Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eagle's Trial for Cricket Magazine

So now that the magazine is out, I'm finally able to post the work I did for Cricket Magazine.

Cricket is one of the few children's magazines still being published nationally. Carus is the parent company that publishes a number of other children's magazines as well, such as Ladybug, Babybug, Appleseeds and Cobblestone. They're pretty much the last word in Children's literary magazines. The other children's magazines like National Geographic Kids, Boys Life, American Girl and Ranger Rick tend to be more non-fiction oriented, and then there's HIghlights, but otherwise, Carus is the only game in town, and Cricket is their flagship title, so it's an honor to be included in the magazine and one step closer to doing children's books and children's lit for me.

What a Good Art Director Will Do

I was also privileged to have an excellent art director in Karen Kohn. A good art director can compel you to make better images, and Karen definitely pushed me to be better.

With too much art direction you end up questioning every decision, second guessing yourself as you try to guess what will please the art director. This generally results in a poorer image. A good art director will steer you in the right direction, helping you hone in on the objective of the image, but will also trust you to do what you do best, because this is why they hired you in the first place. Because they trust that you know what you're doing.

Eagle's Trial

The story was called, "Eagle's Trial" and was written by Gillian Richardson. It's a fictional story about a starving eagle who comes across a dead goose carcass floating in a lake in British Columbia and rows it to shore with his wings, based on something that the author actually witnessed. It's told from the point of view of the eagle.

In this first image the eagle sees some gulls going after a mostly picked clean salmon carcass (there are a lot of carcasses in this story), and as the Eagle descends on the salmon, the gulls scatter. In the original sketch, for some reason I drew ducks instead of gulls, but that was easily fixed. Here's the finish:

I've done other wildlife images, but I tried to pay particular attention to accuracy is these, since the object was in part, to educate.

One thing I discovered as I drew the eagle was how a wing operates in flight, the way the wing whips through the air similar to the way you might snap a beach blanket in the air before you lay it down on the ground, a sort of rippling effect, rather than an up and down paddling motion, and I tried to reflect this in the way that I drew the wing in profile.

I chose a dramatic angle with cropping akin to the cropping you might see in nature photography, suggesting both a kind of claustrophobia, and a world outside the edges of the image. I highly recommend looking at photography, especially journalistic photography, to inspire more compelling cropping of your images, so that you don't end up always arranging the elements of your picture as though they're food on a plate. Imaginative cropping can make your images feel more alive and dynamic.

And here's the second illustration:

How Do You Effectively Use Photo Reference to Draw An Image From Your Imagination?

This one was the most challenging, and it was an image that the art director specifically requested me to draw: the eagle rowing the goose carcass through the water. As you might imagine, there was nothing in the way of photo reference available for this sort of thing, so I had to conjure up the image from my imagination, and this posed a number of interesting challenges. One challenge was that the part of the goose that was visible above the water would be hard to identify, and it seemed like, no matter how I drew it, it always ended up looking like a frozen turkey.

The other challenge was to show some kind of movement, that the eagle was treading through, rather than drifting through the water.

So first I decided to do a cutaway to show the rest of the goose under the water so that there would be no mistaking that it was a goose. I used lots of photo reference in general, but the image that inspired the cutaway was from a photo taken by a diver or snorkeler that showed where the water met the surface. Using what I was able to gather about Eagle anatomy from photos and animal anatomy illustrations, I was able to visualize how the wing might look treading through the water, and I used images of oars being dragged through the water to get an idea of what a rowing motion would do to the surface of the water. From these images of oars, I was also able to discover the way a pattern of drips would trail from the part of the oar that had emerged from the water, an effect I also added to the wing.

Then I looked at images of swimmers to get a sense of what they looked like under the water when they were in motion, and the way the air was released in the form of bubbles from hair and clothing, since I imagined that a certain amount of air would be caught in the goose's feathers.

This was my first sketch as originally submitted:

Since this was a line drawing rather than a tonal rendering, I did it in blue and red to more clearly delineate background and foreground elements.

The art director liked my approach here, but asked me to make the eagle less plump since the eagle was supposed to be starving, and asked me to make the head a little more raised and expressive, since the eagle is supposed to be struggling. In redrawing the head, I also found some good reference for waterlogged eagles which was really helpful.

And here's the second sketch after I turned the ducks into geese, slimmed the eagle down a little, and added a little more tail, all suggestions from the art director that improved the image:

As I've described before, the drawing was done in ink and brush and crow quill for the background and water elements, and the color was done with scanned in watercolor textures that were added using the photoshop clone tool. I also use a a coarse pastel-style photoshop brush for highlights and more natural edges.

And here's how the images ended up looking in the magazine:

I was really pleased with the how the color turned out.

They ended up bleeding both images all the way to the edge, which is something I hadn't anticipated or made an accommodation for. Ordinarily you want to add a quarter of an inch on the bleed edge, but I lucked out here, because for some reason the crop was really tight and I lost very little of the edge of the image. I don't know how they managed it, but I guess they knew what they were doing.

And a beautiful cover by Ron Tanovitz:

As you can see, it's a pretty classy magazine. Not your typical kids magazine. There's a real sense of care and overall vision for the magazine that you don't always see, again, reflecting Karen Kohn's excellent art direction.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Dummy Roughs, YA Fantasy Round-Up

These are a couple of roughs for the current book dummy I'm working on. As mentioned, this one is very illustration intensive, so there's going to be a lot of these. The way a friend of mine once described how illustrations for book dummies were to be done, was to make sure it looks like you care, but not TOO much.

The reason for this is to make sure that the format looks flexible, so the illustrations don't look like you're too married to them. Illustrated books are a collaborative process, and for good reason: good publishers know how to put together good books. That means from top to bottom, from both a design and narrative sense. But then, all editors and designers aren't created equal, though if you're lucky, a good designer and editor will make your book better.

I've talked to a number of people who resist this idea, and I've heard more than one person say, "they were interested in publishing my book, but they wanted me to make too many changes", as if the idea of an editorial collaboration was a bad thing. If your editor isn't skilled, it may well be, but if you have a good editor and art director, you're all after the same aim: to make a better book, and its a process worth submitting yourself to. It's not as though great literature has never involved editorial direction, and it's a fantasy that all great artists work autonomously. Painters, for sure, but a book is a very complex vessel that involves many different elements. Architects need good contractors and builders, directors need good actors and cinematographers, and authors often need good editors. I've experienced this to some degree in the limited magazine writing I've done, and I've definitely experienced it with magazine illustration, so though I've yet to have a book published, I'm looking forward to the editorial process.

And here's a small spot illustration:

I was hoping for the opportunity to draw more crazy clowns, but this section of the book doesn't really justify it. For the benefit of the book, I have to fight my tendency and desire to illustrate everything. There's been a lot of shuffling of paragraphs and resizing of illustrations to make room for everything I need to make room for, but some illustrations have to be sacrificed. This format is both more flexible, and more complex than a picture book. Picture books generally have about 15 spreads, and you have to fit everything you need into those spreads, but with a chapter book as heavily illustrated as this one, it's important to arrange all the illustrations so the spreads and page turns work the way you want them to, which means a lot more spreads and page turns. Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a great example of an illustration heavy YA book, demonstrate this dilemma pretty pointedly. The format demands a lot of planning and organization that I hadn't quite anticipated.

Young Adult Fantasy Round-Up

Back when I was a kid, good fantasy and science fiction simply wasn't written for children and young adults. One exception was Madeline L'engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which was written in the early 60s. Despite its age, the book still holds up surprisingly well and has dated very little. There was no precedent for it, and it was a long time before anything like it would follow. Recently, though, there's been a renaissance of YA and children's fantasy, a trend that began with the success of the Harry Potter and Twilight books, and it's a trend that I hope will continue. So here's a round-up of recent YA reads that I can recommend. I've listened to all of these on audio, since that's the easiest way for me to catch up on my reading while I work, and I tend to burn through a lot of them, but these are some of the better ones:

Neal Shusterman's Unwind

A darkly humorous, and generally dark book about organ harvesting. Very much a page turner, cleverly written. The science is a little iffy, but don't let that dissuade you. I'm currently listening to the first of Shusterman's Everlost series, and so far I'm really enjoying it.

The Maze Runner, and the Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Maze Runner in particular is a great read, though with the Scorch Trials I'm afraid the series might be headed in the direction of the relentlessly bleak, and generally relentless Hunger Games. The Scorch Trials was enjoyable, but not quite as good.

Dark Life by Kat Falls

This one is just a great s story about underwater settlements, with all kinds of maginative science fictiony touches, like glowing skin due to eating bioluminescent fish, and houses made of flexible material to accommodate sea currents. It delivers nicely on it's promise.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This one reminds me a little bit of a darker version of Dark Life. It has more of a bleak, post apocalyptic feel, but the writing and characters are very strong. I also recommend Bacigalupi's adult sci-fi novel, The Windup Girl.

Skinned, by Robin Wasserman

A science fiction book about a girl who gets in an accident and has to deal with having a replacement robot body. A great book about body image that reminds me of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series in theme, which I also recommend. This too, is a series, but i haven't listened to any of the others yet.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

A more smartly written fantasy romance. The romance has an interesting twist, though like the typical love triangle, one of the love interests is a little too perfect. Still, it's a good answer to the much inferior Twilight. Romance is, I imagine, a difficult genre to write well, but this romance/fantasy hybrid accomplishes the feat pretty admirably. The protagonist sees fairies causing malicious mischief wherever she goes, but she and her grandmother are the only ones who can do this, and her grandmother warns her about revealing her secret. The fairies don't know that she can see them, and she has to pretend that she doesn't notice all the havoc they cause. It's a compelling and tense concept.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The book that inspired the Swedish Movie and its U.S. remake, Let Me In. I haven't seen the remake, but the Swedish film is excellent and the book is even better. I'm not even sure this qualifies as YA since it deals with some pretty sophisticated adult concepts, but the protagonists are kids, and this one genuinely belongs in the realm of literature.

The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

For younger readers, about an undead detective and his girl sidekick. Good fun told with humor and adventure, reminiscent of the equally excellent Artemis Fowl series in tone, and just as Irish.

Peeps, and The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld books are almost guaranteed to be good reads, though these are my favorites. They're ostensibly vampire stories, but not really. It transcends the genre with both it's humor, and it's wonderfully realized idea of a vampire parasite that mirrors the behavior of genuine parasites in nature, and this becomes central to the story in a way that goes beyond the idea of a parasite as a simple device.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A book about a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Like most of Gaiman this book relies heavily on white hats and black hats, and I tend to get tired of the two dimensional evil villain archetype, but the concept is otherwise nicely executed.

White Cat by Holly Black

I may have mentioned this one before, but it's my favorite of the lot. Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles is also a good read, but this has Spiderwick and everything else on the list beat. Just read it.

That's it for now, but there are plenty more. There's just so many great books right now in the young adult fantasy market that are genuinely fun reads. I hope to do more YA round-ups in the future, so keep watching if this is something you're interested in.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Latest tiger, The B Movie Thrills of Game of Thrones

Latest tiger sketch for a commission.

Game of Thrones

Last night I saw the HBO fantasy series, Game of Thrones, based on a series of novels of George R. R. Martin. I'm not a huge fan of the genre, and I've never read the books, but this show had the worst tendencies of both the genre and pay cable. Expecting something along the lines of Lord of the Rings, I anticipated violence, and though I have no problem with either violence, nudity, or sweariness, the amount of eye rolling soft core sex and nudity in particular rivaled the Starz network's Sparticus, surpassing even the most craptastic shows on Cinemax for the sheer number of topless scenes. No opportunity to show a breast went unturned.

At one point in the show a princess (after yet another topless scene) is forced to marry a brutish racial stereotype. But like a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, rather than depict an actual ethnicity, they invented one to represent all brutish racial stereotypes. It was your typical society of savages, embodying all the worst Western ideas about African aboriginals, Native Americans, Arabs and Mongolian nomads: big, brown, primitive and merciless.

To top it off there was not just one, but what appeared to be two sets of characters in incestuous brother/sister relationships.

The only thing that distinguished the show from your average B exploitation movie was its production values and cast, but I guess this can't all be blamed on HBO. According to Wikipedia, the author states that the pilot was "very faithful to his work." To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe, since TV adaptations tend to condense things, the gratuitous sex was less gratuitous in the book. I can't speak for the book. But the show was pretty awful. At least your average B movie isn't so humorless.

The CGI sequence in the opening credits was pretty cool though.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Some Thumbnail Character Designs

Just some thumbnails as I try to get the feel of the character I'm working on.

Toy Story 3, or How to Effectively Betray Your Audience

Last night I saw the movie Toy Story 3, and there was something about it that really bothered me. If you're going to see the movie and you're someone who doesn't like it when someone else gives away the ending, I'll warn you when that part is coming, but first I want to talk about storytelling in general.

At a recent Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's conference that I attended, an accomplished writer outlined for the audience the standard formula behind the majority of the stories we read: place the character in some kind of jeopardy--whether moral, emotional or physical, the character is placed in a situation where they are compelled to make a decision. How they choose to deal with the dilemma reveals something about their character or is reflective of who the character is. How they come to the decision, their journey, is even more important than the decision they make, because often in some of the best stories the answer to this dilemma is pretty predictable. So in the end, you have to justify the characters journey, give them unique decisions to make that reflect who they are. And then there's the other way that writers tend to keep their readers engaged: stirring the pot. Adding conflict that further complicates the dilemma. The author chose to describe this concept in a very dramatic way: jumping on chairs, shouting and gesturing to illustrate his point, as if the more dramatic his presentation, the more effective it would come across, but I couldn't help feeling that there was a certain amount of insecurity behind the act, that he was doing his own form of pot stirring.

Good Stories Don't Have to Follow This Traditional Formula

Not all great stories follow this path. One of my favorite stories is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through The Looking Glass. These stories are comprised of a series of surreal anecdotes. Alice responds to each vignette with curiosity, but her character doesn't fundamentally change. Kafka's the Trial is similar--the pot is definitely stirred, but K's responses to the dilemma's of the story are emotionally monochrome--while Alice deals with each dilemma with curiosity and frustration, K also deals with every conflict in the same way, with frustration, but also an unmodulated level of moral outrage. Each is a relentless surrealist drama. The journey and the nuances of the journey are significant, but no conclusions are drawn. The characters are basically cyphers, but using a cypher is an excellent way to engage the reader as a participant.

Songs, Nursery Rhymes and poems can also work this way, for example:

Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the moon,
The little Dog laughed to see such sport,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon

This is very striking narrative imagery, a story of sorts, and though it's more verse than story, I wouldn't discount the fact that there is a narrative, that there are characters, and there are situations, but they have nothing to do with traditional story conflict. This is as valid a way to tell a story as any, and it's not a new one. What used to be called, "nonsense verse" has virtually disappeared in contemporary children's verse in favor of literal narrative, and I think it's a trend that represents a great loss to children's literature.

Margaret Wise Brown's classic, Goodnight Moon is simply a story about a bunny saying goodnight to the world before he goes to sleep. Another one of my favorite books, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, is a journey of sensations, of flying, of playing in dough, and though the bakers in the story are sometimes menacing, it's not about a conflict between Mickey and the bakers. At least not in a traditional way. They threaten him and he escapes, but it's really not about this conflict. You never have a sense that Mickey's jeopardy is what we're focusing on in the story. It's about the journey in a much more personal way. Mickey is not fundamentally changed by the story in the same way that Max is in the more popular Where the Wild Things Are, but it's still an effective story. Mickey, too, is somewhat of a cypher, but he still is a character who makes decisions and has opinions, even more so than Alice and K.

Lazy Storytelling: Do You Have Something to Say, or Are You Simply Stirring the Pot?

But coming back to more traditional story structure, to stirring the pot: how much, and just how should you put your character in jeopardy?

There are two kinds of jeopardy in a story:

1. Jeopardy that enriches the character's dilemma, that reveals something about them and their interactions that is specific to character.

2. Jeopardy that simply pushes the readers buttons, that elicits an emotional response through some universal experience such as a physical or emotional threat.

The second variety usually involves loss or harm in the most superficial sense--the loss of something or someone valued, or the threat of death, or even better: both. I always know that a story is potentially in trouble when it begins with the death of a protagonist's near and dear loved one. This is a hard scenario to pull off without being emotionally manipulative, because it's at its core an emotionally manipulative situation. Before we know anything about the character we are asked to feel sorry for them. To turn that sympathy into empathy, you have to give us a reason to identify with the character and their dilemma that is specific to them. Otherwise it's simply loss for the sake of loss. So everything after that death must justify that death or you're simply eliciting a generic emotional response.

Put a character we don't identify with in jeopardy, and the audience is removed from the threat. Similarly, if you make the stakes too high, you may elicit an emotional response from the reader, but in the end, you don't fundamentally engage them. You simply engage them on a very primal, emotional level. You get them to feel, but you don't get them to think. These kinds of stake building stories tend to be effective in getting a reaction from the audience, and are often successful, but I don't think they're doing the best thing that stories can do. I don't think they engage the reader in a way that is truly meaningful. For me, this was the central weakness of the currently popular Hunger Games series--by book three the stakes have been driven so high, the character has lost so much, that it was hard for me to care anymore. The level of emotional button pushing had surpassed my ability to empathize with the character.

Betraying Your Audience

Which brings me back to Toy Story 3. Initially you have a conflict that involves all the characters in a way that engages them individually, and in the case of many of the key players, how they solve the dilemma, the decisions they make, reveal something about their character. Barbie betrays her love interest, Ken, to help her friends. Woody leaves a happy and comfortable life with the little girl who finds him and abandons his search for Andy, to save his friends. Their decisions are predictable, but it's how they make the decisions and how this process reflects their individual characters that's engaging, or at least, that's the general idea.

Typically, as in most stories and, unfortunately, most children's stories, it's about white hats and black hats. We've got good guys and bad guys, but the main antagonist is made to be the most intriguing because of his inner conflict. He's given his own journey, his own moral dilemma, but makes a different moral decision. Like Darth Vader, Lots O' Huggin' Bear goes to the dark side.

Then it all comes down to stirring the pot.

In bad storytelling, it's all about pot stirring. There's no substance to it beyond the superficial danger. The protagonist is an archetype, and the threats have no real emotional resonance.

But there's nothing wrong with stirring the pot when the characters and conflicts are well established and fully realized, with adding a few superficial conflicts to engage us with the dilemma of the character. That's good storytelling. But in the best storytelling, you must respect the reader. Once you have them emotionally engaged, you've put them in a vulnerable position, and its a position that's easy to exploit. You've got them in your thrall. Now, when you stir the pot, every additional conflict pushes the reader further on an emotional level. But you must respect the reader.

If you exploit this too much, you're doing the reader an injustice. When the new conflicts you introduce have nothing to do with the unique dilemmas of the character, it's all about emotional button pushing. You can up the ante and up the ante, but you're simply working the audience. You're not trusting the strength of the characters you've established to carry the story on their own. Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are very effective at this: they feel this need to seal the deal, to make sure that the audience feels something, but they don't trust the characters ability to do this on their own, so they amp up those emotions through superficial conflict. Sometimes, especially in the case of Cameron, this is because the characters are too poorly developed. Spielberg is capable of better, but he just doesn't trust his own story. He always seems to feel he needs the insurance.

(WARNING: THIS IS THE PART WHERE I GIVE AWAY THE ENDING) So Toy Story 3, as well, was unwilling to trust its audience. In the penultimate scene, the characters are headed for the incinerator at a city dump. Before they are saved at the last moment, Buzz Lightyear takes Jessie the girl cowboy's hand and looks at her with a pitiable expression that denotes a very adult emotion--he's preparing to die. And she gets it. And then the other characters get it. And the film holds on to this moment until they're rescued from this horrible fate, but the moment is milked for all its worth. To young children, this moment is more than terrifying. It's more than Pinocchio getting swallowed by the whale. They're being confronted with the idea of real death. It's an amped up version of The Velveteen Rabbit, a story that is similarly emotionally manipulative in a way that betrays the audience, though the Velveteen Rabbit isn't nearly as visceral. Death is a reasonable subject to broach with children, but it must be done sensitively, and this, simply, wasn't.

But even as an adult, I felt my buttons being pressed in a way that didn't ring true. The characters and their dilemma weren't complex enough to justify this kind of emotional ride. It was lazy storytelling. Pixar can do better. And as writers, we can do better. So the next time you're writing a story, ask yourself: am I stirring the pot for the sake of stirring the pot, or is adding conflict justified by character? Is the conflict meaningful, or is it insurance?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Unused Character Design

I'm working on character designs for my current book. This is one of my favorites that I won't be able to use. My temptation is always to make people just a little too large. This lady ended up looking like a small tank. She would have been fun to draw, though! Unfortunately this doesn't quite fit the character.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Unused Tiger

Unused tiger for logo commission.

Friday, April 08, 2011

"Trending" and the Dread "Selling Out"

Below is a slightly edited excerpt from a discussion on Facebook after a recent Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's Conference. It was a good conference, and I was a runner up in the best in show competition, but it was also a little frustrating because it was suggested that my style wasn't in fashion, or "trending", that slightly annoying invented verb that simply means, "what's in fashion". It's not a permanent condition, and what's in fashion doesn't always mean what's good, it just means that some kinds of books are more likely to sell based on market trends, and others, less so. And they have to sell books. That's the bottom line. Otherwise they won't have the opportunity to sell more books.

The other reality is that great books don't have an expiration date. A truly great book will be as great at the time its written as it will forty years from the time it's written. Especially children's books. Because kids have no idea what's "trending", they just know what they like. And the judgement of kids is pretty ruthless, so great or not, there's something about a book that resonates with kids that's special, even the ones that a lot of adults think, suck. I'm no fan of the Twilight series, but there's a reason why kids respond to it. Who knows what that reason is, but something about it clicks with teenagers, something that I wouldn't too easily discount. Is it a great book? I have no idea. And it may well fall out of fashion at some point, but to a lot of teenagers right now, it's a great book.

On the other side of the coin, it's hard to identify those great books before they become great books. It's the job of editors to identify them while they're still manuscripts, and there are a lot of editors out there who have regretted passing on manuscripts that later became great books. But it's always a risk; that you've picked a book that may well be a great book, but doesn't resonate with enough people to sell well or to sell well right now, or that you've passed on the next Where the Wild Things Are. So even if you have great taste, you can't always pick those books that will do well. There are a lot of great books that simply don't appeal to the masses. But the only way to stay in business as a publisher is to sell enough books that have mass appeal. And sometimes, if you sell enough of those kinds of books, you have the wiggle room to sell a few books that you simply think deserve to be read. The job requires both a passion for books, and a savviness about the often contrary demands of commerce. It's a hard job, one that I would never want to hold. At times, I imagine, it can be as heartbreaking as it can be rewarding.

So here's a part of that discussion, and my response to the question, "would you ever sell out?"

Some of what's "trending" makes sense--more expressive, animated characters--I need to work on that in my drawings of kids. This wasn't always the case--Tenniel's original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has a very un-kid-like placid Victorian face, and though I love the book, that's not exactly the direction I want to go in. Some of it makes less sense: right now they like to assume that only very young kids are being read picture books, then they work their way up to early reader (The Cat in the Hat) and then they jump right into chapter books, skipping the step in between. This is why they want Picture books with less words, chapter books with more words. And this isn't their fault really--it's the way parents are thinking about books for their kids right now. They're very anxious to have them jump right in to chapter books and skip that important step in reading. There used to be something more akin to a storybook somewhere in there, but those have all but disappeared. But that's how books are being marketed, so if you can think of how images are marketed to very young children in the most obvious sense--bright colors, sweet, or endearing characters that have simple but expressive features. The more you head in the direction towards realism the trickier things get, because images get more complex and are thought to have less appeal to children, another concept I'm not sure I subscribe to.

But I do tend to spend a lot of time on environments, and less time on what my figures are doing in them, which is something that I genuinely need to work on, among other things. The editors and art directors aren't the bad guys. Sometimes they do have useful things to say. And in the end they need to sell books. Print media has been hit hard, and they're all terrified, and you can't really blame them. They're taking less risks because they simply can't afford to take risks right now.

As for the dreaded "selling out": my favorite quote from the comic book writer, Harvey Pekar is, "I'm ready to sell out, but nobody's buying what I'm selling." But that's only half true for me, and a little too easy. At least if you want to make a career out of the work you do. I think there's such a thing as a certain amount of flexibility in style, that you can bend without breaking. That I am capable of doing work that sits well with me but that better fits what they're looking for. It doesn't have to be that much of a stretch.

The true test is if you can sit alone in a room with a pencil where you spend most of your working life as an illustrator and get some kind of joy out of what you're doing. If what you're making is a joyless exercise that you exchange for money, I don't know what you call it--selling out, selling your soul, but whatever it is, it's simply not worth it. If I ever find myself doing that, then yes, I've strayed pretty far from the whole point of why I started doing this.

But so many people don't enjoy their jobs, and I think it would be overly simplistic to say that they were "selling out." If this is selling out, then most people would sell out in a minute for their kids or their spouses, and I admire the sacrifice. People sometimes don't think of art in the same way they do other work, that somehow it's special, but art produced to be sold, is, in the end, work. Selling yourself out as an artist isn't much different than selling yourself out in any other soulless job. Being fulfilled as a working artist isn't much different than being fulfilled in any other career.

But I don't have kids, and the way I'm talking here is from a real place of privilege. If my wife wasn't the primary bread winner, I wouldn't be able to invest as much energy and time as I have in building my career. That time is a gift and I don't take it, or her for granted. She's the most important person in my life. And if I had to, I'd sell out, for her. But right now I'm trying a different path. I'd like to make a career out of writing and drawing books, and we'll see where that leads.

What I've Been Doing Lately

I haven't been posting much art lately because I've been concentrating on typesetting and rewriting a middle reader chapter book dummy that's heavily dependent on illustration placement. The illustrations are very much integrated into the text to the extent that at some points in the story, it's told exclusively through illustration. This is an unusual approach to children's chapter books, a sort of chapter book, picture book hybrid, so its a bit of an experiment, but I'm excited about the book and I'm anxious to get started on the illustrations. I just need to finish typesetting!