Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Here's to more laughter in 2013.

This is a tune called the Laughing Rag by Roy Smeck from the 1920s. Buster Keaton would have certainly known this one and probably could have played it better than I can. Anyway, here's a version recorded during the packing and moving from my old studio. I'm using my 1930 Reed/Regal ukulele purchased from Antebellum Instruments.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bluffton is Finished!

Today I delivered the cover painting for my third graphic novel, Bluffton. It's historical fiction and deals with friendship, stardom, vaudeville, summertime, and the young Buster Keaton. Of all my books, this one is probably closest to me.

Graphic novels are a long haul. I successfully pitched the idea for Bluffton to the good folks at Candlewick Press in fall of 2009. I spent 2010 researching and thinking about the story (including a very fun trip to Muskegon, Michigan and the neighborhood of Bluffton). I wrote the manuscript in early 2011, did all the sketches for the book in the springtime, and began drawing the final artwork in August. In August of this year, I "finished" the artwork and the past few months have been focused on revisions, speech balloons, and the cover. With a great deal of thanks to my talented, tireless art director/designer Heather McGee, it looks like we're about to wrap it all up.

Bluffton will be out in summer of 2013. I plan to do a bunch of posts leading up to the release with lots of behind-the-scenes goodies and whatnot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


A beastie from me...

and one from my 4-year old daughter...

(I had to piece hers together a bit in Photoshop. She works large.)


Monday, October 29, 2012


All of this Random Penguin House news inspired me to try my own merger.

This started as a pencil sketch in my sketchbook:

I placed the sketch on my lightbox, and very loosely marked the landmarks of the sketch (eyes, pose, etc). Then I turned off the lightbox and drew a new drawing with ink on Arches watercolor paper:

I then put a new piece of Arches paper over the original sketch on the lightbox, marked the same general details, and did a fast watercolor wash:

The last step was to merge the ink and watercolor in Photoshop. I didn't worry about it lining up exactly to keep some energy for the final.

This process opens up the possibility of trying various color schemes without losing the original pen drawing. The idea is based on the color separation technique that used to be standard for picture books. 

It's always difficult to keep the energy of your sketch through to final, and I'm thinking this might be a possible answer to that problem. What do you think?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Don't Forget to Draw

It's been awhile, post-wise. Here are some things I drew the other day. They were mostly for fun/loosening up, but might also be sneak peeks into upcoming projects. Or upcoming coffee mugs and t-shirts.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bamboo Doodle (Bamdoodle?)

This post from illustrator Matthew Cordell's excellent blog inspired me to dig out my bamboo pens today. Here's one of the results (with burnt umber ink and a bit of watercolor). I haven't had a day of mindless (read: Not Connected to a Contracted Book) doodling for awhile. It's good for the soul.

However, I think I might need a new/better scanner...

EDIT: On second thought I think the term should be Bamboodle. There, my work today is done.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Festival of Children's Books on Saturday

I'll be part of the Festival of Children's Books at the Chester County Book Company on Saturday, August 18. The event runs from 2-5 and I'll be presenting at 3. This great group of authors and illustrators has been assembled by the Eastern PA chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. Nine years ago, I got my big break into publishing via a portfolio review at their annual conference.

Stop by to meet a gaggle of authors, support a fantastic indie bookstore, and learn more about SCBWI!

Friday, July 27, 2012


Today I finished the final art for my 10th (!) picture book, Xander's Panda Party by the wonderful Linda Sue Park (out next year from Clarion). I worked on Xander during the final months of completing my graphic novel (not recommended). Now that both are out of the studio, I do believe I will collapse rest a bit for the remainder of the summer.

Happy August!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Finished... for now

Today I completed painting my third graphic novel. The title of this story is Bluffton although keen followers of my exploits might also know it as "the one with Buster Keaton in it".  If all goes well (and by that I mean the tremendous amount of work still needed to be done, mostly by the team at Candlewick), Bluffton will be out in the fall of 2013.

So for now, a bit of rest and relaxation. Tomorrow, back to work.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Carolyn W. Field Award!

I am greatly pleased to announce that the Pennsylvania Library Association has chosen Around the World for the 2012 Carolyn W. Field Award! This is a tremendous honor and I plan to thank each and every librarian this October in Gettysburg. See you then!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Dead Lion for Breakfast*

It's Deadline Time here in the studio. I'm in the  final stretch for my graphic novel and my days (and nights) are filled with paints and layouts and sharpened pencils. I'd call it Crunch Time, but that seems to apply to most of this past year... Anyway, the end is nigh and I am that usual mix of exhilaration and exhaustion.

I will however take a day off this Wednesday to attend the Annual Silent Auction for independent bookstores at BEA. I promise to work extra hard on Thursday to make up for it. Here's my donation, one of the many preliminary drawings that I've made for my other current project, Xander's Panda Party, a picture book by the great Linda Sue Park.

And here's a Flickr of all of the amazing donations.

And now, back to work.

Dead Lion for Breakfast was Ernie Kovacs' nickname for his early Philadelphia TV show Deadline for Dinner. If you don't know who Kovacs is, set aside a good portion of your day and head to google and youtube. A unique comic genius.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Some preliminary drawings for I'll Be There by Ann Stott. It's a book that would make a pretty good Mother's Day Gift, you know.

Just in case you need a gift idea...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Children's Book Week

 It's National Children's Book Week! It's almost over! But wait, there's still time to get a new book to read, a book that will change the way you look at small animals for evermore.

I am not a professional reviewer. I am merely an illustrator/author. I do not pretend to know the do's and don'ts of reviewing, but I'm pretty sure that writing about a book that you are only 80 pages into is a big Don't. Especially if you are about to heap on hyperbolic praise like this:

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny (translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath) is my new favorite book.

This. Book. Is. Hilarious.

Seriously, this the funniest book I've read outside of my beloved Wodehouse. In fact, it seems that Polly Horvath is tipping a fedora to Plum here. There is a valet named Jeeves, after all.

But this book is 100% original. And funny. Did I mention that? Laugh out loud funny. Mr. & Mrs. Bunny is threatening my work day. All I want to do is sit in a comfy chair and plow through it. But I will resist for now.

The illustrations are by my friend, the uber-talented Sophie Blackall and she is the perfect choice for this book. Yes, perfect.

That's not to say that if I had been given the chance, I would have killed or at least maimed to illustrate this one.

So go get a copy. Do it for National Children's Book Week. Do it for your kid. Do it for yourself. It's really, really good.

Reading this reminded me that Polly Horvath's Everything On a Waffle was one of the books that inspired me to get into children's books in the first place. I even remember drawing a cover for it to put in my portfolio. Hmmm. Must go read all of Horvath's books...

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Storm in Portland: The Big Recap

I'm back from a fun-filled week in (occasionally) sunny Portland to promote and then finally see the Oregon Children's Theater's production of The Storm in the Barn. It is outstanding. I was blown away by the inventive theatricality of the staging, the gorgeous score, the fine performances, and the overall faithfulness to my book. My sincere thanks to the entire creative team for their passion and commitment to making something very special indeed.

Here's a video with their thoughts on the production:

The set was spare and minimal with the full cast onstage throughout. It was very effective. The lighting was beautiful and the play opens with a mesmerizing dust storm created with shadows, wind, and a scrim that covered the stage. I could have watched that for an hour.

As I've said before, the music by Black Prairie is perfect. Their score was played live onstage by the actors and kept the fast-paced play moving smoothly. I had the chance to hang out one night with Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, and Jon Neufeld from the band and they couldn't have been nicer. The soundtrack is now available on CD or download and you can get it HERE, on iTunes, or from CDBaby.

On May 5th, the band played the score live with actors reciting from the play, visuals from the book, and several stuffed bunnies.

I loved that a) the play had a real 1920s truck onstage and b) it doubled for Dorothy's room.

Here's me with real-life sister & brother Steele and Jack Clevenger. They were both fantastic in their roles!

I also would like to thank Pam from A Children's Place Bookstore which is an amazing indie store! If you are in Portland, definitely stop by. Try to find the spot where David Shannon drew on the wall. On addition to hosting me for a signing, Pam helped set up a school visit while I was in town and I got to meet some students who had voted for Storm in the Oregon Readers' Choice Awards. Thanks again, guys!

Well, I think that covers it. The whole journey of bringing my book to the stage has been exciting, creative, and thoroughly enjoyable. If you are in Portland this month, try to catch a show. You won't regret it.

Play photos by Owen Carey. Check out the full set on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Two Eisner Nominations for Around the World!

I am thrilled that Around the World has received two nominations for the prestigious Eisner Award (known as the Oscars of the Comics Industry). ATW is up for both Best Publication for Young Adults and Best Reality-Based Work (which includes books for adults as well). I'm in some amazing company and this is definitely one of those "it's an honor just to be nominated" kinds of things.

The Eisners are named after the great Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit and one of pioneers in what has become the modern Graphic Novel (although I don't think he liked that term). My introduction to Eisner came as a young boy in the seventies reading and rereading my copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. Among the origin stories of Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and others I had heard of, was this strange comic called The Spirit and it was my favorite of the bunch.

Here's my yellowed copy of Feiffer's book, which I of course still have. It sits on my studio bookshelf. (Note the price: $6.95!). I'm pretty sure they recently reprinted this great book. Pick it up if you can.

Here is the complete list of Eisner Nominations.

And here is a great article from Brigid Alverson about the experience of being one of this year's Eisner Judges.

If all goes well, I'll be at the award ceremony this July in San Diego...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Storm in the Barn Play Photos!

Oregon Children's Theater just released the press images for the play adaptation of The Storm in the Barn (it opens in late April). I'm rather beside myself with happiness. Look at that barn!

Here's the link to OCT if you want to see bigger photos, learn more about the theater, or, you know, buy some tickets to the show. I'll be in Portland for the opening weekend. See you there?

Photos by Owen Carey. With Jack Clevenger as Jack and Steele Clevenger as Mabel.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Painting Begins

This week, I began painting my next graphic novel. Like my previous books, I'm painting this one with watercolor. Watercolor is a "traditional" medium, but not at all traditional for comics. There are others who use real paint for their books, but most comics are colored digitally. However, there is no Rule about this. Since I'm more comfortable with watercolor and prefer the results, that's what I choose to use.

New paint. New brushes.

The illusion of order that, as the weeks and months roll on, will most likely devolve into messy chaos.

There was also pie.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lightly Sketching

Sometimes I think the key to drawing is knowing when to stop.