Monday, March 30, 2009

Together Again

Regular readers of this column may remember an interview conducted by James Preller (author of MIGHTY CASEY) with me (illustrator of MIGHTY CASEY) a while back. On Preller's blog here.

Today I turn the tables and interview MIGHTY CASEY's author, J. Preller. This is on our publisher's site/blog here, courtesy of Feiwel and Friends. And soon, believe it or not, Preller has interviewed me a second time and that will soon be up on the F+F blog as well. Sort of the second-string. Outtakes. Didn't make the first cut. Yeah, I know... ANOTHER interview. Groan, if you must.

You'll see. To come.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My New, Old Neighbor

Now that I'm doing the stay-at-home dad thing (on top of illustration duties), I've been watching a good bit of PBS kids. Mainly while feeding Romy. I love me some Arthur. I love me some Caillou. Sesame Street. And most of all, I am totally loving the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood reruns.

When I was a kid, I didn't take well to "the Neighborhood" (what Mr. Rogers called the show). I knew enough to know the show was supposed to make a kid feel good, but it made me feel depressed. That shack of a house with the blue and gray backgrounds. Mr. Rogers' piercing stare. Mr. McFeely's creepy hairdo. Those hideous curtains. Not to mention that horrifying Lady Elaine puppet. (Getting the flavor of the kind of kid I was?).

Now that I'm all growed up, the show has taken on a whole new meaning. I feel like I get it more, now that I'm an adult--backwards as that may be. I can look past all the superficial stuff on the set and really take it in. Everything about it is so, so great. I love the Neighborhood of Make-Believe (I actually always had a soft spot for ol' Trolley). And I love when Mr. Rogers goes out and visits factories and athletes and musicians and artists. Love that stuff. And I love the little model houses and town that show up at the end credits. And now I know more about the man himself. What a true saint and hero he was. I wish I were just half as good as he was. Maybe that's something to live up to.

Anyhow, I saw this Mr. Rogers post on kids lit writer/guru and friend, Esme Raji Codell's blog the other day (his b-day was March 20) and it got me all stirred up.

And I saw, there, this great MENTAL FLOSS link of Mr. Rogers anecdotes. He was very well-loved.

My favorite, from that list, is this:

According to a TV Guide piece on him, Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town. Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”

Dang. Kills me.

And if you're really feeling the love of ol' Fred Rogers now, by all means go read this amazing bit of editorial lit written by Tom Junod for ESQUIRE, November 1998.

Long live the sweetness, goodwill, spirit and memory of Mr. Rogers!

"It's such a good feeling to know you're alive!"

But that Lady Elaine. Still creeps me out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cordell for Breakfast

Head on over to hip children's lit blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today to see an illustrator profile Jules, of Seven, did on lil' ol' me. (Turns out she's a big Phyllis Root fan and got an advance copy of TOOT TOOT ZOOM!) She talks about my new titles, MIGHTY CASEY and TOOT TOOT ZOOM! and there's some ramblings I did when she asked me to write something about my work. They do a real nice job with the site and blog, so click on this and give it a look?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting Into Character

Maybe I'm just stating the obvious here. To an illustrator maybe this is obvious. Is it?

Any illustrator of sequential art--picture books, mid-grade novels, comics, graphic novels, etc.--should always start by pitching, and getting approval on, character sketches for said project. Even if they're not asked for (in my experience, not always), and even if it feels so right that you just wanna dive into the thing and start sketching pages. Personally speaking, in my humblest opinion, it's best to get the look of the character or characters down relatively tight, and agreed upon by both parties, before attempting to do the rest of the work.

I'm working on two middle-grade (3rd-4th-5th grade) novels right now that are asking for about 50 drawings each. The first book's sketch deadline was right around the time Romy was born. Needless to say, at that time my brain was fried and probably re-fried. Probably, I spaced. I did not show character sketches on that book. Instead, cranked on 55-ish sketches and sent them in. And... Ehhh... Ohhh... Didn't come back so well. Could've been a LOT worse, but the point is, I went right in without a lead. I did some character sketches but did not share. I used those to get going and sketched all the pages. Today, I'm currently near approval on a set of character sketches for this book, and pretty much back on track.

Needless to say, I was quickly reminded before the second book's sketch deadline (soon!) of my old rule of thumb. Gots to show them character sketches!

And, er, what're character sketches you might ask. A group of sketches (full-body is best, plus maybe some head shots for face details?) that show each of the main characters I'd be working with on a book. Sometimes I like to show each character from a couple of different angles. Either way, each sketch should show the personality and look I'm going for--of the person/animal/thing I'll be drawing many times over.

Here is a group of character sketches for book 2, in various states of approval.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mighty Casey: Beginnings

With MIGHTY CASEY officially coming out tomorrow, March 3, I thought it'd be fitting to show and tell a bit about how it got started.

Mid-2006, I got an email from my editor and friend Liz Szabla at the just-up-and-running Jean Feiwel spear-headed publisher Feiwel and Friends. They were building up the first couple of lists and had a quirky, funny, CASEY AT THE BAT-inspired baseball pic book story that needed an illustrator. Having just worked with Liz at Scholastic on RIGHTY AND LEFTY, I was fortunate enough to get an invite.

Liz sent me the manuscript, by one James Preller, and I definitely loved it. I definitely wanted in. But before they'd sign me up officially, I had to do a little somethin'-somethin' to prove I was the guy. So, I whipped up these character sketches for the title character of MIGHTY CASEY (sidenote: Back then, I was still working full-time as a letterpress press operator. I wanted to get this back to Liz quick, so I actually sketched these up while standing at a running press--and scanned and emailed on my lunch break!):

The kids playing baseball in this book are far from good. They are very not good at the playing of baseball. Therein lies the charm and the humor. My original take on Casey was for him to be a tubbier, stoutly type. One who swings TOO hard, runs TOO fast, and slides TOO deep and it undoes each play... A "mighty" MIGHTY CASEY. But...

Preller's vision was a very SCRAWNY Mighty Casey. "Mighty", of course, being a bit on the tongue-in-cheek side. Made perfect sense. But, Preller and Liz both liked the style of these sketches enough to give me the thumbs up and I got the job!

Later on, it came time to deliver sketches on the book. Before I got started, Liz sent me an email that Preller had sent to her. (Sidenote: back then, Preller and I did not actually speak. Not cause we didn't like each other--but it's actually MORE common for authors and illustrators to NOT correspond in these situations. Weird? I know.) Preller's email laid it all out. The general vibe of the book as he'd dreamed it would be. It was good inspiration and good insight in helping me to get started.

So, before I went any further, I wanted to have a character sketch approved of how Preller's Casey should ACTUALLY look. I believe, in that original Preller email, he outlined the kids as looking extra-lean with ill-fitted uniforms and helmets so bulgy that they ended up looking kinda like bobble-heads. So here's what I came up with:

Sometime later, sketches were approved, and final art was wrapped. Here's a crowning shot of dear Casey, taken directly from our finished book:

And we all lived happily ever after.

To see how the rest turned out (wink-wink!), why not pick up a copy of MIGHTY CASEY? (wink-wink!) (Support your local bookseller!)

Epilogue: Preller and I eventually did talk (or emailed, to be precise). Long after the final art was delivered and book was designed. Having held a special place in his heart, he asked Liz to ask me how much I'd charge for a piece of the art. Having held a special place in my heart, I told Liz to tell him "for that guy, it's no charge". Then he emailed me and I emailed him and we're good ol' pals ever since.