7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #76, Part Two:
A Visit with Ursula Vernon (and Nurk)

h1 August 18th, 2008 by jules

As many of you know, we feature the work of illustrators/artists every Sunday here at 7-Imp, as well as gather together to list what we call our “7 Kicks” of the week. Yesterday, our featured artist was Ursula Vernon, but I moved her feature to today, since I didn’t want our partying down yesterday to distract from her illustrations. Thanks to Ursula for being so flexible and giving me the okay to do that.

As she puts it at her site, Ursula is a freelance illustrator, artist, and creator of weird thingies. “I live in North Carolina, with too many art supplies and a cat,” she adds. Ursula uses a wide variety of media in her artwork, “generally some combination of acrylic ink, fluid acrylic, watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, etc.” – as well as some digital maneuvering. Metal & Magic is the site where Ursula displays her art work. She is the creator of a number of comic projects, including Digger, which was nominated for an Eisner Award. She is also the creator of the short comic Irrational Fears for older children and adults, and the Little Creature stories for teens and adults. Pictured above is a sneak peek — an illustration from Ursula’s Dragonbreath, “which should be forthcoming next summer from Penguin Dial, ” she told me.

The way in which I became familiar with Ursula’s work is through her first children’s book, Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures Of A (Somewhat) Brave Shrew, released this Spring from Harcourt, which Ursula both wrote and illustrated and which I enjoyed. (I’d love to hear from others who have read Nurk, since I don’t recall seeing a lot of blogging about it, though I certainly do my fair share of getting-behind-on-blog-reading, so maybe I missed some posts.)

Nurk tells the story of a mostly-brave shrew, who packs up a few pairs of clean socks and sails off on an accidental adventure, guided by wisdom found in the journal of his famously brave and fierce grandmother, Lady Surka the warrior shrew. In fact, his grandmother’s portrait hangs in Nurk’s front hallway, and “it was the first thing anyone saw when they entered his house. (Since the portrait showed her brandishing a severed head, this was a bit of a shock for first-time visitors, but Nurk’s love for the portrait was undimmed.)”

Check out this bit from Chapter One, which tells us a lot about Nurk and, well, had me at word one:

The problem was that he wasn’t sure that he really wanted to have an adventure of his own. Most of the the stories of adventure seemed to start somewhere very far away and skipped over the details of how you got there or what you were supposed to pack. They sounded messy and occasionally terrifying. Nurk was worried that he wouldn’t go about having adventures the right way and would miss them entirely, or have a bad one where he spent most of his time wet and cold and hungry and without clean socks. Also he had to admit that he couldn’t think of any situation where he would want to brandish anyone’s severed head.

This book is a lot of fun—there are drunken hedgehogs; trees full of giant caterpillars, who drip and drizzle and ooze slime in syrupy strands; a dragonfly princess with a snore that can penetrate concrete; a blind, monstrous mole, the size of half a mountain; snailboats; a tree of not-yet-ripe salmon (pictured below); and lots of great excerpts from Lady Surka’s old journal, such as:

oH mY gOD! iT’s thE hiDeOUs sPiNe-cReSTEd ACiD-dROoLiNg BeAst oF The NEtheRmoST MiREs! AnD iT’s COMinG This WaY! Neat!

And Nurk, who starts out as not unlike Bilbo Baggins With a Severe Social Anxiety Disorder, totally wins my heart. Aw.

Below are a few more (non-Nurk) images from Ursula. The first and last are a couple of her paintings—Lost Sheep and Blind Date—and in the middle is an image from Digger:

And we’ll close out with another preview of next year’s Dragonbreath:

Many thanks to Ursula for stopping by 7-Imp. I, for one, look forward to a Nurk sequel, which would not be out of the realm of possibility, I suppose.

And we’d all do well to take to heart Nurk’s sage advice: “Never go anywhere without clean socks.”

13 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #76, Part Two:
A Visit with Ursula Vernon (and Nurk)”

  1. Okay, now see — this is the sort of thing people mean when they repeat the youth-is-wasted-on-the-young line. Why don’t I know any 9-to-12-year-olds anymore, so I can get Nurk for them and then read it myself, casually “forgetting” to return it until, well, Sorry, it’s really too young for you now? [Rushing off to Amazon, cackling with a new plan to buy it, and Digger, read and memorize them, and then donate them to a school library (you wouldn’t believe how scandalously broke libraries in FL are right now)] [Phase 1 complete]

    Loved this line from her home page: “[Nurk] is our first book in wide release, and we’re all very excited, by which we mean that Ursula has largely lost the power of speech and is communicating in dolphin-like squeaks and waving her hands around a lot.”

  2. Let me know what you think, JES. The book got so-so to pretty-good reviews, I think, but I enjoyed it and think Ursula’s got a flair for strong characters and funny dialogue. There were also a few truly terrifying moments in the book, I thought, primarily the oozy, freaky-huge caterpillars. And the drunken hedgehogs and the hideous, spine-crested, acid-drooling beast of the nethermost mires only appear in Lady Surka’s journal, but I have a feeling we’ll be meeting her in future books. At least I hope so.

  3. There is an interesting post on this book over on:


    April 27, 2008 ~with a very fine update…


  4. Thanks for the tidbit, Katherine — that’s terrific!

    And I like even more that the post on JacketWhys led me to Ursula Vernon’s DeviantArt offerings:
    (“Cthulhu’s Day Out”!)

  5. Thanks, Katherine. Here’s the exact link.

    I was led to this early painting of Nurkus Aurelious Alonzo Electron Maximilian Shrew, aka Nurk. Neat.

    I had no idea the book made Oprah’s children’s reading list. Cool.

    JES, looks like Cthulhu had a kickin’ day.

  6. Surka did show up in Digger at some point.

  7. Ursula is also the creator of the Biting Pear of Salamanca (better known on the Internets as the “LOL WUT” pear).

  8. I loved Nurk! Ursula V’s been one of my favorite online artists for years, I’m a huge fan of her blog. She’s a wonderful writer.
    She really uses her skills in Nurk, and it was a rousting good tale. I was very lucky, and happy, to have a child to share it with… but even if you don’t, don’ t miss this one. It’s a rollickingly fun read!

  9. “…he couldn’t think of any situation where he would want to brandish anyone’s severed head.”

    SOLD! I’m pushing Nurk to the top of my TBR pile right now.

    Also, I love that Lost Sheep, and the image from Digger. Whoa, indeed.

  10. I’ve been a fan of Ursula Vernon’s art for a while (my friend bought me prints for my birthday, I was hooked!) and I was over the moon to see that she put out a children’s book. It’s a great story, hilarious and sweet and quirky and just plain fun to read!

  11. Jules and Eisha,

    You are my absolute favorites for blog content on children’s book illustrators. Simply the best.


  12. Thanks, Katherine. That means a lot, ’cause illustration is obviously one of our favorite things.

  13. My son and I read Nurk and just couldn’t put it down. We are sooooo hoping for a sequel!

    Ursula Vernon Rocks!

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