Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Julie, Romy, and I are about to head down south for some holiday festivity. For those who do not know, my people are from South Carolina. We were planning on boarding a flight that left Chicago this afternoon, but it's been canceled due to some snow. A white Christmas cancels flights, people.

But looking forward to a fried turkey and various other southern-style (probably not good for my cholesterol issues) sides and desserts.

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a great 2010!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bookpage: Best Picture Books of '09!

This just in! TROUBLE GUM was selected by BookPage for a short list of this year's best picture books. In case you missed it, I was in the magazine back in September for their supercool "Meet the Illustrator" column. Check that out here.

Thanks, BookPage!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Top Ten (November 2009)–Addendum!

I forgot. Make it Top 11 this time. A Facebook friend posted this earlier this month (and another posted just now and I remembered...), and all I could say was "wow". Up for auction is original art by the greats. William Steig, James Marshall, Maurice Sendak, and many more. All you can do is salivate, cause you know you can't afford these pups. But a girl can dream, can't she? By all means, go crack this catalog and dream.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top Ten (November 2009)

I can't believe a month has blown by since my last Top list. I guess I've only blogged a couple of times since then, too. Heck.

Well, it's been a good month with some prime pickin'. Let's see:

1. GOOGLE SESAME HOMAGE. In case you missed it, Sesame Street just celebrated it's 40th anniversary this past month. Google knows a good thing when google sees it, so Google did a week's worth of Sesame-inspired Google logo treatments. Good on ya, Goog. (Now, pardon moi for all the scrolling...)

2. CHICAGO HUMANITIES FESTIVAL PANEL. The title of this panel discussion, from Nov 7, was The Not-So-Funny Situation of Alternative Comix. It was a dream panel. Lynda Barry, Jules Feiffer, Chris Ware, and Matt Groening. The discussion was comics, specifically the demise of the comic strip in alt-weeklies like the Village Voice and the Chicago Reader (panel was moderated by Chicago Reader's Michael Miner). Lots of talent, lots of laughs, lots of fun. One of my favorite moments was when Chris Ware stepped off-stage for a few minutes, then came running back on when it was time for his slide show. And said, "when you spend a lot of time at home, your bladder shrinks down to the size of a shallot."

3. CANON EOS REBEL XSi. Our first digital SLR (single lens reflex). Takes a great looking picture. And it's so much better in low light situations than our old point 'n shoot. Even though this cam's, like, amateur hour for you serious photographers, it's fits us nicely in performance and price.

4. CAKE BOSS. Julie's got me watching TLC now. Which I think (ironically?) stands for The Learning Channel. Which doesn't quite add up because it basically seems like a "reality show" cavalcade of hot tempers, multiple pregnancy families, little people, overweight people, BBQ competitors, and bikers. Nevertheless, a personal favorite in "learning" is the CAKE BOSS. Billed as a bakery reality, it's painfully obvious when there's a blatant setup, plot fix or unreal moment happening. And it's spilling over with Jersey Italian stereotype (lovably). But I love watching them construct the custom cakes. Airplane or Leaning Tower of Pisa or NYC cityscape or your basic "old school" icing piped beautifully on a 4-tiered wedding cake. Talent. Like edible sculpture. Yum.

5. CHRISTOS' FALAFEL, PHILADELPHIA. Julie and I came upon this street vendor while on a recent trip to Philadelphia. It wasn't your typical cart. This was a spanking clean and shiny silver cart without any obvious signage/pricing. But with big tasty smells and lots of fresh herbs, garlic cloves and flowers adorning the front. After asking the line of regulars what smelled so good, we found out it was Greek char-grilled chicken breast, falafel, and lots of other savory homemade Mediterranean sides. Totally tasty! And fresh. Once we got home, we found out this dude is kind of a legend. People seem to liken him to Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi". Though we found him to be quite pleasant. A neat vid/write-up about this here.

6. BOB DYLAN PLAYS HANK WILLIAMS. I've been on a Hank Williams (Sr.) kick this month. I remembered there was a clip in DON'T LOOK BACK where Dylan picks out some old Hank tunes. Found a clip of it on YouTube. Dylan, Joan Baez, Albert Grossman, etc. And a good hair day for Dylan. That classic Glaser silhouette.

7. MUPPETS BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Two tips of the hat to Henson Studios this month. I realize most anyone who's been on the internet recently has either heard of or watched this vid. But I would be remiss in my work as an art blogger and as a Henson worshiper if I didn't also recognize this brilliance.

8. THE CURIOUS GARDEN. This gem by ├╝bertalent Peter Brown was one of a stack of picture books Julie and I picked up at ALA this past summer. It was only just recently that I seriously gave a look. Beautiful. It's all abuzz from the kidlit crowd. Rightly so.

9. FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Really dug this Wes Anderson and co. adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel (novella?). And I read the book just after. I do very much like Dahl, but I dare say the film was even better. Maybe just for the insanely good stop-motion animation. Liked the cuss outta this flick.

10. ROMY STANDS! For her next trick, Romy has solved that whole "how does one stand?" riddle. Sooooo big!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TROUBLE GUM at 7-imp

I'm still in the thick of final art on a new book by Lauren Thompson, but wanted to drop a quick post. This morning, alongside Steve Jenkins and Scott Magoon, I'm featured (for TROUBLE GUM) on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. We're rounding out a series of posts, by Jules, highlighting new books by illustrators who've been on the blog before. 7-imp remains one of my absolute favorite kid lit blogs (my go to for the best illo in kid books!), so I'm honored to be invited again. Check it out here.

One other bit of hot TROUBLE news, before I get back to work. Just found out that it's gone into its second printing! Say what??!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scrawlings of a Madman

Generally, when I'm working on final art, I go through alternating periods of, "I'm worthless!" and "I'm brilliant!". Usually, I land in the area of, "At least I'm OK.".

Sometimes, when people look at my drawings, I get an occasional, "I bet it doesn't take you too long to draw, huh?". I am a tortured soul, dear readers. If you only knew.

You see, I just drew this frog 6 (and a half) times, wasting precious and pricey watercolor paper, because one little wiggly line didn't look wiggly enough. Or because the circles of the eyes were TOO circular. Or because the lines that make the mouth met kinda weird. Or because there were a few too many "bumps" on his skin. Et cetera.

I know what you're thinking. "Huh?"

Cut me some slack. "I'm brilliant!"

In the end, we have prevailed. On to page 2!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Top Ten (October 2009)

Make it 6. It's been a weird month, and I'm shortening my likes to a mere 6 tops. Better luck next month. I mean, I'm enjoying, still, some of the other things from previous lists. Top 6.

1. SPUD. Julie is my go-to for good books. She brought home, from the library, a bunch of novels she thought I'd like. Top of the pile was this one by John van de Ruit. Billed as South Africa's CATCHER IN THE RYE, it's a hilarious story of a young teen kid who is starting an all boys boarding school in South Africa. It's set in 1990, so there's an interesting fall-of-apartheid backdrop. Told through a series of John "Spud" Milton's journal entries. There's a sequel, which I intend to track down and read directly.

2. BLACK TICONDEROGA. I went looking for pencils to buy for using at my TROUBLE GUM readings. I found a box of these. The standard Ticonderoga comes in classic yellow, but these look so much cooler and were cheaper, for some reason.

3. A.D.: NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE DELUGE. This new graphic novel from Josh Neufeld is the true tellings of 6 survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Neufeld interviewed 6 different folks, smartly, from very different sides of the socio-economic spectrum. With amazing results. Steeped in details and the sort of stories that have been sadly forgotten or perhaps never known at all. It's in extremes of frustration, heartbreak, and inspiration. Very well done. Very recommended.

4. MELISSA AND DOUG LEARN-TO-PLAY PIANO. This tiny piano is a birthday gift for Romy. She can actually play this mother! But, I think I'm getting more enjoyment out of it than she is. I love plinking out my little tunes... Theme from Star Wars, Rainbow Connection, O Christmas Tree, "Chopsticks"... you know, the essentials.

5. CHRIS WARE'S NEW YORKER HALLOWEEN COVER and ACCOMPANYING COMIC STRIP. I love his take on parents with iPhones, passive-aggressive texting, and Halloween. Beautifully drawn, as always. Read it here.

6. ROMY'S FIRST BIRTHDAY! Wow, I can't believe it's been a year since this. Romy, dear, you are the apple of Mom's and my eyes. Happy, happy, happy day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pigs, pigs, pigs.

I've been meaning to post these since my reading at The Book Stall the other week. One thing I did, near the end of the presentation, was go on about how I love drawing and seeing other people draw because it's very much an extension of one's personality. Much like the way someone speaks, or laughs, or sneezes, or smells, dresses, walks, eats, etc. Everybody draws differently. Cause everybody's brain is different, hands are different and it all flows out just different. EVEN IF we draw the exact same thing. Different.

So I drew, step-by-step, a big drawing of TROUBLE GUM's main pig, Ruben. Kids and parents and grandparents and friends followed along. Unfortunately, a couple of my tiny guys got lost, but generally the experiment went well.

These were the only ones left laying around at the end. Everyone else took theirs home. And there are some real beauts here. Like I said, all very different. All very cool.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My babe gets a star!

As reported here earlier, Julie's newest YA novel, INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER, just came out on Sept 29.

It's been picking up some great reviews (Kirkus, School Library Journal), but the best so far is this STARRED (the best of the best) review from Publisher's Weekly! So, so proud. Well-deserved, my sweet. Congratulations.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder Julie Halpern. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-38252-0

Sophomore Jessie Sloan is having a bad year. Her two closest friends are turning punk and boy-crazed; one of them even pursues Jessie's longtime crush. To make matters worse, Jessie's beloved older brother will soon be leaving for college. Jessie feels adrift and spends her time sewing skirts and listening to audiobooks. Halpern's (Get Well Soon) story picks up pace when class nerd Dottie introduces Jessie to Dungeons and Dragons, which Jessie (to her surprise) actually enjoys, leading her to a new group of friends as well as a heartfelt, if a little clich├ęd, crush on a cute boy with his own nerdish tendencies. Jessie is a thoughtful, sympathetic narrator (“How is it that someone becomes a dork?... What makes some people like punk music and Denny's and other people like costumes and Dungeons and Dragons?”), and her fresh voice will reveal to readers just how independent and exceptional she is (even when Jessie can't see it herself). The relationships and dialogue ring true; readers navigating the stratified social structures of high school will relish an ending that celebrates true friendship. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

TROUBLE GUM inaugurates

On Saturday, last, I had my first solo author event ever (Julie and I have done a team show in years past, but I've never held the spotlight alone). And this was the first TROUBLE GUM event so far--complete with a reading, some awkward banter, a little drawing. It was a great success! Thanks to Robert McDonald and everyone at The Book Stall in Winnetka! Thanks to everyone who showed up, smiled, supported, bought books! And special thanks to Julie, Romy, and Grandma Janice for moral support and advice. Looking forward to doing this again--polishing, revising, getting better, and crushing this fear of public speaking once and for all. Now here's some pics. Thanks to my lovely wife and assistant for making with the digital camera.

Check our man out. Pretending to be all cool just before the start.

My first ever read-aloud to an audience. Complete with "voices".

Getting my draw on.

I did a bit of show-and-tell with drawings from the Cordell archives. Here I am telling my infamous "cabbit" story. Mental note: tighten up the "cabbit" story.

Giving a step-by-step drawing lesson of TROUBLE GUM's star pig, Ruben.

From the front.

The kiddos and adults did a bang-up job in the drawing lesson.

Signed some books and cooled down afterward. Here I am signing a big sketch of Lord Vader for a fellow fan.

Thanks again, everybody! I had a blast. More to come.

Stepping on my soapbox a sec here: Support your local independent bookstore, people! Even if you're maybe paying a tad bit more (I certainly know it's hard times) than the big corps and chains, you walk out with a squeaky clean conscience! And you can't put a price on that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oct 17--See Matt Draw.

This Saturday, October 17 at 3pm, I'll be headlining an event at one of my all-time favorite indie bookshops, The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL.

By headlining, I mean, I'm the main event... er, the only event. I'm doing a reading of my newest pic book, TROUBLE GUM. Then, I'm showing some semi-embarrassing drawings from my past. Then I'm doing a little drawing demo. Then wrapping up with some audience participation drawing. I'm very excited about it. Admittedly, a little nervous. Public speaking is not my forte, as I'm sure I have mentioned here before. But to quote Eleanor Roosevelt:

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

I have lived through this horror. Well, it's not "horror". Don't be silly.

Now that I've spilled all this, I hope, if you live in the area (or are willing to make the drive), that you will come and see me. I guarantee fun will be had by kiddo and adulto alike-o. See you there!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Top Ten (September 2009)

I know it ain't September. So, yeah, I'm running late with this. But the blog is one of only a couple of things (work-related) where I don't have a deadline on my shoulder. So here I am, late, and loving it.

1. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. The return of LD! Catherine O'Hara (aka "Funkouser's Crazy Sister"). The Seinfeld "reunion". Leon.

2. CUL DE SAC and Richard Thompson. Richard Thompson is a pen/ink genius. Hands down. AND a nice guy to boot. Julie bought me some original art by RT for my birthday. Blew me away.

3. ANDROMEDA KLEIN The new YA novel by KING DORK author, Frank Portman. He's got a great "voice", Portman, and I'm enjoying the originality of his main character, Andromeda. He's really done his homework, it seems, on the tarot and occult.

4. STITCHES New graphic novel/memoir from illustrator David Small. His true story about how he had cancer as a pre-teen, why he got it, and a horribly dark mom/dad/son relationship. Amazing.

5. BORED TO DEATH New series on HBO from writer Jonathan Ames. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and the hilarious Ted Danson. Danson (yes, Sam from CHEERS) has really been surprising me with his comedic chops as of late. First, CURB. Now, BORED. Very cool, there, Ted. (p.s. Loads of great cameo appearances.)

6. FRESH AIR While I'm drawing, I've been putting on NPR's FRESH AIR. I love that Terry Gross. She just seems so interested. And she gets the best guests. Shows I've enjoyed lately are Nick Hornby, Rosanne Cash, Dan Fante, and (yes) Ted Danson.

7. ROMY CRAWLS Last week, Romy made a huge leap into mobility. She's crawling. At first it was cute. Then, it became quickly obvious that my job just got a lot harder. Proud of you my lil' girl!

8. ANTHONY BROWNE Julie turned me on to the excellent illo of pic book illustrator, Anthony Browne. He does a sweet Gorilla. We just bought his book, LITTLE BEAUTY. It is a real beaut.

9. REALLY ROSIE The CD. Music, Carole King. Lyric, the great Sendak. This is Romy's favorite music. She actually dances when that little rat-a-tat-tat drumline brings in the opening track.

10. QUENTIN BLAKE One of my Facebook friends found and shared this superb Quentin Blake video slideshow. Blake is too dang cool, man.