You've described the evolution of Tuesday as a rather rapid process, at least in terms of your first sketches and
plotting out the dummy. Is that how it often happens for you?
process is very similar for each of the books. The speed at which it happens
changes. [Laughter.] Tuesday really
was the fastest. There's a moment in pretty much all the books, the "AHA"
thing that triggers a chain of connections in your mind--and hand and pencil
and paper--that brings the story together. So I kind of work backwards in that
I have a visual idea and then I have to develop the story behind it and the
visuals from that. It can sometimes be a lengthy process, and occasionally very
quick. In the case of Tuesday, it was
while I was doing the [March 1989] Cricket
cover that that moment I always hope happens happened.
There were a
lot of stories about frogs in that Cricket
issue. When I was a student, I loved the vaguest assignment, one word. The less
constricting it is, the more freedom you have. As I drew frogs in my
sketchbook, I drew one on a lily pad. I'm looking at one thing, and I see
something else. Those are the moments you live for. I looked at the blob-like
shape on top of the base, and I didn't see a lily pad, I saw a flying saucer. I
did the cover, but I was still intrigued by the frog and the flying saucer, and
in my sketchbook started drawing the 32 pages. The beauty of the picture book
is you that can do anything within those 32 pages, but you have the framework and
the title page, and you know where things are going to fall. Where would the frogs go? Out of the swamp and into the town, and all the pieces fell together--the
times of day, the title of the book--in about an hour. Other books? Getting to
that unlocking of what-the-story-is moment can literally take years.
Was there a moment like that for Art and Max?
Art and Max was slightly different in
that there was an idea right at the beginning. It had several trigger points.
Pretty much all my books are in watercolor. I love watercolor and there's a lot
to explore with it. Flotsam summed up
an approach storytelling-wise and I thought, "I'm not going to do much
better than that." It came together in a way that was very satisfying. I
wanted to do something different.
thoughts centered on media. I'm the youngest of five, and my older sister
and brother were artistically inclined, so we had all these oil paints, colored
pencils, ink and pastels. I started thinking about what I used then. I suddenly
saw this little narrative arc that involved all of those media. A character
painted in oil, or opaque paints. Remember tempera paints when you were a kid,
and if you painted it too thick it cracks? I pictured the outer shell breaking
off, and underneath there's the character again but there's a soft powdery
pastel. Now the character's there in watercolor, and the watercolor gets washed
off until the line drawing is left. So what do I do with that? How can I turn
that into a story? There were several points at which I had to figure out what
would set this off. How would this actually happen? The character tripping and
falling? No, there had to be a viable reason. Wait, there could actually be a
point when one character covers the other with paint, and the anger breaks it
apart. That triggered the second half: the first half is the deconstruction,
and then the second half the reconstruction, and the relationship between the
By the end of the story, Max and Art have
been influenced by each other.
Max is the id
and Arthur's the ego; one's in control and one is wild. Both sides of those
come together. There's the fun in the story of making chaos happen, but also
harnessing that at the end, too. Max is working on the canvas in the final
image, but you see that it's almost Van Gogh-like; Art is unharnessed but with
a certain amount of purpose, doing the action painting. Both come through the
experience recognizing the worth of each other's approach to art and life. That
is the way--let's not get rid of who you are, but bring in everything and
refilter it, and bring it back out through your own sensibilities.
You published Tuesday before our
current fascination with comics and graphic novels. Here, too, you use full-spread
images and inset panels. Were comics an influence for you?
I grew up
reading comics--Jack Kirby and Marvel comics and the Fantastic Four--and I
learned an enormous amount about visual storytelling from those. Tuesday was the first place I used and
played with that form. Flotsam
expands on that as well. It's a wonderful visual language. In Tuesday on some of the pages I use the
large background--film terms like establishing the shot--then the silhouette
and the inset panels establish different parts of the town, the birds and so
forth. The beauty of the panel construction is that for you, the reader, your
mind bridges the information between the two. The two pictures of
someone reaching for a doorknob, and the next with the door open, it's two
static pictures but you've completed the action in your mind. The fun is to
think about how much happens from panel to panel. If it's too big a leap you
can lose the reader, too incremental and it's boring. Unless you're using it
for that effect, like in Flotsam when
the boy is waiting an hour for the film to develop. You can stretch time, you
can compress time. Those pages in Flotsam
with lots of panels, you read that quickly. Then for the big pages that are
full of information, your eye has to get in there and wander through all the
details. You can use these different layouts to pace the reading experience of
the book. That's the part I love, when I finally have the story and can think
about how I'm going to unfold it.
Art & Max is deliberately simpler, with
pages of no more than three panels. Those two- and three-panel pages
are there primarily to bridge the set pieces, the different media transitions.
Each story dictates how that's going to go. That's the beauty of that sort of
storytelling, thinking about how to break the action down.
Three Pigs, you deconstruct story, and in Art & Max, you take apart art as a process. Do you like taking
things apart to see how they work?
fascinating. I'm not always taking everything apart, but there's this idea, a
version of which I can trace. There was a cartoon when I was a kid, and in it
the kids are running around, and one kid runs out of the cartoon, and you see
the sprockets of the film and the frames as they go by, and the character goes
off the film into a big empty white space, and then comes back, and the film
continues as it had been. I remember gasping and thinking, "Oh my gosh,"
and loving this idea that there was a world outside the cartoon. You can see
how that translated all these years later into The Three Pigs. Behind the pictures, there's a whole other world.
There are pictures within pictures within pictures in Flotsam. I remember being at the barber as a kid and looking in the
mirror and there was another mirror behind you and the images going back and
back, back, back. Free Fall has got
it. It's something I come back to a lot, wondering how things work. How does
reality work? You look around and you think, well, maybe there is a factory
that makes clouds into shapes.
discusses his process for Tuesday at length here.