Since I primarily write at my site Seven Impossible Things about contemporary picture book illustration, I see a lot of illustrators come and go. One of the funniest and most innovative at work today is Dan Santat.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on Bryan Collier's 'I, Too, Am America.'
Oh, and he’s also one of the busiest. A handful of his illustrated titles have either just been released or are about to be. I interrupted his busy work schedule to ask him about these, as well as what’s next for him.
The Kirkus review called Oh No! Not Again! "wonderfully ridiculous." Were those two Oh No! books by Mac Barnett as much fun to illustrate as they look? And will there be more of them?
Oh No! is one of my favorite picture books to illustrate. It really gives me the opportunity to flex that nerdy pop culture muscle in my brain that you don't typically get to see in other picture books, and Hyperion has given me free reign in terms of designing the entire package, which I LOVE them for.
I will say, I've read some reviews where folks say that the humor is a little too highbrow for young kids to understand, but I take great pride in the fact that they consider it highbrow. And I don't see anything wrong with challenging young kids to think and have discussions with their parents. I haven't heard anything about a sequel yet and usually these things are dictated by sales, but I think the books are brilliantly written. And if Mac were to write more, I would be all on board for as long as he and the publisher wanted to do them.
The second Nanny Piggins book by R.A. Spratt was just released. Do you enjoy working in black and white?
I used to not like illustrating in black and white as much in the past, because I felt my style of work used many subtle shades of gray, insert Fifty Shades of Grey joke here, and didn't reproduce as well with the type of paper that middle grade books printed on.
Another problem is that I often start with loose sketches and will tighten as I get to a finish. Oftentimes, when I work in black and white, I have a hard time tightening my work to the level of finish comparable to that of a painted piece.
I eventually started keeping a sketchbook and working on my black-and-white work, while improving on my style, and now I feel I have a much better handle on the medium. I now do all my black-and-white work with traditional pen and ink, as opposed to all digital. I still can improve, but when I compare my old black-and-white work to what I do now I feel the difference is night and day.
Many of your illustrations strike me as having a very cinematic style, especially in the upcoming Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz. What are some of your major influences, and are movies/television one of them?
When I started out in art school, three of my biggest influences were N.C. Wyeth, William Joyce and Egon Schiele. The combination of the three really pushed my interest in dramatic lighting, multilevel staging and tension created with sharp angles in composition. Japanese manga immediately drew me in, because it encompasses all three so well. A few of my teachers were also working for major animation companies, and they often referenced films to show how composition could create certain moods and narratives.
One time I was asked to study Hitchcock films and storyboarded the entire film using only black silhouettes, so yes, I would say my work has been very much influenced by film/TV, but also a good portion of classic illustration.
Tell me about Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show. Is this your first collaboration with author Michael Buckley?
I've seen many manuscripts similar to the daredevil stunt kid idea come and go and not get published. Lots of those stories have been about kids trying to break immense world records in order to get attention, or something along those lines, but Kel Gilligan is just a kid who is excited about things like getting dressed in the morning. The reason why Kel works so brilliantly is because it's honest and finds humor in that honesty.
This is the first time I've worked with Michael, and I hope to work with him again. He's a great guy and a heck of a karaoke singer.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on my next graphic novel with Scholastic, which I can't discuss just yet, and I have two picture books I wrote with Little, Brown. The first title is called, Are We There Yet? I'm also illustrating a new outstanding fantasy middle-grade series with Little, Brown, called The Imaginary Veterinary as well as a follow-up to Three Ninja Pigs, which will be a ninja version of Little Red Riding Hood with Putnam—and a picture book called Picture Perfect Day with Abrams.
Illustration from Mac Barnett’s Oh No! Not Again! is copyright © 2012 by Dan Santat and used with his permission. Published by Disney Hyperion, New York.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.