Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeremy Tankard

h1 April 2nd, 2008 by jules

photo credit: Perry Zavitz; visit www.perryzavitz.comI’m unveiling today a new interview-series idea here at 7-Imp. Eisha and I love doing interviews, but they take a lot of time. And I mean a lot, especially considering that — in my case and I’m sure for Eisha’s, too — I only have little windows of time in which to read and blog (translated: after my children are asleep). And we’re not going to give up our usual interview format, I promise. But this series idea I have had a-churnin’ in my brain is to interview illustrators — but with a format which will make it a little more efficient in terms of time. And that means I / we will be able to do more interviews altogether — whether our traditional ones or illustrator interviews via this new format. And that is a good thing, I think.

Why illustrators? It’s no surprise that I love my picture books. If I had one little shred of talent-with-art-supplies whatsoever — or if a genie popped out of a magic bottle — I’d opt to be an illustrator in this life. Neither thing is likely to happen, so I’ll settle for grilling some of my favorites and appreciating their work and their talents.

Jeremy Tankard bravely agreed to be my guinea pig with this new interview format. I was thrilled to pieces he agreed, since I’m a fan of his work, as I’ve made clear several times at 7-Imp, and I’ve been wanting to interview him for a while. So, let’s get right to it then. And I’ll gladly accept any feedback on this new format, should any one want to pipe up.

* * * * * * *

So, yes, Jeremy’s joining me for breakfast, and his morning meal of choice is granola over fresh homemade apple sauce with a glass of water and hot ginger tea. Mmmm. Of course, I have to throw in some coffee, too (and if it’s going to be the cup pictured here, oh heavens, someone add some cream and sugar!) But, first let’s set the table with some introductory information from Jeremy (you didn’t really think I’d be able to stick to just seven questions, did you?) Remember: This is the proposed format for the new seven-questions-over-breakfast illustrator-interview series (yeah, it’s altogether way more than seven questions, but just humor me here and indulge my love of Q & As.)

7-Imp: Illustrator or Author/Illustrator?

Jeremy: Authorstrator.

7-Imp: Books-to-date:


7-Imp: Your usual medium, or – if you use a variety – your preferred one:

Jeremy: Ink and Apple. I draw all of my characters using a Pentel brush-pen and the backgrounds using whatever black pens I’ve got kicking around. All the rest is done on Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. Some of the art in Grumpy Bird has as many as 100 layers of bits and pieces in them!

Grumpy Bird piece, created for the cover of a French children’s book catalog

7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Jeremy: My experience is limited. My first published piece (as both author and illustrator) was in a graphic novel called Project:Superior. I suppose the book is for an adult audience, or perhaps teen and adult. There are more differences in writing for the different age groups than in illustrating for them (I find writing for small children very difficult, but intensely rewarding). With all my books, I illustrate for myself primarily. Luckily, the drawings have a very wide appeal and small children get one thing from them, older kids something else, and adults something else again. I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to compromise my own “vision” for anyone else. There’s always some push and pull with publishers, but I feel that I’ve been given ample freedom and respect to just “do my thing.”

7-Imp: Your stompin’ grounds:

Jeremy: I currently live and work in Toronto but spend a lot of time elsewhere too (New York, and the West Coast primarily).

7-Imp: Your road to publication:

Jeremy: It’s the stuff of fairy-tales. I sent some illustration samples to a handful of big publishers in the hopes of illustrating a children’s book (after a few years of doing editorial and advertising illustration). Next thing I knew I was getting calls from the executive editors at Scholastic and Viking, as well as editors at Clarion, HarperCollins, Candlewick and FS and G. Scholastic and Viking were particularly encouraging and wanted me to try writing, even though I just wanted to illustrate books. A year and a few writing classes later and I had a pile of manuscripts ready to pitch. Grumpy Bird was among them, and Grumpy Bird is what Scholastic acquired for publication. Through my lovely editor there, I met my agent who in turn set me up with Candlewick as well. Now I have TWO amazing editors at two amazing publishers!!!! Life doesn’t get much better.

Spread from Me Hungry!; Candlewick; 2007

7-Imp: Your web site and/or blog:


7-Imp: If you do school visits, tell us what they’re like.

Jeremy: I love visiting schools. I talk with kids about the process of making a book, from first idea to published book. I share some drawing and writing tips and techniques and read Grumpy Bird and Me Hungry! Then I answer questions, or rather (depending on the age group) listen to comments. That’s where I got the authorstrator thing from! Kids are hilarious.

7-Imp: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell us how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Jeremy: I’ve occasionally taught illustration, but not very seriously. I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring a couple of young and up-and-coming illustrators and have found that to be very rewarding. I’m not sure that it’s influenced my own work a great deal but it’s fun to help someone out and then, hopefully, see their career blossom in its early stages.

My own study in fine art influenced my illustration immensely, though. I came to illustration with a stronger sense of self than many. My techniques and general outlook were informed through self expression rather than through a study of illustration techniques. As a result, I feel that I was able to distill a lot of unusual techniques, learned on my own, into something that’s true to me, my vision and my outlook on life.

And, though it’s off topic, I think the illustrators who have had the biggest impact are Jack Kirby and Chihiro Iwasaki {pictured here}, Ed Emberley and Dave McKean.

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Jeremy: Boo Hoo Bird will be released in Spring 2009 from Scholastic Press. It’s very silly. You’ll love it. I’m still trying to figure out what will come after that. I’ve got a million ideas.

* * *

Okay, table’s set, and we’re ready to enjoy our tea, applesauce, and granola with Jeremy with seven questions over breakfast PLUS Pivot (really, did you think I’d leave Pivot out?) . . .

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Spread from Me Hungry!; Candlewick; 2007

Jeremy: I start with some drawings to determine the character of the story. From there I make “book maps,” basically an illustrated outline of the book. My book maps are tiny and have the entire book on a single side of a piece of paper. I make lots of these. Once I’ve got the story worked out in tiny pictures and a couple of words I redraw it bigger and make a dummy. At this point I “write” the book, adding words to my pictures. When the dummy is approved, I start making final art. Final art takes at least six months, often ten or twelve. I love deadlines and work best under intense pressure. The tighter the deadlines, the easier it is to turn off those internal editors and just let the creativity flow freely.

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Jeremy: I work in my basement. It doesn’t have nearly enough natural light, but it has lots of space. In a perfect world, I’ll be moving my studio to a better-lit place soon. I do my creative work at my drafting table — digital on the left side of the desk and analog on the right.

3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Jeremy: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel was my favoutite when I was small. My mom says I also loved Brian Wildsmith’s The Little Wood Duck. In fact, I used to have a recurring dream that was animated in a Wildsmith style of painting. It was terrifying! When I was bigger, nine or so, I discovered Asterix {pictured here} and Tintin. My parents wouldn’t allow my brother and me to buy comics, but, since my mom was a librarian, we could borrow any comics that the library had — thus Asterix and Tintin. I wouldn’t say I was a reluctant reader, but there was always something else that I’d rather be doing. However, comics grabbed me and I loved reading and rereading them. Ed Emberley and Hergé were huge influences when I was young.

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Jeremy: Claire Wendling {pictured here}, Christophe Blain, and Mike Mignola -– all gifted comic book artists. I think Claire Wendling is particularly amazing. They couldn’t be more different from each other, but they’re all equally wonderful. There’s a palpable sense of atmosphere in all their work. I would serve them tea and apple pie. Yum!

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Jeremy: I listen to music almost constantly while I’m illustrating. I often turn it off when I’m trying to write though. My current favourite is “Silent Shout” by The Knife. It’s incredible and has fueled many happy hours of drawing. “Camino” by Oliver Schroer is also one of my favourites — it inspires some great imagery and atmosphere using very little. Amazing. I also recently went through a big Pop Will Eat Itself kick. I’m listening to Bing Crosby while I type this.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jeremy: I do Kung Fu.

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Jeremy: “What are you reading at the moment or have recently read?”

I’m currently reading a bunch of stuff:

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

Jack Kirby’s Forth World Omnibus (Volume One).

Dungeon: Twilight, Volume 1 — Dragon Cemetery (I LOVE Dungeon — Sfar and Trondheim are hilarious).

Magyk by Angie Sage (reading this aloud to my wife).

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (reading this aloud to my daughter — one of my all-time favourite books).

Ragmop by Rob Walton (hilarious and irreverent).

Mouse Guard by David Petersen (beautiful art).

The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

* * *

The Pivot Questionnaire:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Jeremy: “dudgeon” (as in: Elizabeth Bennet has rejected Mr. Collins’ proposal of marriage; “I wonder, should I invite him to dine with us this evening?” “Aye! Do. Do! Take him away and feed him for he has been in high dudgeon all morning.”)

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Jeremy: Good music and sunlight.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Jeremy: Too many grey, rainy days in a row.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Jeremy: “Poo skids!”

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Jeremy: Choral music and dark electronic music (not necessarily at the same time, though).

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jeremy: Blenders and vacuum cleaners.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Jeremy: Rock star.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Jeremy: CEO of an oil company.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Jeremy: “Nicely done!”

* * * * * * *

Photo credit for image of Jeremy: Perry Zavitz.

18 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeremy Tankard”

  1. Ooh! Workshop pictures!! LOVE those. Somehow it always makes me feel a teensy bit part of the process. And I like that his style is so subtly different between his two books — very cool.

    PS – Jules, darling, is it me, or are ALL of the illustrators supercute?! Is it like a requirement for being an illustrator!?

  2. Squee! Of course I LOVE the new breakfast format :). Agree with Tadmack. Very cute, serving tea and apple pie, liking the word “dudgeon,”cool studio pics, and a book called ME HUNGRY?!

    Mercy. You’re killing me here. Please send this illustrator over to my tea party ASAP!

  3. yea! here’s a happy bird! nice interview with jeremy. i think pix of the work area should be required for all interviews b/c it tells you something visual about a visual artist.

    anyway, good on ya with this one!

  4. Thanks, all. I didn’t ask for studio pics, but I agree that they’re great. Jeremy hit it outta the ballpark for me on this, the very first interview in this series idea, with his pics — with labels even! — and creative answers. I love that, ’cause the first part of the interview is very format-y, but he ran with it. He has set a great precedent here.

    Maybe I can strongly encourage future interviewees to send those studio pics. I agree that it’s neat to see.

    Thanks for the feedback! It’s rather ridiculous that I’ve got “seven questions” in the title and still ended up with a characteristic long-ass interview. Heh. I’ll take suggestions on a title, too.

    I think that’s everything for now. Gotta run, and thanks for the feedback.

  5. Nice! I hate it when people’s studios are cooler than mine.

  6. Great interview! Fun to learn more about Jeremy and his work process (and, of course, get a sneak peak at his studio) — I am a big fan of that Grumpy Bird!

  7. Wow, fantastic interview. He sounds like a super-cool cat. My daughters never tire of hearing Grumpy Bird.

  8. Jules I loved Grumpy Bird when you suggested it for my booktalk. Loved the interview and the format.

  9. Thanks, you all.

    But, Adam, you have an Alf sticker in your studio. AN ALF STICKER. That’s super ’80s retro cool. Or kewl. I’m not sure which.

  10. So glad you are launching these illustrator interviews ~ what a treat to see into their creative process/spaces & see spreads of art & hear what inspires them ~ thanks Jules ~

  11. The nerd in me digs those labels. And the fact that he spelled out what was on the poster—because he knew we’d want to know. I love his favorite word, and I respectfully plead that he use it in a speech or talk or hidden in an illustration like a secret code some time soon. 🙂

    I love the format, jules, and honey, everybody understands that you don’t do short. You do in-depth. You do totally fascinating. You do as long as it takes for your readers to feel like they’ve actually met and had tea and pie with the interviewee. You do it right.

  12. Adam — my studio is only cool in the literal sense, hence the heater.

    Sara — I’m definitely a nerd. I’ll do my best to use dudgeon in a speech sometime, though I’m not often called on to make speeches.

    I’m glad you all enjoyed the interview and the studio pics. It was a lot of fun. Thanks Jules!!!!

  13. Great interview! The format is fun.

  14. Jules, I adore Jeremy Tankard. I wish he could have seen me arguing with an autistic child Monday morning in the library. The child insisted he wanted Grumpy Bug. I insisted all our bugs were HAPPY and only the birds were GRUMPY. The child was so upset that I finally told him to write me a story about this grumpy bug so I could have someone make him a book. He just rolled his eyes and said, “Silly book lady!” Think Grumpy Bird could meet a grumpy bug sometime? I don’t know how long I can hold off these demanding consumers!

  15. […] Seven Questions over Breakfast with Jeremy Tankard over at Seven Imp. […]

  16. […] Jeremy Tankard (interviewed April 2), pictured below: “With all my books, I illustrate for myself primarily. Luckily, the […]

  17. […] illustrator interview series out of the air in 2008 (with the wonderful Jeremy Tankard as my first victim) precisely for folks like British illustrator Richard Holland, visiting me this morning for a […]

  18. […] and his creators, author Rachel Vail and “authorstrator” Jeremy Tankard. (Jeremy was the first-EVER subject of my 7-Imp breakfast interviews years […]

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