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.