When a manuscript comes across my art table there’s always a little bit of terror attached to it. What’s the author trying to relate? How should I approach it? How would a parent, a librarian, and, most important, a child look at my paintings? If, as an artist, I can’t quell some of these questions, […]
Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft.
Blistery red rashes and hallucinations, lethal germs in food, flea bites that kill— these are all subjects that have captured my attention, and I hope will grab readers’ attention, too. Intriguing medical stories speak to my background in zoology, an interest in history, and experience teaching middle school science. As an author, I get to […]
The Trouble in Me (Farrar 2015) is, in part, an answer to the question “How does one go bad?” It’s something I’ve been asked often since the publication of Hole in My Life (Farrar 2002), which features my drug smuggling and life in prison.
One day I vacuumed a fly—by accident! After realizing what had happened, I wondered what the bug was thinking. Did it know it had been vacuumed? Was it upset? Or was it just buzzing around inside the machine, without a care in the world? This is how the idea for Bug in a Vacuum (Tundra […]
Look and Be Grateful (Holiday House 2015) is the most unusual project I’ve ever worked on in my 50 years as a children’s book illustrator/author. Usually, a book starts with an idea that I’ll turn over and over in my head, sometimes letting it pop-up when it wants to, other times, sitting down and forcing […]
For years, I heard bizarre, thrilling stories about Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony; how it was written by the Soviet composer in the besieged city of Leningrad as the Nazis bombed the city; how it was performed there by a starving orchestra while the Red Army shelled the Germans to protect the concert hall; and how […]
Drawing a graphic novel is a bit like making a film—on your own. The artist becomes the writer, director, production crew, costume designer, art director, location scout, cinematographer, the special effects team, the actors, and the editor. Unlike film, however, the images are static and time, motion, and sound must be implied through picture sequences, […]
The other day, I was speaking to a group about my book EL DEAFO (Abrams, 2014), an autobiographical graphic novel that chronicles my experiences growing up as a deaf kid with hearing aids. After my presentation, a man, who happened to be deaf, asked me what I thought was the single most important technological advancement […]
I’m not sure if it’s wise to admit it, but I rarely read a manuscript twice before I decide whether or not to illustrate it. If I’m laboring over the decision during that first reading, it generally means that the story is just not speaking to me the way I need it to. It’s like […]
I remember sitting in my sixth grade class at Marian Anderson Elementary in Compton, California, when February rolled around and my teacher, Mr. Johnson, hung up the faces of Black History Month around the room. Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. surrounded us until early March. Each […]