Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ermagherd: berks!


Welcome back to the "Saturday" update.  How have you been?  Good?  Terrible?  I hope you've been doing well.  I hope everything has been coming up Millhouse for you.  But if it hasn't, there's some good news: This week on the update, we're going to be taking a trip back into my childhood.  It was a pretty great place (except for the occasional pants-wetting or user-error injuries that happen in most childhoods and some adulthoods).  Might be fun.

At any rate, I'll try not to make it too navel-gazey.

Yesterday, for the first time, I had the book actually printed.  Don't get your hopes up; I'm still editing and won't be done with that process for a little while.  But I wanted to actually have the book fully printed and bound for that thing this weekend.  Each page was printed individually and then bound with a simple plastic coil bind.  It cost me 70 bucks, which isn't a terribly feasible price for large-scale purposes.


I got it home and I realized it was the first time "Saturday" has been in actual book form.  Before now, it's only been loose-leaf.  Usually in a stack of prints crammed into my portfolio.  And now it's a book.  It looks like a book.  Or something close to it, anyway.  And I had this moment of self-aggrandizement where I thought, "I did this.  It's been years of hard work and struggle.  It's also been years of the most fun, creative project I've ever worked on.  And here it is, finally.  I did it."

And then I caught myself in the middle of that thought.  Because as much as I like to think I did it by myself, I didn't.  It took a lot of support and a lot of encouragement.  Both things I'm lucky to still be receiving.  A lot of it was from my family.  My patient, patient family.  And from you.  I've already thanked you a million times, so if you're sick of it, skip down a sentence.  Thank you.

But I also owe a debt to the authors who inspired me when I was a kid.  I'll never be able to list all of them, but I'll give you a couple (probably over more than one post):

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" by Judi Barrett and Ronald Barrett (feel free to imagine me as a boisterous young kid introducing this book at the end of "Reading Rainbow").

I have no idea how many times I read this book.  A gabillion times.  The premise was pretty simple.  Food falls from the sky.  At first it's great, then it's not so good.  The food turns into a series of natural disasters and everyone has to evacuate.

Look at these illustrations:

These are so crazy.  Beautiful, yes.  They don't get much more beautiful than this.  But look a the detail.  You know how I'm always yakking about detail that's so rich you can look at it again and again?  The illustrations in this book are a perfect example of that.  And within each page is a multitude of little stories, each of which made me wonder: "What else is going on OFF the page?"  That's a fully developed world, and it's one I spent a lot of time in when I was a kid.

There are so many jokes crammed into this illustration.  The expression on the guy's face in the foreground is phenomenal.  The fact that the proper old woman lost her dentures in surprise.  The fact that she's eating a hot dog in the first place.

When I was little, there was always something unsettling about these illustrations that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  Having drawn for several decades, I think I can put my finger squarely on its forehead now: There's almost no blue in any of these drawings.  Why?  Did the publisher say, "Look, it's been a lean year.  We can't actually afford blue right now. know...just leave it out.  No one will notice."?  I like to think it was on purpose.  Everything else in the book and the illustrations is so well-thought out, it's difficult to imagine this being unintentional.  And what's more, I like to think it was done to further the emotional tension of the book.  It seems like a fun premise.  Giant food falls from the sky.  But it's pretty dark.  The entire town has to abandon their homes.

I love that dark element.  I think a lot of children's books are too saccharine these days.  Kids aren't going to explode or turn into sociopaths if the books they read have a dark side.  It won't even traumatize them.  For a certain type of kid, it's just going to inspire them further.

It's hard to point to specific elements of "Saturday" and draw a direct line back to "Cloudy", but the influence is there.  It was one of my favorite books.  Still is.  And so I raise my glass to the Barretts for their spectacular book.

Hopefully a hot dog will fall in it.


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