Monday, December 31, 2007

The Dirty South

Just got back from our annual pilgrimage down south for the holidays, Julie and me. It's always a whirlwind gig. So many people to see, catch up with, visit, and eat with in just a few days time. It's dang exhausting. Always interesting to hear what people have been doing, in my absence, back home. Best of which, is my dad's port-a-john tale.

About a month ago, my Pop noticed an abandoned port-a-john toilet turned on it's side on the shoulder of a country road (the kind used at construction sites, outdoor concerts, etc.). There it sat for weeks, unclaimed. So, reason enough, my Pop figured it was as good as his. Not sure why he would want such a thing, but it's really just beside the point. So Pops conned my brother into riding with him in the truck (said they were just going to haul off some trash) so he could grab this, he guessed, "unused" toilet stall in broad daylight. Pops claimed it was, anyway, "brand new." My bro's a bit more squeamish when it comes to this type of renegade act, thereby the fib on Pop's part. So, they got there, the truck was pulled over, and after a lotta roadside hemming and hawing, my brother finally slinked out of the truck and helped Pops heave it into the back of the truck. Blue liquid (sanitizer?) splashing all over. They high-tailed it on home, with the toilet stall dripping, pouring blue juice out the back of the truck. I'm not sure he'd realized it til he got it all the way home, but he was leaving a wet, blue trail all the way from the scene of the nab all the way back to the homestead.

Once he got it home, Pops was kind of at a loss as to what he wanted it for. Mostly, it seemed like it was a prop for a good story. A punchline to the end of a joke. He tried to pawn it off on the neighbors who just put in a swimming pool. "It'd make a heck of a 'pool house'." They wouldn't take it. He tried to give it to my aunt and uncle who have a pool in their backyard. Nope. Once it was played out, and sitting there for a good few weeks, his conscience got the best of him and he called a number stuck to the port-a-john door. Asked if they'd lost any toilets lately. They said they had and they'd be glad to come out and reclaim the thing. Several weeks have passed, and the toilet still sits in the backyard, behind the garage now. Unclaimed.

Maybe they didn't want it after all. Maybe it was laying there, on that country road, for a reason. Pops thinks, if nothing else, it'll make a good tool shed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Flying South for the Holidays

Though I live in the Chicagoland area now, all my family of origin still lives down in the South. My mom lives in the Atlanta area, and my bro, his wife Jenna, my pops and stepma, and aunts, uncles, Grandma, Grandpa–all down in South Carolina. (That's my Pop in the picture. There was a snake in the backyard one day. So there was no confrontation between it and the dogs, he snatched it up at the neck and dropped it off in the woods unharmed.) So tomorrow, Julie and I fly down to Atlanta to visit with Moms. Then, couple days later, drive up with Eric and Jenna to visit rest of Cordell ensemble in SC. There'll be at least one big southern style feast. Lots of greasy, fatty, and tasty home-cooked vittles. Just like I grew up on. The stomach's not particularly used to that anymore, so it might get rocked. Sometimes it does. But I enjoy the taste, company, and good times. It's always fun. Country music on the radio. Dogs all up in it. Southern accents on full-blast.

Travelin and all, won't be much good with the bloggin. So, you know, Happy Holidays, y'all!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Slow News Day

Actually, there's a lot of recent, very excellent new news cooking. But it's just too early to talk about here. So in lieu of not much disclosable news, here posts a sketch, or outtake, from a graphic novel idea I'm percolating. Teens skateboarding and various issues within/without. This sketch has drifted from one corner of my studio to the next. Went from top of my drawing table, to the floor (where it got dog-eared and rolled over often by my chair), to the top of my computer table, to the top of my scanner, to the floor again, to the top of my laser printer, to where it rests now closed in on the scanner bed. Sweet dreams little drawing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Studio Tour pt. 3

More clutter. Here at the computer table. Things to note include: a paint-by-numbers I did of C-3PO many, many moons ago; the corner of a painting I collaborated on with old drawing/painting/printmaking prof and friend Paul Martyka; a Pantone book opened to process colors; my old school cell phone; the jobs in progress "filing system"; my trusty iMac and scanner flanked by the laser printer and ink jet combo. The iMac I bought, I guess, about a year and a half ago. Before, I was all about the Mac tower setup, but those are so pumped up now that all I really need these days is offered in the consumer grade i. Save some cash. Loads better than the G4 I was struggling on. Desktop picture's one of my favorite pics. Julie and I were at a state park in South Dakota. My sweetest is posing by the "Roberts Prarie Dog Town" sign. Lots of prairie dogs there. Squeaking and popping in and out of holes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Illustrators Eat Too

I first heard about author/illustrator Jeff Newman through an illustration and cartooning blog called Drawn! (based somewhere in Canada, I think. With the .ca and all). Drawn! is a great resource for new stuff in comics and illustration and a good source for inspiration. They did a blog post on Jeff's stuff cause someone there had seen and liked his book Hippo! No, Rhino. There was a link to his site as well. I was really impressed with his work. Very smart, fresh, creative, inventive. All the right stuff. A while later, I noticed he too had also donated a snowflake to this year's Robert's Snow fund raiser (also very cool). In lieu of promotion, the Robert's Snow folks were doing interviews with all the snowflake illustrators. After seeing his interview, I saw Jeff was not too far from me. So a couple weeks back, we met for lunch at The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI (bout halfway between him and me).

It was my first illustrator blind date. Not weird. Actually, it was awesome. We talked art and the biz forever. I don't get as much of this as I need. He's a real nice fella and we have much in common in practice and likes and also frustrations. Good guy, that Jeff. He got a brat ("Brat Stop" and all). I had what Julie and I always get when we're there...a Wisconsin grilled cheese (what a vegetarian eats at The Brat Stop).

Also did a bit of "show and tell", sharing our past and present projects. Saw some behind-the-scenes Newman in his kick-butt sketch book and then his two published books. I was blown away after seeing Hippo for the first time. I'd seen the cover and what samples he's got on his site, but nothing else. An amazing book. Check it out, really.

Cool times. Looking forward to our next 'sconsin illustrators caucus. Cheese. Brats. Art.

Friday, December 14, 2007

From Sketch to Final in 4 Posts

Above is final art, based on the sketch posted earlier this week. This will be featured on the title page of the upcoming picture book MIGHTY CASEY by James Preller from Feiwel and Friends. Spring '08. Save the date.

Just finished another Julie recommended YA novel, THE BOOK THIEF. So, so good. I'm not the first to say so, cause it was a Printz Honor book. But whatever. Marcus Zusak spun a heck of a yarn and in such a tremendously unique way. When I read it was a Nazi Germany tale, I wasn't aching to read it. I don't usually love putting myself in expectedly upsetting places. And believe me, it upsets. But it was well worth it. Bravo, Zusak. Bravo, man.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happy Holidays! Cybils Awards!

Above is the image I drew for this year's holiday card offering from Julie and myself. Click on it for a better view. If you happen to read this blog, and you didn't get a card, you can still see it here. Happy belated Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and family. Happy early Christmas to my Christian (or Christian-esque) friends and family. And Happy Holidays to all other friends and family. That about covers it.

Also, many thanks for the nominations to this year's Cybil Awards! (The Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards) RIGHTY AND LEFTY was nom'd in this year's "2007 Fiction Picture Books" category. THE MOON IS LA LUNA was nom'd in this year's "2007 Poetry" category. Check it all out here. Right on!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bringing It All Back Home

Been trying to/thinking bout scoring one of these for some time now. It's probably the most famous image by graphic design legend Milton Glaser. This poster was folded and enclosed in the sleeve of the Bob Dylan Greatest Hits album released in 1967-ish. You can usually find the poster/album combo in decent condition on ebay for around fifty bucks. I was fortunate enough to grab mine for just under 30. I'd actually bought one before that was supposed to be in good condition, but when I got it, the poster had a good tear down at the bottom. Seller graciously refunded. This one, said to be mint, still has a few signs of wear. Guess it's the nature of how it came and the age and all. Probably hard to find one in real "mint."

Anyhow, this poster is so beautiful and on a few levels for me. It's a great illustration and idea (that freakin hair). I love that it was done by Glaser (my design chops coming out here) and the simple tho groovy/futuristic type and image combo is too cool. Plus, of course, I'm a Dylan freak. Took several weeks to get here (shipper was in Hawaii). Glad to finally see this in person. Now, how to frame?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Studio Tour pt. 2

This is the table where I do my drawing. I've got a corkboard just leaning up on the wall where I tack bits of inspiration, works in progress, notes to self, and that sort of thing. There's a layered look to it. Note the, oh, 9" x 10"-ish space on the table that I actually give myself to draw in. Can you find the pipe? It was a birthday gift, one year, from my brother Eric. I rarely use it anymore to smoke my fave cherry tobacco. Mostly now, I chew on it during deep thoughts. There's a lot of stuff here that I could either put away, throw away, or do something with to clear things up. I'm getting to it. Get off my back already!

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's the Deadline?

Working towards a Wednesday morning deadline for a bit of final, final art for a picture book with Feiwel and Friends. Completed the most of the book a month or so ago, and now just tying up the jacket and title page drawings. Sketch above is evidence I'm working. Tobin keeps jumping in my lap. Hungry, and it's only noon. T's 4:15 dinner time's a long time out. Sheesh.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sketches and Kvetches

Sketches from my current sketchbook. From both live and imagined projects. I love a good sketch. I love how rough and immediate and spontaneous it looks. It just can't be duplicated. I sometimes hate to redraw a sketch for a final drawing cause I fear I'll be disappointed in the final cause I like the sketch so much better (it's happened).

I've been nursing a sore throat/cold type of thing all week. I'm much better now, and for the most part, it wasn't at all severe. I was taking this herbal remedy type of thing called goldenseal (Julie was also taking to fight off any possibilities) that's intensely bitter and is supposed to amp up your immune system. I think it might have worked. Anyway, the worst of the thing is these butt-bustin sinus headaches it brought with it. I woke up at 3:30 this morning with headache, took more pain killers and couldn't get fully back to sleep the rest of the night. Woke up this morning (still with headache) and stepped out into the cold and shoveled some snow off the driveway. The exercise in cold pretty much froze off the headache. Natural remedies, my man. Way of the future.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Studio Tour

Aw, man, I gotta clean this place up. But this is it. This is where the work gets done. My studio's one of the bedrooms (for the time being) in our house. So far, so good. I couldn't capture the room with one shot alone, so I did one of those things where you shoot it and shoot it and shoot it and put all the pieces together to get this weird piecemeal whole fisheye effect of a place (the kind of thing Julie gets annoyed by when I do on vacations, e.g. Big Ben and Parliament or e.g. The Grand Canyon). I cleaned the place up not too long ago, but put up against a recent deadline or two, it got out of hand again. More photo documentation and studio tour to come in days soon.

In other news, we woke up to–what I guessed by shoveling it–5 or 6 inches of snow this morning. First big one of the season. Julie valiantly shoveled a wee path of snow down the driveway, even though I told her to wake me up if there was shoveling needed. After her line was complete, she shook me out of bed and I did the rest. Well, I did most of it until one of our lovely neighbors showed up with her snowblower and helped me out. I love our neighbors. As I write this very passage, it continues to snow. Local weatherman Paul K. says we could be in for another 2-4 inches. Snowblowers ain't cheap, man. Believe me, cause I just looked.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Drawing without Sketching

Basically, my process involves sketching, erasing, sketching, erasing in pencil before I go to a final drawing in ink. I don't usually have the nerve to hit the paper with ink without a sort of graphite blueprint to work from underneath. Ink is pretty dang final. You can't really undo it. And I'm not a big "white out" type of guy. So, I've been trying to work in my sketchbook some lately getting rid of the first part. Just to see what happens. Results have ranged from somewhat elegant, to downright ugly. But it's pretty liberating. And it's neat to see where the line goes. Or doesn't. And mistakes aren't always a bad thing. Anyway, these were inspired by a couple day bout of raking lots of leaf accumulation in our back yard. True that.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Final Auction–Robert's Snow 2007

Thank you to all persons who bid on mine and all other snowflakes in auction 2. I didn't get to see what the final bids were before they shut down the auction, but it was flying high last time I checked Friday afternoon.

The final auction starts today for the 2007 Robert's Snow fund raiser. Check out the many excellent art/artists and bid on this last round of original children's illustrator art here. Above is Grace Lin's contribution to this year's event. Grace and her late husband Robert Mercer are the founders of the fund raiser and her piece can also be bid on this week. Get on it folks, and help fund cancer research!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Day for Auction Two

Today is the last day for Auction Two of the Robert's Snow fund raiser. (Anyone who might be reading now that hasn't read my post a couple days back, this is the one my snowflake's in. See initial sketch above-click it makes it bigger.) The auction is said to end at 5pm, but I don't know what time zone they're talking. If you haven't checked out this round of flakes, do so now, right here. And if you're feeling charitable, please do throw down a nice bid on your fave or faves.

In other news, it's that reliably nutty time of year again. The making of and sending of holiday cards time of year. Up until the end of this year, I worked as a pressman at a letterpress shop, so I could print up and produce my own cards and envelopes essentially free. But since I bailed in October, that deal is done. So I put the same blood, sweat, and tears into this year's card but printed up "homemade" instead. Not quite as luxe as our letterpress babies, but it definitely still brings it. All week, I've been printing, cutting, folding, reassembling addresses, handwriting addresses, handwriting return addresses, stamping, and licking envelopes (sick). Soon there'll be close to 200 of these pups floating around via US Postal. So if you get one, please look past the laser print quality and see the love, love, love that went in to getting this done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tangled Up In You

The first time I remember hearing any Bob Dylan music was when my stepdad loaned me BLONDE ON BLONDE when I was a junior in high school. I was blown away. But soon after, I put it back down and got back to listening to more of what I was already listening to then: punk rock. But now I'm back. I've been completely absorbed in the music and mystique of Bob Dylan for what seems like about two years now, nonstop. I can't quite put my finger on the obsession. I know I love his songwriting. His words are pretty difficult to interpret (if at all) but he paints great pictures throughout. And I know I love his sound. Or his sounds, really, cause he's done so much, so different. So that's a big part. I chew through one album at a time (there's so much) and there's so many different approaches, so many different sounds that it hasn't gotten old. Then there's the whole thing how he doesn't let any of us in. Which I can understand. So nobody knows for sure what he's really thinking. Yet, I don't want to know cause it'd just ruin it for me. I have a policy about not meeting my heroes (and I use the term "hero" loosely--I'm not convinced he's a great guy or nice or anything like that. But I'm fascinated by his creativity and approach and he's a hero cause he's so amazing, to me, at what he does). The second I get too close to a hero, I'm instantly let down and I have to cut out. So I like to keep the heroes at arm's length. I love music and I go through it in phases. I usually listen to something for a couple of months, get tired of it, and find something else. But I haven't gotten tired of Dylan yet. Cause when I get tired of one album, I dig up another I haven't heard and I'm usually not disappointed (sometimes am) and have a whole new sound to enjoy.

Monday I went and saw the new Todd Haynes movie, I'M NOT THERE with my mom-in-law Janice (always good company). It was good. I wasn't in love with it, cause it definitely got a bit too pretentious at times for my tastes, but it really exceeded my expectations. I got chills when "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" played over the opening credits. And several scenes were pretty bone-chilling too. When the little kid version of Dylan is playing "Tombstone Blues" with these two old guys on a down south porch. The kids reaction when a southern woman tells him to "live his own time" and the look on the kid's face (when he was living in his Woody Guthrie inspired, folky, dust bow-ly, depression era of music that didn't live in the times of racial tension and politics of the day). And I was pleasantly surprised at how believable the Cate Blanchett version was. I thought it'd be too distracting/gimmicky but it wasn't. I liked the Blanchett version's reaction to the onslaught of questioning of those times. That time in his musical history is really fascinating to me. The first big shift for him-that "going electric" time. He wanted to do what he liked and took such abuse for it and yet he soldiered on. That had to be tough, especially at his level of popularity/unpopularity. So I liked to see Blanchett's exhausted "I'm just not what you want me to be" answering which played, far as I can tell, pretty true to life. I have to say, I really liked Haynes casting of different actors to play the different Dylans. It was a great idea. The Richard Gere sequences got me kinda lost, but otherwise it worked really well. So, I guess, it's the shape-shifting of Dylan that is also alluring. Because, it humanizes him. Nobody wants to do the same thing their entire life, do they? I don't anyway.

Which makes me wonder, then. How much longer will I be into Dylan?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Robert's Snow Auction 2 (Cordell included) Live This Week!

Above is my contribution, front and back, to this year's Robert's Snow fund raiser (click image to view larger). Auction 2 is now open this week (ends Friday) and you can find my snowflake along with many others to bid on right here.

For those who don't know, the Robert's Snow fund raiser was started in 2004 by author/illustrator Grace Lin (who has a children's book under the same name) when her husband, Robert Mercer, was diagnosed with sarcoma. Children's book illustrators from all over are personally invited annually to participate in the fund raiser by designing and illustrating her or his own handcrafted snowflake. Each snowflake is then auctioned off and the profits go toward cancer research. To date, the project has raised over $200,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for cancer research. Sadly, Mr. Mercer lost his fight against sarcoma and passed away in August of this year. But the Robert's Snow project and fundraiser lives on in his memory.

Many of us have also personally felt the sting of cancer. This is an excellent way to contribute to a great cause and take home a unique piece of original art this holiday season. Please take time to read more about Robert's Snow and browse through and bid on your favorite snowflake(s) here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Robert's Snow 2007 in Effect

The first Robert's Snow auction is in full swing. Read about this most excellent fund raiser here. Then view and bid on the first round of snowflakes in Auction 1 here. Please note that this auction ends Friday November 23 at 5 pm. Auction 2 (my snowflake's in this one) starts November 26 and ends November 30. And the last Auction, number 3, starts December 3 and ends December 7.

Be sure to look at them all and then drop some cash for a terrific cause!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back from New Jack

Just got back from New York yesterday. It was crazy and a lot of fun. The whole point of the thing was for Julie to promote GET WELL SOON at the weekend's NCTE (National Conference for Teachers of English) event. I was really just tagging along for the ride and to support my lil lady. Though we worked in lots of extracurricular stuff and I squeezed in a signing of the THE MOON IS LA LUNA on Sunday too.

Kicked the visit off, Friday, with a dinner with one of my best buds from college, Will, at the world famous, very touristy (and tourist-priced menu) Carnegie Deli. Heard all about Will's tales of being a NYC dog walker, his arrest (and continued legal woes) for protesting the Republican National Convention, and his captain position on his neighborhood's pool league. I love ol' Will. He's got a huge beard and a shiny bald head.

Next day, Julie had her signing that went quite well. She had a nice-sized line when she sat down! Unloaded lots of books and custom made GET WELL SOON buttons. Later that day we visited the American Folk Art Museum which was awesome. I've been drawn more and more to folk art lately since seeing the kickin collection they have at nearby Milwaukee Art Museum. It's so pure, raw, and unpretentious. I love it. Wish I owned some. Someday.

Sunday, had my signing that morn which went much better than expected (didn't know what to think, small fish in big pond and all). I met, for the first time face-to-face, Karen Walsh and Lisa DiSarro of Houghton marketing and publicity team. Real nice people. Chatted it up, signed many copies of LUNA and TOBY AND THE SNOWFLAKES (with Julie on hand, who signed her name to those TOBY's too), then headed out to the much anticipated William Steig show at The Jewish Museum. We met new friends from Booklist there, Gillian and Stephanie. Man, were we all just blown away. I've been waiting a long time to view some Steig originals and I was not disappointed. Along with drawings from my personal faves, GORKY RISES and SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE, there were his actual dummies, doodles, and stream-of-conscious drawings on hand. Not to mention the several pics of him drawing and his studio and tools and vid of him speaking and drawing (I've always wondered what he drew with--lots of things actually). What a draftsman he was! There were also these beautifully designed galleries for kids and adult interaction painted with awesome Steig-inspired murals, panels, doors, pulleys and what not (see the pic above, ripped from last week's NEW YORKER). So cool.

That eve, we went to this blowout ALAN reception, where Julie and tons of other YA authors were guests of honor. It was a regular YA superstar freakfest. Julie chatted it up with many of her idols and faves and I tried hard to hear what people were saying (I think I may have lost some hearing during my 6+ year tenure as a pressman). Afterward, we were whisked off to a tasty and extravagant Italian dinner hosted by Feiwel and Friends. Three hard-hitting reviewers/committee members were present as well as a good sampling of Feiwel and Friends peeps--author Katherine Applegate was there (Yes, Animorphs! But she has a new book with F+F, HOME OF THE BRAVE), Liz Noland and Elizabeth Fithian of marketing/publicity, Julie's and my wonderful editor Liz Szabla, Julie, me and Jean Feiwel herself. I sat between Elizabeth (who graciously endured my ramblings about graphic novels and newfound interest in YA books) and Jean (who's so freakin hilarious! Who knew?). It was too cool, hanging out with Liz, Liz, Eliz, Jean, Katherine, and Julie all night. These girls know how to party! After the feast, went back to our cheerleader-infested hotel (it's true--fresh in for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade), crashed and flew out the next morning.

Dang, good times. Slap full though. Couldn't do that every weekend. Next up, ALA Philadelphia in January. Dios Mio!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Come See Me! And Julie! NCTE! NYC! This Wee(kend)!

A friendly reminder to the half a dozen people who may be reading this. I will be at NCTE (National Conference for Teachers of English) in New York this weekend. I'll be at the Houghton Mifflin booth, #228-234, on Sunday November 18, 11am-12, signing copies of my new book, THE MOON IS LA LUNA. Well, technically, it's Houghton's book. And technically I didn't write it. That was the job of Jay Harris. But I drew about 30+ swell pictures that are printed in full color in said book. Gimme some credit! So, I'll be signing these books. Come see what all the fuss is about. I promise, I won't bite. Well, I could if you wanted me to. Actually, I won't. I'm germophobic. I'll shake hands instead. See you there!

My lovely wife, author Julie Halpern, will be signing her brand new Feiwel and Friends published Young Adult book, GET WELL SOON at the Macmillan Academic Library Group (F and F's parent co.) booth, #307-309 on Saturday November 17, 10:30-11:30 am. Get there early, folks, and get a good spot in line! Big ups to Feiwel and Friends for sponsoring me (paying my way in to the con).

New Music on the Cheap

I used to buy cd's all the time. Not anymore. I don't follow music as feverishly as I used to for one (I used to be a big indie rock dork). And I don't spend money like I used to either. But I still really like music. Only not indie rock. I get about 95% or so of my music now from my local library. They have a pretty great selection of stuff and it's free. Provided I get it back in time before late fees kick in. Then I just rip it into my iTunes library and it's there for as long as I need. My latest finds were some Nina Simone stuff and this collection of Django Reinhardt. Both really great. I'd always heard of, and occasionally heard, Nina Simone's music but never committed to fully listening. That's where music-on-the-cheap comes in handy. And then the Django stuff. I'm blown away by it. I had heard the name once or twice and I saw that Woody Allen movie, Sweet and Lowdown, that talks up Django. But man, it's so great! What a time. Even Julie liked it. We danced a jig or two the other night, it's true.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dirty Old Nibs

Lately I've been experimenting with my line drawings. My usual reaction is, when a nib gets old and crusty and cloggy, to throw it out and replace it with a shiny new one. Then the ink flows better, lines crisper, cleaner, the way it ought to be. But one day, for fun, I put one of my old nibs back in the holder and started sketching with it. It flows like junk, but the line variation is amazing. It's almost like drawing with a stick. Only the flow is better than a stick. The texture and inconsistency of the dirty old nib is kickin butt! I draw with two different size nibs. I use a B-5 1/2 for most stuff and a B-6 for detail. Luckily, I had crusty old nibs in both sizes. Crust on, nibs! Crust on.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NCTE New York this weekend

Julie and I will be in New York this weekend for the National Conference for Teachers of English (NCTE). I have one book signing scheduled for Sunday morning 11-12 at the Houghton Mifflin booth for my new picture book, THE MOON IS LA LUNA. I'll also be signing copies of another Houghton title of mine, TOBY AND THE SNOWFLAKES. If you're heading out there, please come stop by and see me. I'm friendly.

Also looking forward to catching up with my old buddy, Will, who's living there now and seeing some top notch William Steig drawings, some folk art, and if there's time some pickles.

Friday, November 9, 2007


Yesterday, Julie and I had a book reading and signing at one of my all time favorite book stores, The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL. We've had a few events there and it's always been real cool. The staff is so great (yesterday was Liz Moore's birthday!) and the store itself is all nice and cozy and classy-indie at the same time. Yesterday's event was part of a book fair put on by a Winnetka pre-school. A friend and fellow librarian to Julie, Katie Wright, invited us to be part of this happening (Katie's son is a student at the pre-school). Julie read from our book Toby and the Snowflakes, as well as the two picture books I have out this fall. I did some drawing, and we signed some books. It was a great success. I was surprised to see the kind of crowd that turned up. We sold lots of books and talked to lots of cool kids and parents. It's been a while since I've done one of these things, so I forget what it's like to be around lots of kids. My favorite moment of the night was when Julie was warming up the crowd and she asked the kids (they were tiny) if they knew what an illustrator does. A little girl raised up and answered, "RED!".

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cheers for RIGHTY AND LEFTY! Steig in NYC!

This just in. Great reviews for RIGHTY AND LEFTY:

from Publishers Weekly, 11/5/2007

In this funny, ingenious take on the meaning of friendship, Vail (Sometimes I’m Bombaloo) and Cordell (Toby and the Snowflakes) muse upon the way that two very different feet manage to get along—a good thing, since they belong to the same person (seen only from the waist down). Lefty likes lingering under the blankets and wearing only galoshes, while Righty, an early bird, revels in all the possible shoe choices and secretly wonders what it be like to take a beach vacation without Lefty. Vail’s deadpan prose evinces a sly comic mind and a wonderfully ticklish system of logic: “Outside, Righty and Lefty race. Sometimes, Righty wins. Sometimes, Lefty wins. It is always close.” Cordell’s watercolor and ink cartoons prove he’s up to the challenge of focusing on two characters who can express their emotions only through their toes—and the occasional thought balloon. For making kids laugh, this one’s a shoe-in. Ages 3-5. (Nov.)

And from School Library Journal, 11/1/2007

A slight story about two busy appendages. Though they have different likes and dislikes, Righty and Lefty (the latter has an ever-present, identifying bandage) recognize the need to cooperate. The feet belong to the same person (who is never shown in full), but are complete opposites. Righty likes to wear different types of shoes, but Lefty's first choice is always the green galoshes. At times, the odd couple cause one another grief—as when one or the other crosses the finish line first—and Righty dreams of being on vacation alone. Just like siblings, though, they rely on each other for fun, and for keeping warm at night. Large expanses of white space showcase the humorous pen-and-ink and pastel watercolors. While one foot is active and adventurous, and the other is satisfied with the status quo, the two really are best friends and incomplete without their mirror image. The third-person narrative lacks tension and a substantial plot, thereby limiting its child appeal.—Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI

Ok, so the SLJ has a couple of barbs thrown in here and there. But not too shabby.

Also, recently discovered that there's a brand new William Steig show up at the Jewish Museum in New York. Luckily, Julie and I will be in town soon for NCTE. So this works out perfectly. I'm a huge fan and I've never seen any Steig originals so this is definitely going to be a real treat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Harmony in the Workplace

A couple of months ago, I ran across a comic strip by one of my heroes, French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. It's a wordless strip about how he was trying to work in his sketchbook, but his cat kept wanting to be petted. He'd pet the cat a bit, then try to work again. But it never worked cause his cat kept pawing at him when he stopped. I feel your pain, Monsieur Trondheim. Ever since I started working from home, our cat Tobin goes ballistic at 3:30 everyday. We have an automatic feeder that dispenses his din at 4:15 and he can sense it. So he keeps assaulting me with his craziness and jumping into my lap while I'm trying to work, over and over and over... Then, exactly at 4:15 he hears the food drop and he tears through the house into the kitchen to feast up. Naturally, I had to draw my answer to the Trondheim strip in homage to Trondheim and in homage to the cat.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Philip Pullman and Hot Shredded Wheat

Being the hubby of a hard-hittin YA librarian and author, I often find myself accompanying Julie on various YA lit related wild rides of parties, conferences, and dinners of sorts. It's actually great, though, since some of our worlds collide–me being a children's lit illustrator and all. This weekend, Julie was invited to see Philip Pullman speak, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, at the Harold Washington Library downtown. Philip Pullman, case you don't know, is author of the wildly successful book series, HIS DARK MATERIALS (see that crazy movie coming out next month, THE GOLDEN COMPASS). The invitation came from Tim Ditlow, of Listening Library fame (Julie's also on a YALSA selection committee for best YA audiobooks of the year). There was a nice lunch arranged after with the whole group. This was really her deal, but she asked if I could tag along and Tim was gracious enough to accommodate.

I haven't been much of a YA reader up until recently. I mostly read graphic novels (which, actually... some are YA) and "grown-up" stuff. But I was looking for something to read, and saw laying around Sherman Alexie's new book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN (admittedly curious cause of the Ellen Forney drawings–cartoonist and all). I really liked it, so ever since, Julie's been feeding me more and more YA stuff.

Knowing I was going to be seeing author of THE GOLDEN COMPASS speak, and after seeing that crazy movie trailer and wondering "what the heck is this?!", I knew I had to read at least one of the HIS DARK MATERIALS books before I saw the presentation. So I read THE GOLDEN COMPASS. And, honestly, I got lost at times, but I really liked this book! I know, positive reviews at this point are not breaking news, but it was new to me. Recommended! And so his presentation–actually more of a Q and A setup with this intellectualish dad/daughter team–was really great too. Pullman's funny, humble, and doesn't take himself too seriously (my impression anyways). For writing that style of book, I think that means a lot. So I'm sold on reading the rest of the series.

The lunch afterward was so great! There was a group of about 15 or so mostly Chicago area children's lit, YA audiobook types, librarians, and book review publication writers assembled at the Russian Tea Room (Julie and I had never been). The food, and the tea, was dang tasty! I really wouldn't have guessed it. I'm a vegetarian, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But there was much to choose from. And the company was so much fun. We met a couple of hilarious reviewers from Booklinks and Booklist who were so much fun to talk to and get to know. And the Booklist writer, Gillian, just happened to be the reviewer who just gave Julie's novel GET WELL SOON, that awesome review a couple weeks back! Good times, man. Good times. Thanks much to Tim Ditlow for putting that together and for letting me party it up with the team.

In other news, I saw a shredded wheat commercial yesterday talking about how good it would be to eat "hot." So, being a sucker for a commercial and for trying some new cereal gimmick, I heated up my milk this morning and poured it over the cereal. Don't do it. I mean, I don't recommend it. It was way nast.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Post What?

I never thought of myself as a post-it type of guy. When I used to work in an office, I'd sometimes see fellow designers with these sticky scraps of paper all over his/her computer, desk, workspace, etc. and the clutter grossed me out. But a few years ago for my birthday, Julie's aunt gave me a cube of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired post-it's and I use them a lot to jot notes, to do lists, or make quick sketches (a never ending cube at that). As I'm cleaning up, I assemble here a fine selection of actual scraps scattered about my desk–primarily useful notes, sketches, and unfortunate to-do lists.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cause I'm a Creature of Habit

Behold. My watercolor arsenal. Don't judge. I first started using these when I got out of school and was saving a buck and didn't want to buy the "good stuff." These student grade pans are definitely not the best, but I'm used to 'em. I've tried to take it up a notch, quality-wise, but the fact of the matter is, I like the junkers. Yesterday, to replenish my supply, I even traveled an hour out of my way to get the to same art store I bought them at when I was penny-saving. It took me a while to relocate the aisle where they were stocked (had to get out of the top dollar paints and mosey into the kiddie ones). When I found the place, my heart nearly sank when it looked like they didn't carry them anymore. But on closer inspection, there they were, waiting for me, sandwiched between two other brands that only looked identical. Maybe someday I'll brave some better pans, or heck, even some highfalutin tubes. But in the meantime, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sneak Preview

Here's an advance look at one of the drawings I just finished for a new book with Feiwel and Friends. If all goes as planned, I think the book's supposed to be out sometime in '08. This is one of my faves from the group.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Unintentionally Sweet

I just finished up a bunch of interior drawings on a book I'm working on with Feiwel and Friends. Whenever I'm painting in watercolors on my stuff, I always keep scraps of watercolor paper handy to dab my brush on/test my color on. Oh, and I do the same for when I'm doing the line work (dip the nib, then test the flow on the scrap sheet before going straight to the final drawing). This is one of those sheets. I had a few of these test sheets by the time I finished the drawings for F and F. This, I thought, was the coolest. At the top of the sheet are some sketches I was doing, a while back, for a picture book idea. And in the center (turned sideways) is an outtake from a job I recently finished (final drawings found on my website here). Some of the best stuff happens unintentionally, right under the nose.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New on

In addition to the new blog, there are brand new additions to these sections of my website:

HISTORY-added images to go with all the books I've done, with easy access for Amazon purchasing. And updated (deleted stuff from) my bio.
CORDELL-swapped out some old drawings I originally had here (ugh) with these real deal photos of me and the fam. Could be entertaining. I had, in place, a photo I took of myself that I thought looked extra debonair, but showed to Julie and she gasped "TAKE IT OFF! You look like you have a 'Jay Leno' chin!" Do I still?
WORK-most importantly, new content in my work section. Four new subsections: highlighting a snowflake I illustrated for this year's Robert's Snow auction (an excellent cause, do check out all the snowflakes and mark your calendars for bidding dates); some illustrations I did for an ad for Chicago's Youth Campus; and two sections showcasing some work I've been doing for a graphic novel idea.

Back to the Robert's Snow auction, these guys are doing a great job of promoting the fund raiser, including setting up snowflake illustrator interviews with bloggers around the web. Here's a link to an interview I did with Linda Budzinski at her blog Just Like the Nut (scroll down to Sunday, October 21). She, as well as all the other bloggers participating, posts links to dates and places to find spotlights of all the other illustrators going up. Good stuff.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blog Number One

Here starts my blog. For the past several months, I've been watching my partner, my love, my biggest inspiration, Julie Halpern, tap semi-regularly her thoughts, comments, and rants into her blog. So I thought it could be worthwhile for me to do the same. Recently, I was able to quit my full-time-job as a letterpress printer to go full-time-job as an illustrator. Pretty much, that's what this blog's gonna be about. Doing that. So please, stay tuned.