They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but we do, and I think that maybe it's okay to do that. It is what makes you pick a book up. Covers are always the most difficult part of designing a book. When I finish a story, I usually have a strong opinion on what the cover should be. The art director and the editor always have opinions on what it should be. And unlike the insides, marketing people weigh in on what the cover looks like too. It's hard to please everybody.
Here are my covers starting with the newest.
Trucker & Train
Trucker & Train is a lovely little tale written by the talented Hannah Stark. It’s sort of a bully story. Trucker is quite full of himself and rules the road, that is until he meets up with Train. Trucker is no match for Train, who is oblivious to the rivalry.
I am usually disappointed in my work. There is always something that bothers me. Something that I wish I had done differently. Trucker & Train is different. It’s one of the few books I’ve done that I can actually say I’m pleased with. The shapes, the color, the animation and expression of the characters all came together the way I had hoped.
a detail of the end papers
First dinosaurs and now trucks. These books have been dream jobs. Once again it was written by my good friend April. The books are large format board books with a diet shape. They are big and chunky. Great for little hands. We are thinking of these as non-fiction. There was a lot of internal debate about whether I could add the faces to the vehicles and stay in that non-fiction category. I’m glad we decided it was acceptable.
To Mars We'll Go!
Publishing in February of 2018 is Hey-Ho, To Mars We'll Go! from the good people at Charlesbridge. It was written by Susan Lendroth, and was a lot of fun to illustrate. It's of course fiction, but we wanted it to be plausible. We haven't gone to Mars yet, but a lot of smart people are trying to figure out the best way to go about it. I researched a lot of Nasa's information (at least what they have made public). We had a former space program person go over my art and kept me on course. One of the little things I had to correct was the rosy cheeks on my female astronauts. There is apparently no make-up in space.
It's not a mistake. There is no gravity in space, so there is none in my art. You have to rotate the book around as you read.
Another dream job. Most kids love dinosaurs. I was a little more in love than most. It was written by a really good writer and even better friend April Prince Jones. The book was originally 100 Dinosaurs, but the name ran into some legal problem and we had to rename it 101 Dinosaurs. Which of course required some fixing on my part as the art was all done by that point. I keep referring to it as 101 Dinosaurs, but as April always reminds me it's full title is 101 Dinosaurs and other Prehistoric Reptiles. The flying reptiles and marine reptiles are not technically dinosaurs. We couldn't do the book without them, so the name had to get extended.
I know that all these critters could have never been together like this. Some of them lived a few million years before or after each other. But it is fun to think of a big dino party like this.
Slickly Quick is a very different book for me. The images are sort of realistic and needed to accurately showcase different species of sharks, their habitat and in some cases, prey. I typically create my own worlds and so what ever goes on in them is up to me and my own logic.
It was really good for me to research and try to carefully observe reality. It's more interesting than I thought.
I think one of my favorite end papers
The Boy & the Book
The Boy & the Book is a wordless story scripted by David Michael Slater. It's about a little boy who loves a book a little too much. There is a lot of action, a daring chase, a dramatic rescue, and a happy ending in this dramatic tale of self sacrifice and the joy of reading.
Nothing LIke a Puffin
Nothing Like a Puffin written by Sue Soltis is a cheeky little story story about how many things are somewhat like a puffin, but there is nothing that is actually like a puffin. I was inspired by the artists of the 50's, Abner Graboff in particular.
Astroblast is a book series about the adventures on the Astroblast Snack Shack, a fast food space station run by a monkey, pig, alligator, dog and a rabbit. There are little puzzles built into the book. Most spreads have a search & find, a maze, or find the mistakes type of game. At the end of the book there is a whole page of "extra missions" were the reader can go back through the book and find more stuff like missing pizza slices or historical satellites floating out in space.
I books were inspired by the Apollo missions which mesmerized me as a kid. The series is now going to be a television series that will air on the Sprout Network starting in the summer of 2014.
Big Kicks is sort of an autobiography. Just like Biggie, I'm kind of a big guy and when you're big, it's always assumed that you are an athlete. As kids, when we went through that cruel process of choosing sides I was always picked first the first time we played, but was always picked last the second time we played. I really wanted to write a book about sports that didn't end with the hero actually getting good at the sport, but about a hero who was comfortable with the fact that he wasn't good at it and didn't feel less of a person because of it. In Biggie's case he would much rather work on his stamp collection and listen to jazz than play soccer. Although he does look good in the red uniform.
The Alpha Oops books written by Alethea Kontis were a lot of fun, but very difficult to pull off. The basic concept in both books is that the letters argue about the order in which they should appear in an alphabet performance. Z is of course tired of going last. A is quite happy the way things are. The design challenge was multi-layered. First, there is this on-stage/off-stage setting. In some cases the letters are performing, as in Z is for Zebra. There are also the cases where you see behind the scenes and the letters are arguing about the "show".
We were messing around with the natural order of the alphabet, so we thought there should be something to help anchor the young reader. I created this little professor character who lives at the bottom of each spread. He brings out the letters as they are now appearing and places them in a frieze. You can see the original, now ignored, order. For the Halloween book, I had the professor bring out jack-o-lanterns with the letters carved into them.
The books are mostly dialog so the original manuscript had a lot of "A said" & "Z said". It was a little confusing. So the publisher decided to go with a more word balloon-like layout where the text is by each character that is speaking and therefore eliminates the need to identify the speaker in the text. An easy solution for the editor but a real complication for the designer. Now each character has to appear left to right in the order that they are speaking in each spread. It really constricts your layout options.
The Little Truck Series
These books were created with author Margery Cuyler. We started with The Little Dump Truck, added The Little School Bus, and The Little Fire Truck. Out now is The Little Ice Cream Truck, the last chapter in this epic saga, maybe?
The back of each book has a spot illustration. It’s my little goodbye to the story. I had planned to have the driver giving the trucks a bath. On the last book, I changed it up. The ice cream truck driver is kicking back and having a healthy banana snack.
My father was a mechanic. He was always working on cars, our cars, the neighbor's cars, stranger's cars. We had a machine shop in our basement and the house always had the not so subtle scent of motor oil. Racer Dogs is a tribute to my fond childhood memories of spark plugs, crankshafts and fan belts.
Racer Dogs was the first book that I did all digitally. It has an obvious novice look to it. I've considered redoing the art, but I think I'll just tell another story. I'm not done with these dogs yet.
Do You Want To Play?
Do You Want To Play is a bit experimental. It's meant for someone to read or look at on their own, not so much a read aloud classroom book. There are stories within the story, a playable game, lots of good friend tips, and little characters with sub-plots to find along the way. You can even learn to say "Hello" in a different language on every spread. The story explores the ups and downs of friendship: making friends, being friends, being lonely, getting in fights, moving away etc.
The art is created in collage. There are bits of everything in the artwork from hand-made papers to little piece of an old tax return. There is even a character made form a Band-aid.
Our White House
Our White House was wonderful project put together by David McCullough and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. I was honored to be able to contribute. It's a non-fiction book created by a host of authors and illustrators. The book is a compilation of stories all about the white house. My section was a break in the middle of the book that featured a time line of all the residents followed by a page of somewhat obscure facts about their time in the White House. For example, did you know that William McKinley's wife Ida spent most of her tenure in the White House knitting booties, some 3,500 pairs in all.
We were going to press in the middle of the Obama/McCain campaign. I left a space for who-ever the new guy would be and these cut outs were available to update your book.
At one point in the project I was asked to do the cover.
This was my final cover concept, until David McCullough decided to do the cover. It was his project after all.
Stomp Stomp was my first book. The art was all done in watercolor dyes on Arches paper. It was before there was a command Z. There were many nights of working for hours and ripping it up before I went to bed. There is very little you can fix in a watercolor. You either have to embrace what happens or try again. One of the difficult things about doing a book is staying consistent from start to finish. You have a tendency to get better and more confident as you go. I had to go back and redo my earliest spreads.
Stomp Stomp was totally inspired by Where The Wild Things Are. As a grad student at Syracuse University, I did my thesis on the book. I actually interviewed Maurice Sendak for the paper. He allowed me to come to his house and spend the day with him. We had lunch, walked his dogs and I watched him paint while he generously gave me lots of interview material. He was very gracious and encouraging. Needless to say, a big highlight for an aspiring young artist.