Chomp. Chomp.

h1 October 6th, 2009 by jules

“Remember: This is NOT a storybook. It is NOT a book of rhymes. It isn’t a how-to book or a dictionary. It’s a book that eats people.
(Click to enlarge spread.)

There’s this book. It’s about a book. A book that likes to eat people. It wants to have you for one impossible breakfast. And it’s called—you’ll never guess—The Book That Eats People (Tricycle Press, August 2009). In fact, I’m nervous even posting about it, lest it find out and come after me. I know, should I ever see it, not to read it with syrupy fingers or with cookies in my pocket, and I know not to turn my back on it or read it alone. Because it is ALWAYS HUNGRY. But let’s just say I’m prepared: If I hear it growling and clomping towards me, I’ve got something heavy to put on top of it.

This public-service-announcement of a book—warning us of the legend of this book and, did I mention, to always assume the book is ready to snack, people—was written by John Perry and illustrated by Mark Fearing, who is also a comic book artist, animator, and graphic designer. (Why, no, I’m not making up his last name.) John, who told an Ann Arbor freelance writer that he wrote this after getting worn out with the “fairy stories, stories with morals and stories that went to the beach” he was reading to his young daughters, says his life’s mission is to warn readers about it. Well, even though this is serious business, folks, this book makes me laugh, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun I’ve had with it in my home, my wee daughters putting heavy objects on top of it and gasping whenever they see it in a new spot. Mwahahaha. And you all know I’m fond of books in which characters get devoured. As the illustrator puts it below—since both book-creators are here today to talk a bit about it and their work—it’s “not too cute, not too darling, not full of sugar,” and I always like to talk about books like that. Even if they’re threatening to end me.

Mark is also sharing some other illustrations today. You’ll note that, as Kirkus wrote about The Book That Likes to Eat People, Marks’ cartoon-esque illustrations (rendered in Photoshop and collage) have “a suitably menacing aspect” — or, as the above Ann Arbor link puts it, they’re “equal parts voraciously carnivorous and lovably crabby.” Menacing and carnivorous illustrations before breakfast are always a good thing. I’ll intersperse his art throughout the rest of the post. First, here’s John Perry, the author. Thanks to both of them for stopping by.

* * * * * * *

John: The Book That Eats People came to me in a dream. It was Summer, the sun was up, I woke up laughing hard and didn’t stop for at least a minute.

I’ve tried since then to remember what I might have been thinking about before I went to bed, what I was reading at the time, what objects might have been near me, what noises or sensations might have affected my sleeping self, but I don’t remember any of that with real certainty.

I know I had been working on a detailed, season-long outline for a television drama. It’s possible I was reading a Jim Harrison novel, or maybe his memoir Off To The Side. It may be I had in mind Harrison’s assertion that “writing a novel is an aggressive act.” (I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what he said. Maybe he was quoting someone else.)

“She put the book on her nightstand, but before she could finish brushing her teeth, it jumped up, thumped her on the head, and gobbled her down, beginning with her polished pink toenails. Have you ever heard a book burp?
(Click to enlarge spread.)

My mother-in-law (who is a Saint) came over that morning to watch my girls so that I could go somewhere and work on my outline. I went to the nearby library, found a seat, got stuck on the television story, started The Book That Eats People halfway down a page, wrote the first draft in not more than half an hour.

When I got home my mother-in-law said “How’d it go?” I read her the draft of my dream and she gave me that perplexed look–the look you might assume if some strange-and-unexpected-but-harmless creature showed up in your chair.

“Of course, someone from the Neighborhood Watch saw the book eat those three kids and called the police. They took it and locked it in a jail cell, where it ate Chuck Anderson, who deserved it. Some people think it’s cruel to chain a book.
The guards did it anyway.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

Regarding Mark’s work: One publisher’s comment that The Book was hard to “envision” was the impetus for a significantly longer, more visually obvious re-write. Abigail Samoun told me that envisioning it was just a matter of imagination (I had no idea, page-by-page, what it might look like) and she was right.

Mark can draw, has a sophisticated visual vocabulary, has plainly mastered all the artist’s tools, and so forth — all of which are things you could say about plenty of artists. What I liked right away (and I looked at his blog and everything else I could find as soon as Abigail told me his name) was he understood the spirit of The Book. I was thrilled when I saw the first couple pages (the dish and the spoon, dictionary-mouth spread {pictured at the top of this post}; the “find someone nearby—FAST—who tastes…” spread). I made everyone I know look at those pages.

I am a huge fan of Mark Fearing — and of Abigail Samoun. I know almost nothing about their interactions that created the art for the book, but I know it would have been easy to falter once, or a thousand times, and make the whole book laughable. I don’t know how they managed not to, actually.

{Ed. Note: The rest of the illustrations in this post are
other samples of Mark’s illustrations.}

Mark: The day the editor at Tricycle sent it to me, I was in the studio and immediately read it and realized what a treasure the story was. It offered an opportunity to jump into doing something very unique. Lots of room to have fun and very little visual repetition. (It didn’t take place in the same kitchen, or a classroom, or a child’s bedroom). The story jumps around offering opportunity to draw what’s in the mind of the book, as well as illustrating key moments in the book’s life. After talking with the editor, I decided the illustrations had to feel as if they were items that had been collected in the book as it lived its life. It was a challenge — but a fun one. I had turned down two picture book manuscripts in the previous eight months. That was not easy to do. But I’m glad I did, because this book fit my style, fit my personality, and let me do something unique. Not too cute, not too darling, not full of sugar, etc. I feel really lucky that Abigail Samoun at Tricycle took the time to track me down for the project.

I have been working in Photoshop for the past seven years or so. I start with very rough pencils, scan them in and draw/ink, color/paint, collage, whatever I want. I’ve never been in love with one medium, so this fits me perfectly. You can create your own medium. If I feel I have lost my inspiration/attitude in the piece I can ‘peel back’ the layers to see the original scanned pencil rough again. I can’t imagine working any other way now. I’ve not been blessed with great patience, so using the computer lets me change my mind until the work absolutely, positively has to be sent off or my eyes won’t stay open any longer, whichever comes first.

(Click spread to enlarge.)

I am currently writing and drawing a graphic novel for Chronicle Books due out…well, due out as soon as I can finish it up. It’s called Earthling! and is a kid friendly, sci-fi epic coming in around two-hundred pages. It’s a tremendous amount of effort but lets me work with all aspects of storytelling. I’m also working on new picture books, as well as a series of stories best described as retro-fables. You can follow my projects from my blog and website.

* * * * * * *

THE BOOK THAT EATS PEOPLE. Text copyright © 2009 by John Perry. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Mark Fearing. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Tricycle Press, Berkeley, CA.

All other illustrations used with permission of Mark Fearing. All rights reserved.

15 comments to “Chomp. Chomp.”

  1. This book looks so great! I’m going to look for it.

  2. A book Hagrid would be happy to assign, I’m sure!

  3. Ooh, thanks for the warning.

    (How much do I love that cover?!)

  4. Oh man. I *love* this book. I even know some people’s bookshelves I might leave it on, because, um… because they might really like the book too! Yeah, that’s it!

    Carlotta Rotta and her Grubian Cactus left me completely unhinged.

    And Jules, really: if this book didn’t already (or soon would) exist, you would have had to invent it. I think you should be given an imprint all your own, just to do kids’ books which will freak out parents the whole time the actual audience is laughing their heads off. Or placing weights on the cover, as the case may be.

  5. I’ve been doing a bunch of library and school visits lately, and as part of my presentation to the kids, I do a bit of show-and-tell of books that have a Michigan connection. When I hold up The Book That Eats People, I always have at least one child who spontaneously leaps up or sticks his/her hand up and says, “READ THAT ONE!”

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  7. EX-cellent. Mwahaha, indeed.

  8. P.S. Mark Fearing’s page of YouTube animations is very entertaining — plenty of evidence that he gravitates to projects with a little… edge. 🙂

  9. Have you ever sat this book next to “The Incredible Book-Eating Boy” by Oliver Jeffers just to see what happens?

  10. Yay to books that eat people!

    We had another mind meld, Jules, because yesterday I saw this book in a catalog and almost ordered it immediately based exclusively on how strongly I was drawn to the title and cover, but then I thought, “No, I am a professional. I should wait to hear more.” Now I have heard more. I’m ordering it.

  11. Oh, this looks like a romp! And the muffin… okay, I *want* the muffin…

  12. It ate “The Incredible Book-Eating Boy” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” and “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” (just in case). All on a summer morning.

    And I want the muffin too.

  13. This book looks amazing! Congratulations Mark! It has been a long time coming.

  14. Wow. Absolutely wonderful. I’m putting this on my christmas list!

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