Tuesday, February 27, 2007


not your blog

Remember when I recommended the Hometown Tales podcast in a previous post? Well, one of the stories that I submitted from my hometown of Ashland, Massachusetts (regarding the haunting of Stone's Public House) made it in to episode 139! I'm almost certainly the only one excited by this, but this is my blog, after all.

Monday, February 26, 2007

my winter vacation

I've been gone for a couple days. To where, you ask? Why, to Disney World! For those of you that still think Disney World is the happiest place on earth, here's a brief photo journal of my trip to the Magic Kingdom. All others (i.e. those of you with evil, black hearts and mirthless souls), please move along:

Main Street, U.S.A.

Honest John, selling children into slavery since 1940

Magic carpets in Adventureland

Quit it

The Jungle Cruise

Splash Mountain

In line at Splash Mountain, under threat of nastiness

Approaching the Haunted Mansion



Toontown boat house, and its lonely inhabitant

Me, eating a turkey leg in Frontierland

Thursday, February 22, 2007


This is my first time participating in Illustration Friday, yet another cool website that I found through Drawn! They give you a theme, you illustrate it, they post a thumbnail of your work (linking back to the original illustration), next to hundreds of other illustrators attacking the same theme. It's like bringing a piece to a class critique in art school, without all the long, awkward silences!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

words fail

A little while back, I did an interview for Bookpage magazine, and in it, when I was asked if I had a message I would like to send to children, I said something awfully cliched, which was "never give up on your dreams" (I also said "beware of monkeys wearing wigs", which is just a terrifying thing to say to a kid, but I choked, and it was the first thing that popped into my head). The unfortunate thing is, I meant it (not the monkey part).

As inspirational advice goes, "never give up on your dreams" is right up there with "don't do drugs" and "stay in school." It doesn't mean anything, unless you know why the person saying it is saying it. I didn't have enough room on the questionnaire to give my reasons, mostly because it was taken up with a freakish drawing of, that's right, a monkey wearing a wig.

Had I had the space, I wouldn't have attempted anything profound. I'm not really qualified to. I've never had to overcome any major obstacles to achieve my goals, and no one has every told me I couldn't achieve them. I would have simply said that I never gave up on my dreams, and they came true. If that's not a good enough reason, then I don't have one.

And then I might have made the monkey's wig bigger. It looks kind of flat to me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007



My friend, Amy, sent the following NPR article to me this morning:

All Things Considered, February 18, 2007

This year's Newbery Medal winner Susan Patron is under fire because of language in her book The Higher Power of Lucky.

Some school librarians around the country have banned the book because it includes the word "scrotum" to describe where a dog gets a snake bite.

On the first page of the book, the heroine, a 10-year-old girl named Lucky, hears the word through a hole in a wall.

I, for one, am glad to hear it. I'm sick of filthy, dictionary words tainting my young adult fiction.

Ms. Patron, the next time you feel the need to include such a disgusting term, please consider these alternatives: nutsac, onion skin, or testicle-haven. I think such a compromise would please everyone. And that is the point of a book, after all, right?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

the dark is rising

It shouldn't come as a surprise to me, but I read this morning that they're turning one of my favorite books, The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper, into a movie, and it sounds like Ian McShane from Deadwood is in line to play Merriman Lyon, the mentor to the main protagonist of the story. I always pictured Merriman as looking like David Kelly from Waking Ned Devine and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if a little taller and buffer (one website suggested Christopher Lee for the role). But I've started warming to the idea:

With a prosthetic nose, a clean upper lip, and some white/gray hair, it just might work.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

good looking

It's weird, before I was asked to be on Drawn!, I had never heard of the website before, and now I can't go a day without looking at it. It's a source of inspiration, frustration, and depression all at once (the frustration and depression stemming from the incredible wealth of talent on display; it's sickening).

One of the featured websites that makes me want to throw up in my mouth, recently, is Sac Magigue. I wish I could draw and paint like this, but I'm too much of a control freak to ever let things be as weird and unfinished as some of Robin Ellis's (the not-so-secret identity of Sac Magigue) images. I keep on trying, anyway.

His work reminds me of another artist I kind of stumbled across by accident, Keith Herzik, whose website kept me sane over the six plus months of work on Hippo! No, Rhino. Whenever I got too tight, cursing my own hand for sabotaging my grand vision, for tainting my masterpiece, I'd pop on over there and remind myself that making pictures is fun.

By a similar accident, I also found the work of Jennifer Sullivan, who does some pretty cool stuff (paintings, marker drawings, sculpture) along the same lines as Robin and Keith. Her work has the immediacy of a drawing done over lunch period in middle school, while half-engaged in a conversation with your friends, and I couldn't mean that in a better way.

more fun with translation

On my Amazon.com blog (or "plog"), I wrote about what happens when Google tries to translate the Japanese language to English (to summarize, the results are as mixed-up and hilarious as an episode of Mama's Family). Now, I've found a review of Hippo! No, Rhino on Asuka's Booktree (complete with a little illustration of a camera next to it--in fact, all the reviews on the site include a picture of some object that appears in the reviewed book), that I'd really like to read, but, of course, it's in Japanese, too. From what I can make of it, it sounds really positive...or extremely negative. Or somewhere in between. All I know is that the second paragraph sounds like the most in-depth analysis of a picture book, ever. Then again, it may be the translated way to say "book=dumb". You decide for yourself:

In cover of picture book, “HIPPO! - - It is the hippopotamus!”In voice the face the rhinoceros of a head which grimaces. Dissatisfaction so, “it is different, it is the rhinoceros!”With the [bu] and it is. Signboard letter inside the zoo the [bu] of just one word and feelings story 'Hippo of the rhinoceros which is put together with coming! No and Rhino (Alex Toys)', the arrow “of the hippopotamus” was put out, “the rhinoceros” insisting oneself eagerly, until it recovers pride, the form is drawn. Everything originates with in the uncle present callous of the management person in charge whom between comes out.

The circumstance which is similar to the rhinoceros is thought sufficiently even in society and the school. If in the United States, it is placid, as the shadow is thin there is many a thing which faces disadvantageous circumstance. Unless you insist, unless (it is = complaint,) you make become aware, it is the society. Proverb (Squeaky wheel gets the oil.) even it is the extent which is. However the heart which is lacking in consideration after the lonesome social shelf you think, self insistence is recognized as proper right. So, only such people get together when, becomes the society which skinnily, frays, is, don't you think?. Now even now you do not know well whether it is good, whether how is.

As for story, the boy who the rhinoceros knows the thing of the rhinoceros being, one case settlement. So, the uncle cod of the pretending ignorance management person in charge, the fact that again it comes out is done.......

Illustration of the water color ink, is not with that, seventies winds. The uncle of the management person in charge with the long hair, also the person who comes out is what, only the Beatles like person. Complexion is green, is yellow, is blue. A little, perhaps the illustration which has habit.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Friday, February 9, 2007

math lesson

That Lance Bark comic book has stirred up all sorts of memories, and some of them are kind of recent. Before I relay one, I should first say that, when I was in elementary and middle school, the paper that we worked on in math class wasn't called recycled paper, as I stated in that previous post. No, it was called math paper, but I said "recycled" paper because the last time I said "math" paper, I was stared at like I'd farted a ghost.

Anyway, when I was a kid, I used to draw on this "math" paper, not to mention graph paper, notebook paper, construction paper, and any other paper that was within arm's reach. And I didn't care what kind of materials I used to draw with. I didn't know the difference between a Rapidograph pen and a Marks-A-Lot marker (the kind that make you dizzy when you put it under your nose). I just drew. It was only in high school when I became aware that some art supplies were considered better than others, and college when this idea became firmly cemented in my brain.

I started to believe that (and this is no fault of my instructors, part of whose job was to suggest media that they had success with), I had to use Arches watercolor paper or Winsor & Newton acrylics to make pictures befitting a working illustrator. I guess, in the back of my mind, I thought that to use "lesser" materials would belie the fact that I was a professional, but I certainly wasn't conscious of this idea at the time.

Two years after I left college, I started working on my first picture book, Reginald, with Random House Children's Books (the Doubleday imprint, specifically), and about three months before I turned in the finished artwork (on high-quality Fabriano watercolor paper, no less), I was in New York visiting with my editor. She took me around the offices, and I got to meet a lot of the staff, including the publisher, Beverly Horowitz. On the way out of Beverly's office, I noticed a small, framed picture on the wall, an original cover drawing for one of James Marshall's George and Martha books (the one where they're in the hot air balloon) that Marshall himself had given to her. And guess what?

It was drawn on math paper with permanent markers. So, that was pretty neat.


Thursday, February 8, 2007

making friends

There's an author/illustrator who's work I admire-let's call him Sir Albert Twomblypants-and after reading his (presumably) self-written biography on his website, and concluding that he seems like a really down-to-earth guy, I thought I'd write to him and say...uh...say...um...

Exactly. I don't know what to say, and so I still haven't written to him. Let me rephrase that: I do know what to say (I said it it the first paragraph-I really admire his work), but I'm worried that my primary intention isn't to compliment him (although I really do like his work).

I can't speak for other authors or illustrators, but I've found it incredibly difficult to meet and develop friendships with my peers. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, if I'm doing anything wrong, if my distance from the hub of the publishing world matters (I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it seems like every artist I know lives on the East Coast), if I smell like trash, or if it's some kind of combination of elements that are conspiring against my attempts at making friends. I can't even blame the fact that I'm shy, anymore, primarily because I'm thirty years old, and it's creepy to describe myself that way, but also because I'm not, one-on-one (groups of people are another story).

So, my lack of luck/skill/charisma in befriending fellow artists has, perhaps, led me to considering writing to someone to ask if he'll be my pal, under the guise of complimenting his work.

Did I mention I really do like his work?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

it's a living, revisited

Posting that comic book from Fifth Grade got me wondering what Lance Bark would look like today. Not that different, as it turns out.


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

did you know?

One of my favorite illustrators, Evaline Ness (Caldecott winner for Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine, in addition to being the original cover illustrator for the greatest series of young adult fantasy novels ever written, The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander) was the one-time wife of Eliot Ness, the American Prohibition agent who, along with his team, nicknamed The Untouchables, brought down legendary gangster Al Capone.

Monday, February 5, 2007

it's a living

When I was in Fifth Grade, and far more ambitious than I am now, I started drawing my own comic books to sell to my friends for a dollar a pop (a lucrative enterprise for me, as I could use my Dad's photocopier and stapler for free). I say "started", because I only made one, a seven-page story featuring a superhero I'd created. Shortly after I'd finished the comic, I upped the ante significantly, offering personalized comics (in which the buyer could suggest the story and/or characters, and I would provide the illustration) for seven dollars each. Unfortunately, I couldn't handle the stress of taking artistic direction from Matt Burrows on top of having to do a book report on The Incredible Journey, and that's more or less the point when the whole operation fell apart.

Thankfully, the original comic book, tucked away for years in a Garfield Trapper Keeper, survived (which is kind of miraculous, as it was drawn on the same recycled paper that I used to puzzle out my math homework).

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lance Bark, the Unsung Mutant in...THE GAMES (click on the images for larger versions)!


Sunday, February 4, 2007

Friday, February 2, 2007

the wrong idea

About a two years ago, I had a great idea for a picture book.

Seldom does an idea arrive so complete. I knew the story, almost top to bottom, before I had a chance to write down any of the details (although I did write a two-sentence summary of the plot). I was so excited by the idea that, when I called my friend Steve that night, I told him everything. Steve listened patiently (as he always does), as I described the story: it was to be called "The Golem", as I recall. The Golem was a monster who wakes up in the ruins of a castle with amnesia. Looking for his purpose, he wanders the countryside, meeting all sorts of colorful medieval types who immediately shun him due to his fearsome countenance. Understandably, this upsets the Golem, to the point where he takes out his frustration by destroying a house. This catches the attention of an evil warlord, who enlists the Golem to fight in his army.

"Now, here's where it gets a little fuzzy", I told Steve. "All I know is that he finally realizes his ultimate purpose is not to be destructive. Maybe he finds the plans of the scientist who constructed him, or something. Maybe he was supposed to be a gardener. Or a surrogate son for the scientist. Anyway, the general idea is that the even though he's a monster, physically, it's the world that makes him a monster, inside".

Steve said, "Hmmmm." And by the time the last "m" had sounded, I said:

"Oh. I just wrote Frankenstein. Again."

And in retrospect, I had also written Edward Scissorhands. Again. I'm not sold on the fact that all the good stories have been told, but I do know that most of the good stories have been told too many times. That's not to say that someone won't write another interesting take on Frankenstein. It just won't be me.