Thursday, October 31, 2013

Throwback Thursday: "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" or 26 Ways to Die

"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs."

So begins Edward Gorey's tragic tale of how 26 children meet untimely demises in alphabetical order. AND IT'S AWESOME!

Here again, I find myself reviewing a favorite children's book that I didn't actually read as a child. My mother didn't believe in gruesome deaths and other such unpleasantness. But kids eat this stuff up! One of my favorite games as a child was playing "The Dying Informant", which simply consisted of running into a room, flinging yourself to the floor and pretending to die in the most soap-opera-y, over-the-top, drawn out way you could describe. This book gave me so many methods to add to my repertoire.

It's not just the variety of the scenarios that is interesting, it's the language that Gorey wields so deftly. Each page has no more than eight words, yet every page has a different verb, with pages rhyming in softly rocking couplets like a demented Mother Goose rhyme. It's clear that this isn't a book about children being murdered left and right, it's more a list of tragic and unlikely accidents being divulged in an understated mock-reverent tone. The shortness of the widely kerned sentences forces you to read it slowly and lugubriously, like an undertaker delivering bad news.

For example:
Not "killed", not "strangled", not "murdered". The charmingly dated colloquial "done in by". Tragic, yet tidy. The words may be dire, but Gorey, despite his name, tends to eschew truly violent images, focusing on the moment just before the terrible incident takes place. It creates a giddy tension because the reader knows what is obviously about to happen, yet the children in question seem either totally oblivious, or are only expressing the mildest concern, which is what makes it funny. 

My favorite is:
Not "eaten". Not "mauled". "Assaulted." Like they only meant to take his wallet. Classic.

The book hangs together so nicely because Gorey's illustrative style is as spare as his writing. Bleak high contrast and ambiguously abstracted space creates a vague discomfort and sense of abandonment and insecurity. You laugh, but at the same time, there's a part of you that relates to these helpless children. 

So in the spirit of Halloween, pick up a copy of this cult classic for some ghoulish good fun, and don't let your children get assaulted by bears when they go Trick-or-Treating tonight. Have a safe and Happy Halloween everybody! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

New SCBWI Website: The place to be, and where I am

Gah! I'm totally geeking out over the new renovations to the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators website! So much more user friendly, so handy for learning the ropes of promoting yourself and connecting with the community! If you haven't checked it out, do!

I'm so glad I finally joined. Even though I haven't yet been able to connect with many members, it's an incredible feeling to put my art next to theirs on the same site and be able to step back and realize "I belong here." I have miles and miles to go in my pursuit of mastery in both my drawing and my writing craft. But the community I have reached out to has been so warm and welcoming. Even if I haven't been published just yet, I feel inspired. I feel like I've really found my calling and my career path. Which is really heartening since I rounded out this week with yet another Dayjob person telling me "'re not what we're looking for."

Nut's to them. I know what I'm good at. And I know what I love. I know where I'm going, and I know how far I've come. Even a snail can be proud of how far it's come, even if it's only a few inches in the grand scheme. Sometimes it's just that feeling of not being in last place anymore that's just what you need to keep plugging away at the next mile. Right now I feel like the proudest snail. Which is a big deal for me.

More inktober

Monday, October 21, 2013

Interesting Characters

I think there's a certain personality mold that it's assumed that the writers of children's books just fall into. I think people expect us to be warm, fuzzy, wholesome, normal human beings. But a bit of Googling reveals that that's not necessarily the case. Many of the individuals that I would consider to be the greatest in the history of the genre have been, shall we say, "a bit more of the fringe" than one would expect from their writing. So here are some things you might not know about your favorite children's book authors:

  • In my browsing through author biographies, I was surprised how many of them were professional pilots at some point in their lives. Roal Dahl was a decorated fighter pilot in WWI who occasionally acted as a spy. He collaborated with fellow intelligence officer Ian Flemming on his book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to create the create the character of The Child Catcher, one of the most terrifying villains in children's literature. Flemming would then go on to create James Bond, inspired by his days in British Intelligence. Other pilots include Antoine de Saint-Exupery, (The Little Prince) who flew mail delivery before turning fighter pilot for WWII. He disappeared while flying a mission over Greece. T.H White, author of The Once and Future King, also took up flying briefly in an attempt to cure his fear of heights.

  • Many writers and illustrators, much to their own chagrin, have to hold day jobs. L. Frank Baum, creator of the immortal Wizard of Oz, did nearly everything, trying his hand at raising exotic chickens, selling fireworks, and becoming an actor, traveling salesman and failed newspaper man.

  • J.M Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, lost his older brother David in an ice skating accident. Despite having 7 other children, their mother Margaret went into a deep depression over the loss of her favorite son. James donned his brother's clothes and went into cheer her up. She responded to him, and he spent much of his own childhood pretending to be David. The notion of a boy preserved in memory, never to grow to adult hood, provided the catalyst for the creation of Peter and the immortal NeverLand.

  • Edward Gorey was asexual. Evidence from correspondence suggests that Hans Christian Anderson, the very founder of children's literature was bi-sexual. Despite growing up in a traditional Jewish household, Maurice Sendak claimed not only to be an atheist but came out as gay after the death of his partner in 2007. But I think my favorite surprise of the bunch was P.L Travers, born Helen Goff, and author of the Mary Poppins books. Travers had affairs with both men and women, but to me that wasn't the most interesting thing about her. At the age of 40, she adopted a son named Camillus from Ireland, who was one of twins. She did so under the advice of her astrologer, and refused to adopt his twin brother. The boy did not find out he had a twin brother until he was 17 and the young man turned up on his doorstep.

  • I was actually disappointed to look up Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snickett, to find that he seems to have channeled all his would-be life drama into his alter ego. The most interesting thing he did before his writing career took off was to be a working musician, playing accordion in a couple of bands in college. 

But there you are. Just goes to show you can't judge a book by it's cover, an author by their books, or anything by what you read in a sensationalist Victorian newspaper.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Inktober are my feeble contributions to the whole Inktober effort. The idea is to draw an inked picture every day for a month, and though I draw almost daily, I tend not to ink anything since I put aside my Kevin Zombie comic.  Plus, I'm always late to the party when it comes to internet group movements. I always end up as a flash mob of 1.

Trying to channel Arthur Rackham here and not doing it too well. My fellow Painting Drama classmate Michelle is so much better at it than I am.Check out her tumblr.
When all else fails I pretend I'm in a mid-century Sears catalog and draw my outfit.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Throwback Thursday: The Spider and the Fly

This might not be much of a throwback, since Tony DiTerlizzi's version of this turn-of-the-century tale only came out 10 years ago, but I don't care! I'm giddy to finally have my own copy of DiTerlizzi's "The Spider and the Fly". Lusciously lugubrious black and white gouache illustrations bring vintage thrills, chills and giggles to the poem.

Seriously, look at this artwork! You can learn everything there is to know about composition and value just by soaking your brain in these pictures. The grays and rich blacks are so rich and glossy in their black and silver duotone. I feel like I should be wearing gloves to turn the pristine blackened pages. DiTerlizzi fuses inspiration from 1920's Hollywood with creepy-crawlie details that feel like something from the Tim Burton or Edward Gorey oeuvre.

Everyone should have a copy of this book. 

I infinitely prefer this elegant version of the story to the one I actually did grow up with. It wasn't a book. It was a Max Fleisher short cartoon called Cobweb Hotel and it absolutely terrified me. Talk about Stranger Danger! 

Battle the Bulge...With ART!

Diet tip # 32: Cover your refrigerator with beautiful artwork! That way when you get up to snack, you will become so distracted by the pretty pictures, you'll forget why you went to the 'fridge in the first place.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do Your Homework

I'm sure it's probably sacrilege to portray a fictitious witch as a saint, but not being Catholic, I have to say I've found Hermione Granger a great deal more inspiring than any saint. Whenever I need the strength to keep my nose to the grindstone, I call upon her.

And it is indeed studious strength that I require, for I have had the phrase "do your homework" tossed at me quite a bit this past week. Specifically from multiple sources trying to convey the way to grab the attention of a publisher or agent. Writers, agents, what have you, constantly reciting that mantra to get would-be artists and writers to research a publisher's content and submission guidelines thoroughly before wasting their time on inappropriate submissions.

That's all well and good. We live in a world of rules that should be followed for good reason, nobody wants to waste anyone's time.

But that blasted phrase coming from them is an insult to homework. Which is loathsome enough in its own right.

I'm no stranger to homework. I remember having a ton of it over the course of my lengthy education. I understood it. I was good at it. In those days, homework was designed to reinforce concepts taught during class hours. Information was handed to you in 45 minute long digestible portions, and you took it home to further masticate it with critical thinking skills.

And you got grades for it. No matter how badly you misunderstood it or mangled it, the teacher HAD to grade it. You might get a bad grade, but it was a grade nonetheless. You got a reaction. In red ink. No matter what.

Publishers are under no obligation whatsoever to respond to you. You might have followed all the submission directions to the letter, and still you may hear nothing. You art or your story might be quite fine in its own right, in addition to be just the sort of subject the publisher deals with. But it just might not grab them. It might not be the right time in the current market, or any number of other prognosticated factors. Granted, you're not submitting to hundreds of publishers, but you're going to have to wade through the listings of hundreds of them to narrow your scope before the battle even begins! And I fully understand how many thousands of submissions each and every publisher must go through every day. It's not like a teacher grading 30 papers, it's like being expected to grade 300. And I've worked the art industry for a while now, I'm aware of how much garbage is out there. There's just a part of my brain that looks at the logistics of the industry and is screaming SURELY THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY!

It's not homework. It's hoses. The shear amount of information to be gone through is like trying to drink from a fire hose. A fire hose spraying violently from both ends at both the firemen and What I'm saying is it's incredibly daunting and I am having trouble even making a start, let alone finding the strength to muscle through the many years that, I've been told, still lay ahead of me before I get my "big break".

This probably sounded more like a rant than I meant to, just because I don't have the answer by the end of it. But you better believe I'll post it when I figure out the magic alchemy! In the meanwhile, I'll read all I can, I'll research, I'll work, I'll listen and absorb and experiment and do all the good things a student is supposed to do.

Just don't tell me to "do my homework". You're not my real mom, CAROL!

(TIL: There actually is a St. Hermione, but she is associated with healing, not logged library hours.)

Mastery, Baby!

Mastery, Baby! Pursue it!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Releasing Books and Spreading Words

I think I have a pathological problem when it comes to getting excited about things that a person is supposed to get excited about. I think it's for two reasons: Reality tends to never gel with the wild expectations of my imagination, and I am far more intrigued by potential than accomplishment. I love the creative rush of starting a project, making decisions and trying to coax the thing in my imagination into existence. But when it's done, it's done, and it's just the thing that it is. And even though it might objectively be quite good, in my mind I'm always comparing it to something else it could have been. (I imagine parenting is much the same.) And I need to learn to stop.

Plus when I hear the term "book release" I mentally picture a cage of wildly flapping books being opened, and the whole rustling flock of them being released and flying away into the sky, leaving a trail of tattered words in their wake. But it's not. Stupid lame reality.

Despite not being able to fly, my book Frank the Gentle Viking was well received at my little release party. Even though most of my child audience didn't have object permanence yet.

 I love watching babies when they're being read to. They study the pictures and the words. Like an archaeologist trying to decipher hieroglyphs, you can tell they're thinking "this means something".

I also went to a couple of day schools to read to kindergartners on Monday. They totally ate it up! Before I even sat down, one little boy saw me holding my book and came up to me and asked "Can I read your book?" Heck yes, you can read my book!

I gave them a book and they adopted me as one of their own. That was my favorite part of the story.