra lights in the house as they got towards the end, which is very gratifying. One adult friend, who isn’t familiar with YA fiction, said that she was surprised by how frightened and how moved she was by the story. She’d thought, ‘It’s a book for kids, so how bad can it be?’ She said that when she finished chapter four, she knew she was in for a bumpier ride than she’d anticipated. She got scared by the scary bits and she cried at the sad bits. I suppose it’s odd to say that I want my readers to get scared and to cry but I really do. I want them to be moved by the story and the early buzz is that they are.
5) If you travelled back in time, what is one thing that your present self you would tell your former self?
When I was in graduate school I had a friend (we’ll call him Clyde) who every once in a while would get a bit weepy and start calling friends up and telling them why he liked them so much. One night he called me. I’d given him some of the screenplays that I’d been working on and he wanted to tell me how much he liked my writing. He told me that he saw me writing novels one day. I said that I didn’t think I was a disciplined enough writer to pull something like that off, and that even if I could write one, the chances that it would be publishable were slim to none. He said I was wrong. Here we are almost fifteen years later and it turns out Clyde was right.
So I think that given the opportunity, I’d head back and tell my younger self that given time, I was capable of a great deal more than I thought I was. But since I can’t do that, I’ll pass it along to your readers. Chances are you’re capable of a lot more than you think you are. Given time and steady work, you’d be amazed at what you can create.
6) What is your approach to writing?
It’s tough to balance because I teach full time, which is why I do most of my writing during the summer. I find that the only way I can get a manuscript done is to get up early and work every day. I start at page one and work all the way through. I keep ideas on scraps of paper and tack them to a corkboard that I’ve divided up into sections by chapter. When I’m ready, I pull down all the notes, organize them as much as necessary, and write the chapter.
Sometimes I’ll produce ten or fifteen pages in a day, and sometimes I’ll only produce a page and a half. I try not to look back, just plow forward to the end. By the end of the summer I’ll have a working manuscript. I let it sit for a while and turn my attention to other projects. When it’s settled, I head back in and try a rewrite. This time I take rewrite notes, and using the corkboard again, I reorganize my thoughts. Eventually, I’ll have something ready for reader feedback. Then I rewrite again, and again, and again…
7) What advice would you give writers trying to publish their work?
Be stubborn, develop a thick skin, and learn the etiquette of the publishing world. There’s usually going to be a lot of rejection before your work gets accepted. There are a lot of people pounding on the doors of the publication houses because they’re convinced they’ve written something remarkable. Maybe they have and maybe they haven’t. But the point is that there is a lot of shouting going on and that’s going to make it difficult for the editors and agents to hear you sing. A little thing like learning how to write a proper query letter, doing research through some of the Writers’ Digest books, and targeting your submissions to specific people goes a long way. It takes time and patience. It has taken me years. But I love it enough that I’m willing to keep hacking away at it. So keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.
Thank you to Reade for kindly doing the interview and to Jessica Shoffel of Random House!
The palette of illustrator Kelly Murphy is part dreamworld tonality mixed with a mysterious blend of colors. Haunting-eyed characters of folklore from secret realms grace the pages of Murphy’s portfolio and give a striking face to her signature style of earthen mediums. Murphy has had a prolific and much-deserved success as an illustrator beginning with her tenure at The Rhode Island School of Design. Murphy has illustrated such children’s books as the wickedly good tale Good Babies by Tim Myers and the fanciful Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman. In addition to a number of other children’s book titles, Murphy has also written and illustrated The Boll Weevil Ball-a charming tale about a little beetle getting his big opportunity to shine. Kelly Murphy’s passion and sensitivity to the world is evident in both her artwork and her dedication to inspire others.
1) You attended The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). What were some of the most valuable things that you learned while you were there that have helped your career as an artist?
I attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) from the years 1995-1999. I can honestly look back and say it was some of the best years, especially since it was the beginning of my artist development. It was such an intense environment, surrounded with other students who had the same interest, focus, and creative drive. One of the most important lessons learned, was that it’s not good to sit still for too long.The rigorous work load made it sure that almost all of one’s time was dedicated to creation. Watching a movie was never just “watching a movie” or a walk outside became, “that’s a nice sunset, but how the hell would you mix THAT color?”. I thank my lucky stars that RISD left me with a solid work ethic. Perhaps this is true of every art school, but I also left with the invaluable lesson of making anything and everything “yours”.
2) What is it like now, working as apart of the faculty at RISD?
Working at RISD again, as cheesy as it sounds, is a dream come true. I remember while in school, I talked to friends about coming back and being a part of the faculty. I would have never guessed that it would have actually happened. It’s great to be back in the same halls, with some of the same faculty, but with a whole new crowd of students. They’re much younger, but I can’t help but feel like I am a part of their class. Come to think of it-I hope that doesn’t freak them out! So many things are changing in the illustration field, beyond just the obvious technology issues, so it’s great to be in contact with the new generation of young illustrators.
3) How did you promote yourself as an artist?
Tirelessly. In the first few years after graduation, it wasn’t pretty. My mother makes sure that I tell people I cried almost everyday. I am a bit of a wimp. I knew it was a long road in front of me to get my work to a professional level, but I am not too sure if I knew what was coming ahead with the full jump into freelance. Initially, I made copies and postcards of my work then sent it out to a various amount of art directors and editors-editorial and publishing industries alike. I might not have gotten a steady stream of jobs, but any interest in seeing more work fueled my fire. In the first years, I also worked as a graphic designer where I honed my web skills… thus allowing me to build my first website. That really helped in cost and effort with sending out my portfolio. I also tried to get into NYC as much as I could, even though it scared the willies out of me. My first job was a book-cover for Farrar Straus, and Giroux. I am sure that if I did not have the courage to meet with an interested editor in person, I would have never gotten the job. Ten years later, it’s actually quite the same. I make sure to keep a current website, a steady flow of books (which act as the best self promotion), and try to send out seasonal postcards whenever I can.
4) How did you get your first children’s book illustration opportunity and what was it like working on it?
While I was working full time and trying to improve my portfolio, through the encouragement of my friends and family, I started writing some of the words to these silly images I used to paint. I never had a finished story with them, but just the one time scene, with fun characters and a boatload of atmosphere. I never took any kind of children’s book class, so I was basically creating a dummy on guy instinct. First, looking at some of my most favorite books and what made them wonderful. I then got a sense of how many pages, the text design, and most importantly, how important pacing was. I made a teeny tiny little sketch dummy… and then sent it off to some of my favorite publishing houses. Months went by… a few rejection letters… a few more rough dummies… and suddenly, I got word from Henry Holt that they loved my idea, The Boll Weevil Ball. I was stoked. After I had signed thecontract, and began creating the final paintings, I made the most important career decision. It was time to leave my full time work, in full pursuit of my freelance illustration career. The excitement and focus while I made my first book might not be matched. Well… mostly because I was no longer commuting 2 hours each way anymore!
5) What inspired your book, The Boll Weevil Ball?
The Boll Weevil Ball is really a simple tale. Small people can do big things. I was the youngest of seven kids, and it was always a challenge to stand out. Whether I was too small or too young, I was always playing catch up. I decided that my main hero had to be a small bug from a series of tiny paintings I had done while still in school. He was a tiny little guy sitting on the sidelines of a party. He was perfect!
6) What other children’s books or illustrators inspire you?
WOW. The list is never ending! Everyday I learn of another amazing illustrator. Sometimes, it’s a little overwhelming! Some of my favorites include: Robert Lawson, J.Otto, Edward Gorey, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Shaun Tan, Gerard Dubois, Chris Turnham, Benjamin Lacombe, Chris Van Allsburg, Lizbeth Zwerger, Gary Kelley… I really could go on forever. I think I really freak out my students when I talk about inspiring illustration. I get instant goose bumps and start to tear. I guess that is a little strange.
7) Please tell me a little bit about your collaborative work at Shybird Studios.
I started working with Antoine Revoy in 2007. I had known Antoine since my college days, and his creative talents blew me out of the water. With him living in Paris and Dublin at the time, we talked about combining our creative juices to form something entirely new. I lived just outside of Boston at the time, so via emails and IMs we began to share a variety of drawings together. I loved his sense of character, playfulness, incredible detail, and movement in his pieces and he was driven by my atmosphere and color. The studio is still in its fledgling years, but hopefully, we will include animation and character design to our repertoire. We’re both on the same side of the ocean now, which helps, and with time we hope to increase our productivity. We are currently working on a collection of illustrations for haunted house stories written by Robert San Souci and published by Henry Holt. It’s a whole new level of creepy, and I am so excited!
8 ) What are some tips that you can give fellow freelance illustrators?
Don’t give up. Have courage, and keep reassessing to improve your strengths as a visual artist. Not to make it sound like an over glorious occupation, but in addition to a little bit of talent, you need a lot of passion, determination, and persistence to succeed. I never chose this path to make a pile of money or to gain some sort of fame (hahahahaha, that’s a laugh!)… I chose it because I loved it. Illustration is what makes me tick. I’d also recommend surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Most illustrators I know are recluses, but connecting with others keeps you motivated and abreast of professional practices.
9) What projects are you currently working on?
Let’s see… I have two picture books coming out soon. Brand New Baby Blues, written by Kathi Appelt (HarperCollins) in December, and in March 2010 the sequel to Hush Little Dragon called Over At The Castle, written by Boni Ashburn, will be published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. I also am in the sketch phase of a really fun monster book written by Jane Yolen for Candlewick Press. Can’t wait to start painting! In the young adult novel realm, I am working on Book 3 of Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist (Houghton Mifflin) and the aforementioned haunted house collection for Henry Holt, with my Shybird partner Antoine Revoy. It’s a ton of work, but you will not find a more grateful person to be working on all these projects!!
Monsters make a business out of scaring people but what if their job was really just another daily grind. Monster Commute is a webcomic masterminded by the Steam Crow design duo, Daniel and Dawna Davis. Monster Commute features a cast of monsters that gridlock the industrial interstates in Mad Max machines under the Orwellian loom of the Authority group. Steam Crow is also a powerhouse creator of eye candy confections ranging from iconic buttons (such as the “Zombie Love” and “Clown Bite” logos) to colorful, furry MNSTR bags. The monster madness continues with Steam Crow’s own creature feature books; After Halloween, Klawberry: Good Girl, Bad World and Caught Creatures. Steam Crow and their fiends make frequent appearances at conventions around the country and at this rate, may give World War Z a run for its mark on history with their cutely contagious monster domination.
1) How did Steam Crow first begin?
Steam Crow began when we attended the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con. We’d recently moved to Phoenix, and I was looking for a new creative challenge. We met a bunch of indie creators at the con and I realized that they were not magic wizard people. They were actually human. Dawna leaned over and suggested that maybe I could do my own book. So, we went home, and I wrote and illustrated Caught Creatures over the course of 2 months. I worked every spare moment until it was done. The next year, we had our very own small press table at the con, with our new book. From there it’s just grown and grown, and we’ve done conventions all over the West Coast.
2) How do you and your wife work together on projects?
We collaborate on the business more than on individual projects. Dawna helps me pack orders. She reviews most everything that I draw. We plan. We share ideas. We talk about the kind of life that we’re trying to build with Steam Crow. Our lives are our collaboration. Project wise, Dawna and I worked on our new booth design. She made a hand-made Steam Crow and STEAMCROWEEN pennant. We co-designed her MNSTR Bags, so that they look like they came from Steam Crow. She’s colorblind, so I picked the fabric colors. She made all of the decisions how each one looks, so I certainly don’t micromanage her or anything like that.
3) What inspired your book, Caught Creatures and how did you go about self-publishing it?
It’ll sound sappy, but I did it for my son. I wanted him to have undeniable proof that he was loved by me and Dawna, when we’re dust. I don’t have that from my own father (now dust), so it is very important to me. I was inspired by cartoons, old monster movies, art nouveau color design, dungeons and dragons, Japanese movie monsters and candy package design. Inspiration is everywhere. Self-publishing it was the easy part. Basically, you hire a printer, and give them the files to print it. Toughest part about all of that was figuring out how to do a proper ISBN bar code. The real challenge was finishing the project, not printing it.
4) What is one of your favorite monster stories?
I like a lot of folklore. I love legendary figures like Baba Yaga or monsters like the Kelpie or the Minotaur. If I had to chose just one, I’d say that I love the story of the Golem. A giant made from clay that destroys a city is pretty interesting and shocking.
6) Tell us a bit about your webcomic, Monster Commute.
Monster Commute is a little like Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil meets the Wonderful Wizard of OZ on a monster highway. There are Orwellian themes, working-class monsters, steampunk autos, and an authoritarian government with 7 ton iron soldiers. Deep down, it’s about survival and friendship. The worst that brings out the best in folks; beast or man.
5) How did you support your art when you first started Steam Crow?
The battle for any unknown indie artist is the war against obscurity. I’m still fighting it. However, you just need to bless each person one at a time, who discovers your work. We do a lot of conventions, which is a terrific way to meet and make new supporters (our Steam Crew). Also, just doing art makes stuff happen. Being very productive really helps. I try to be as prolific as I can be.
7) You are a master of promotion! What are some self-promotion tips for artists?
Really? You think so? Why thank you. Here’s the deal: you have to believe in what you do. You don’t have time for self-doubt or self-loathing or insecurity. I’ve been doing that for decades, and it really doesn’t boost the career very much. It hurts it. Do a lot of good, original art, and show it off. Put it online, and be consistent. You’re not going to get anyone’s attention with 2 pieces. Create 200 and maybe someone will notice. Know that it takes time and effort. It won’t happen overnight. But keep going, and don’t rip other artists. Make your own original work. You can also check out some of my tips on http://www.webcomicmarketing.com where I address some of these things.
8 ) What projects are you currently working on and what type of projects would like to do?
Well, Monster Commute takes a ton of time. I’m always trying to work on that, and make it better. I just finished strip #300 this morning. I’m putting together our first Monster Commute collection for early 2010. I’ve been writing and planning the Monster Commute roleplaying game (RPG). Old school pen and paper. Why? I just want to play in the world of MONSTRU. I’d really like to do a Steam Crow show on a regular basis. Just a quirky MST3K kind of vibe. Talking about the Monster world. Life. Traffic. Artist interviews. And some crazy puppets. Who knows, I don’t have a lot of time to make that happen, but it’s been in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. I have a second comic project that I’m hoping to launch when the Monster Commute book is done. It’s started, but I don’t have the time just yet.
Thank you again for taking the time to do the interview.
Thanks for talking to us, Meghan.
It’s great to not only see talented people but also people who help other artists.
Well, we’ve been there. Other people helped us out and gave us some advice and kindness. There are too many haters out there. All I know is that I still remember the people who gave me a hand when I needed one.
Extreme Pumpkins.com is the outrageous brainchild of Halloween maestro, Tom Nardone. Extreme Pumpkins.com takes pumpkin carving to the next level-where hand drills put the super in “super gooper scooper” and a dremel puts the cheap, chip carver to shame. Nardone’s demonstrated use of power tools and pyrotechnics has inspired a whole legion of quirky, pumpkin designers and has lead to his wildly popular book, Extreme Pumpkins. Nardone’s successful “diabolical do-it-yourself” designs are also featured in the sequel Extreme Pumpkins II and continues with other Halloween hijinks in the recently released, Extreme Halloween. Tom has been featured on Conan, Regis and Kelly, The Travel Channel, Good Morning America, The History Channel, and MTV.
How did you get into Extreme Pumpkin carving?
TN: Every Halloween, I’d carve a pumpkin-or three or four-for my porch. I’ve always tried to scare kids. I lived in this neighborhood outside of Detroit-it was the first safe neighborhood outside of Detroit. So, people that lived in Detroit who had kids would literally pile ten kids into a minivan and drive them up to the neighborhood that I lived in. We’d get about a 150 trick-or-treaters a night. When you did something festive, like carve pumpkins, the kids really loved it because they were from Detroit and didn’t really have any neighborhood of their own. So, I started to carve pumpkins and one day, decided to see if I could do it with power tools. Between my buddy Matt and I, we have every power tool in the universe so we tried everything we had. While we were trying the different tools, I decided that I had to make a website out of it and called it Extreme Pumpkins.
So, what ideas are in your latest book, Extreme Halloween?
TN: It has all sorts of Halloween ideas like crazy costume ideas but not elaborate ones. More like lazy, last minute ideas. There are a million people out there who can create some sort of costume idea that no one has seen before but it takes a thousand hours to create. This book just keeps it simple. It also has suggestions for decorating your house, ways to scare kids when they’re trick-or-treating and recipes-how to make silly foods and drinks. There are also some large pumpkin sculptures to display on your lawn like a scorpion. One of my favorite parts of the books is the section on ways to scare kids who are trick-or-treating which I call “Candy Traps”.
What’s an example of a “candy trap”?
TN: There’s one that’s called The Dark Doorway. It’s real easy. You open your door all the way and then you take black fabric-two pieces-and tape them up in the doorway. At nighttime, without much light on the porch, it will look like the door is open and the kid is just looking into a dark, empty house. You stand right behind the dark fabric and then stick your head between the two pieces of fabric so that it looks like your head is popping out of nowhere and then you yell, “Rah!”. It scares the bejeezus out of them, especially if you’re wearing a mask. Another one that I make is called the “Trash Barrel”. You just take a trash barrel-a new one, not a smelly old one-although I suppose if you had the stomach for it, you could use an old one. Then I cut it up, to make a sort of transformer suit out of it which you can crouch down into it. When you crouch down, it looks just like a trashcan. So, you have your accomplice-in my case, it’s my wife-handing out candy to the kids that come to the door. The “trashcan” is posted near the door. So, the kids run up and get the candy from my wife. As they’re leaving, they’re busy looking at their bags to see how full it is. Then, all of the sudden, someone jumps up where there was no one before and screams. And THEY FREAK OUT! Then, they walk a few feet away and hide behind the bushes to watch the next group of kids be scared. You can easily scare 100 kids in a night.
Do you have any upcoming appearances or book signings?
TN: I’m doing some book signings but they’re mainly in Michigan. I do some paid gigs but there are only a few of those. The TV appearances usually start to book up around the beginning of October. Last year, was Regis and Kelly and Conan O’Brien.
How was that?
TN: It was awesome! I love to go to those things. They treat me great. They’re always super receptive to any ideas that I have and they think it’s funny. I think it’s hilarious because you’re on the show with real stars. You’re on backstage with someone like one of the Olsen twins and real celebrities and then, there’s me. They ask me what I do and expect me to say something like, ‘I cure cancer’ but instead I respond with, ‘I carve pumpkins’.
I noticed that a lot of your friends help create some of the videos on Extreme Pumpkins. You have one group in particular called The Bump-n-Uglies. Who are they?
TN: One of them is a friend of mine who works for me and the other is his brother. They’re a tag team of wrestlers. The name of my website is called Extreme Pumpkins and by talking to me, I neither sound nor really am very extreme. One time, I tried to record a video promo of myself saying, “This is Tom from Extreme Pumpkins!”. I looked back at it and thought, ‘you look like the biggest idiot in the world’. This isn’t going to work. So, I figured out that I need to be the straight man and that I need a couple of clowns-colorful characters. The guy that works for me is a riot.
What other projects are you working on?
TN: I’m working on some ideas for a fourth book but it’s more of book about how to be a fun Dad. I’m also trying to be a pumpkin ninja. That’s my theme for this year’s activities. I’m trying to mix the art of “ninjitsu” and pumpkin carving to see what I get. I make new pumpkin designs each year but what I think makes the website funny, is that I come up with new ways to carve the pumpkins. This year, “ninjitsu” is the theme. I already bought a ninja costume and a sword on-line.
Are you going to embroider a pumpkin on it somewhere?
TN: I’ve made shirts with pumpkins on them before because if you go to the store to buy anything with a pumpkin on it, it looks like an old lady, beaded sweater or a giant pumpkin shirt. I made my own pumpkin shirt for when I went on Conan. You know what-you know how ninjas wear headbands (I don’t think that they actually do), I’m going to make a pumpkin for the center of the headband.
You could get some pumpkin nunchucks.
Yeah, I ordered some nunchucks, too. They’re only $6.99! I’m also going to do some video of my ninja carving technique. If I’m seen flipping around, it’s all a camera trick.
The art of illustrative duo, Teetering Bulb, feels like a watercolor spiral that is just hinting at the beginning of a vaporous mystery. Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon create provocative pieces of art that read like “little fictions” from their “pocket-sized apartment” in Brooklyn. They have worked for such clients as Realms of Fantasy, Scholastic, Inc., DC Comics and Wizards of the Coast and have been featured in Spectrum. Teetering Bulb are also the creators of webcomics; The Dreaded Question and King of an Endless Sky. Kurt and Zelda kindly took the time to share their thoughts on mandibles, serendipity and the nature of illustration.
1) Your website bio mentions that you collect ‘neat, weird things’. What was a recent weird thing(s) that you picked up?
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to add to the curiosity shop that is our house. We’ve been burdened with purchasing the practical. Although the practical does have it’s own charms: yellowed paper from hard to find art course books, the chipped paint of second-hand flat files, and the rich stain of an antique drafting table. Several months ago, while out acquiring some useful item, we ran into the carcass of a black lacquered whale. This piano appeared to have been thrown from the fourth floor of the adjacent brownstone. Luckily, the whale had suffered no fractures of the mandible, and with our house keys as screwdrivers, we freed the entire keyboard. Now our studio wall is adorned with a piano’s smile.
2) What and who inspires you?
Some of the books on the easy-to-reach shelf are a lot of the Golden Age Illustrators. Dead guys like J.C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell, Mead Schaeffer and N.C. Wyeth are a constant reminder of who we want to be when we grow up. We’re also big fans of Herbert Paus, Frank Brangwyn, Alphonse Mucha, Ivan Bilibin, Albert Dorne, and Austin Briggs. Then there’s a few of theamazing Japanese printmakers including Kawase Hasui and Yoshida Hiroshi. Hidden artists of the animation industry, including Paul Felix, Nicolas Marlet, and Nathan Fowkes. I really could type my fingers into a pulp.
3) How did you begin your studio? Describe an average work day for you. First you wake up and then…
…we go back to sleep. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be an average workday, it all shifts based on the demands at the time. We start around 11 in the morning and can often work till 2 or 3 am. Sometimes later if a deadline looms. The studio began accidentally. We both worked as graphic designers, but kept a blog of drawings and stories to keep our spirits up. By serendipity, a couple of folks stumbled across our work and asked if we would draw something for them. Two years later, we’re consumed by illustration full time.
4) What sort of mediums do you use and what would you like to experiment with more?
Everything is drawn in pencil and then scanned in to be digitally painted. While the computer is wonderful, I think we’d both like for the work to be finished with traditional materials. There’s a certain joy that comes from having a physical piece at the end of an assignment.
5) How do you work as a couple (how do you coordinate illustrations, etc.)?
I’ll let you know when we’ve figured that out.
6) What are some current or upcoming projects that you’re working on?
Our big project right now is King of an Endless Sky for Tor.com. We’re also currently working on assignments for Godiva, Pearson Publishing, and DC/Vertigo comics.
7) What advice would you give illustrators who are just starting out professionally?
Make sure that you love what you do and be prepared to work very hard, and I mean coal miner hard. I’d also recommend moving to a city that is known for the type of work you want to do. Editorial, book covers, and advertising work seem to primarily happen in New York. Most Entertainment work happens in Los Angeles. While the internet supposedly allows you to work anywhere, I think you need to establish yourself at one of these hubs first. Most of our success probably hinges on us living in NYC. Also, it does seem to take anywhere between 3-5 years for an illustration career to fully blossom. Unless you’re lucky. If your auspicious days have yet to come, just keep going. Don’t give up. If you love what you do, chances are, other people will too.
Comics, chance and magazine covers culminated in the fortuitous success of illustrator, Brett Helquist. Brett is best known for (or worst known for if you-know-who had his way ) illustrating A Series of Unfortunate Events by the lugubrious Lemony Snicket. From The Bad Beginning to The End, the series hesitantly tells the tales of the hapless Baudelaire orphans. Brett has also illustrated such 20th century classics as the Green Knowe Chronicles by L.M. Boston and the adventurous stories of literary legend, Leon Garfield. He has also captured the art of art scandal in Blue Balliett’s, Chasing Vermeer. In my first phone interview (yes, there is a person behind this machine), Brett and I discussed sharks, the lore of pirates and just how fortunate events can truly be.
1) What inspired you to draw growing up?
When I was young, my earliest memories of art were the daily comic strips in the local paper that my Dad got. I used to love those things. So, my first aspirations were to draw a comic strip but that never went very far (laughs). My favorite was Alley Oop. When I was young, art was hit and miss. It came and went for me. Sometimes, I did it obsessively and then other times, I wanted nothing to do with it. I think during my high school years, I didn’t have any interest in it at all. I was in my twenties before I ever committed to it seriously.
2) Did you ever try to do a comic for a newspaper?
Not for a newspaper. When I was young, for a short while, I was writing one of my own. It was about a family of sharks. Who knows where that came from. It was just something I did for my own pleasure.
3) What inspires you now?
Well, that’s tricky. I love images of all kinds. When it comes down to it, I just love a good picture. It doesn’t matter if it’s a photograph or painting or a drawing. I still go to the museums when I can and I look for a good comic book now and then. My biggest influences are my love of traditional, Asian art. Japanese and Chinese, especially. Also, the American illustrators from the Golden Age like Howard Pyle and N.C Wyeth.
4) How did you promote and support your work when you first started out as an illustrator?
I got to New York on an internship and that kind of paid my way for a few months. That and some savings I had. I think the first effort on my own was the cover of the Times Book Review. I thought that was it. I thought that was just going to shoot me right to the top and that was going to give me all the attention I would ever need (laughs). I think that it was close to a year later that I got my next job. Early on, (I don’t know if they still do this anymore) all the magazines, design houses and publishers had a day each week where they would take portfolio drop-offs. I just had four or five copies of my portfolio that I kept out at all times. I knew the schedule of when drop-off days were. When I was able to get money to print some mailing materials, I would send things through the mail. I just kept doing those things for several years and in the meantime, I had a job as a graphic designer to pay the bills. Over the years, jobs would start coming in every few months and then it would start to build from there. Then the Snicket books were published and the work really started rolling in. That was seven years after I had started.
5) How did you get involved with the Lemony Snicket series?
Well, I don’t think it was as exciting as most people want to hear. I met Tammy Shannon, an artist agent. She had expressed some interest in representing me and I wasn’t sure if I wanted an agent at the time. She asked if she could just show my portfolio around while I thought about it. I thought, there’s nothing I can loose. So I gave her my portfolio. A week or two later, she called me with a job illustrating two books by a new author. It was The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room. I had never done a book before. I had been mostly doing editorial work. It was a book that made me laugh and a chance to illustrate a book which was something that I had been wanting to do. So, I agreed to do it. I don’t think anybody knew what was to come.
6) How do you usually approach a new project?
Well, I read it first. It seems obvious but I know some illustrators who don’t. Even on a job where I’m just doing the cover, I read the whole book so I can really visualize the world. I pretty much work from my head. I don’t use reference much, so it has to be really vivid in my imagination. After I’m done, I go back and re-read it a little more carefully. During the second reading, I’m looking for image ideas. I usually scribble those down. They’re these cryptic, rough sketches that I have to notate because if I don’t, a day or two later, I can’t even tell you what they are. If a book is well written, everything should be there that you need.
7) You did a book that you both illustrated and authored called, Roger, the Jolly Pirate. How did that story come about?
The editor of The Unfortunate Events books told me that she wanted to do a picture book with me. Writing is kind of difficult for me. I struggled with it in school a lot. So, I had never fancied myself as a writer but she said that if you have an idea for a picture book, I can help you with the writing. I thought it was a chance to learn something and didn’t think it would end up being a book. So, I took a stab at it. I always loved pirate stories. My favorite book when I was young was Treasure Island. There was a period when I would only read pirate stories. So I thought, if I’m going to do a story, it should probably be a pirate story. I had never been able to find a very satisfying explanation for the why the [pirate] flag was called the Jolly Roger. It sounded like there needed to be a funnier explanation than the ones that the historians had come up with.
8 ) What other projects are working on and promoting this year?
I’ve got a second book that I’ve written and that I’m in the middle of painting called Bedtime for Bear. I did a picture book adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which just came out. There’s a small novel by Neil Gaiman that I illustrated that’s just out in the stores call Odd and the Frost Giants.
9) Will you be making any appearances?
I will be doing a signing for the “Christmas Carol” book at the Books of Wonder on the 28th of November.
From financial journalist to varied virtuoso of illustration, artist Howard McWilliam has a lush portfolio of caricatures and creatures of comical proportions. He has given a humorous face to financial magazines with tongue-in-cheek parodies of the business world. Naturally, McWilliam has also captured the spirited corner’s of childhood with illustrations for the Ghost Detectors series by Dotti Enderle and I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll.
1) What made you decide to make the transition from financial journalist/editor to full time illustrator?
As long as I can remember I’ve always wanted an art-based career, and this didn’t change even at university when I switched from Fine Art to English Literature. (I found the latter extremely interesting, and the former too conceptual: more about attaching half a lawnmower to the wall and giving it a postmodern title than about drawing and painting.) After pursuing a few artistic avenues unsuccessfully upon graduation, I fell into financial journalism in London, but paradoxically found this presented a great opportunity for illustration: meeting and working alongside many other editors, they got to know me as a part-time illustrator and trusted me with their covers. I worked like this for four years, fitting my artwork in around the dayjob, until I was working so much I had to choose one or the other: it was natural to choose my true passion… it just took a while to get the guts to quit the safe salary for unpredictable self employment!
2) Please describe your illustration process-what medium(s) do you use and how do you approach each new project?
I began illustrating using watercolours or acrylics on paper and canvas, but gradually began to discover how far digital techniques had evolved since my college days. It’s possible to mimic almost any media or painting surface with a tablet and the right software – and not having to wait for paint to dry is a big deal with magazine and newspaper deadlines (some large colour jobs I’ll have to turn around in as little as four hours). These days, I do all my work by sketching with a pencil on paper, scanning the result and colouring it completely in Corel Painter on a PC.
3) What and/or who are your influences?
My biggest influence growing up was Quentin Blake, best known for his match-made-in-heaven pairing with Roald Dahl. I’ve always wanted to try and capture something of his movement and characterisation, but in a completely different three-dimensional style. My interest in lighting and colour to create this is massively inspired by the wonderful CGI animation of Pixar and the rest. I think these films have really upped the ante on visual products.
4) How does illustrating for children compare to doing editorial/conceptual work?
The main difference is much longer deadlines: instead of producing an illustration before tomorrow lunchtime, you have a year to turn around a 32 page picture book. As I have to fit a book around my continuing editorial illustration, this is very handy, but also requires more motivation (work will expand to fit the time available, as Murphy’s Law states). Thankfully, the joy of illustrating for children provides all this motivation and more: Amanda Noll’s monsters were a gift for any illustrator – rather more exciting than illustrating tax or pensions!
5) What advice do you offer illustrators who are just starting out professionally?
Take any opportunity for face-to-face contact you can, and be open to any unconventional route into the business no matter how circuitous. I never thought financial journalism would lead to my dream job as an artist, for an example. Personal contact with an editor can open so many doors, and they’ll often prefer to farm work out initially to people they know than take a chance on a stranger on the end of a phoneline. Once you’re more established, your portfolio can start doing the talking.
If magical marionettes with soulful eyes and anthropomorphic tendencies wandered through a dark forest in search of an unspoken mystery, they would have certainly wandered out of Scott Radke‘s rear window. Radke is a painter and sculptor whose marionettes bear cherub faces of concern and curiousity with spindly limbs and stocking caps. Some wear organic outfits of twigs and earthen tones while others are disguised in animals skins of swan suites or octopus hoods. Radke animates his transfixed creations with explicitly human expressions and naturalistic spirits. It is not surprising that his marionettes have been featured in films including Voices In My Head, a BBC documentary directed by David Malone; Desolation Sound, starring Jennifer Beals; God in the Machine, starring Thomas Jay Ryan; and Birthday Massacre’s music video, Blue. Radke’s work has been published in Bizarre, Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose.
1) Can you remember the first sculpture or drawing that you made as a kid growing up?
Hmm. The first thing that comes to mind is a drawing I did of birds flying. I remember drawing them with four wings which is what they looked like to me when they were flying and it was the only way I thought it would look right when I tired to draw them. I did not really sculpt until I was in my 20’s and that started with sand sculpting.
2) What inspires your art?
Faces, happiness(believe it or not), love, and nature quite a bit.
3) What was your first gallery show and how did it happen?
I started out showing in bars and small galleries here in Cleveland. I lived in a great little part of town called Tremont. It changed my life. Everyone was so supportive and friendly and open to my work. Outside of Cleveland, my first show was in 2003 at CBGB’s 313 Gallery. I was in New York and I just went in and showed Micheline my work and she set up a show for me.
4) How did you support and promote your art early on?
Here, in town, I would show wherever and whenever I could. It was not until my roommate Vic Sabula, set up a website for me in 1997 that things took off from there. I’d say 99% of whatever happens for my work happens because of my web presence.
5) You illustrate and sculpt. What made you to decide to pursue sculpting more?
I don’t consider myself a great sculptor or painter but when I combine the two, I feel right at home.
6) If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself ten years ago from now?
Stop fooling around, don’t take things too seriously, focus and for Gods sake, eat something.
7) What are some upcoming or current projects that you’re working on?
I am just moving along doing what I have been. I just finished a set of dancer type things and I am not sure what I will do next. I have some work in the Beyond Eden Art Fair in LA thanks to Thinkpsace Gallery.