Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Adam McCauley

h1 October 20th, 2009 by jules

Adam McCauley. Photo credit: Bart Nagel.

Seven Reasons I’m Happy to Welcome Illustrator Adam McCauley
to 7-Imp Today for a Breakfast Chat:

1). I think Adam is one of the most exciting contemporary illustrators at work, quite frankly, and I enjoy following his career. His answer to a question posed to him (in this October interview) about what inspires him pretty much sums up his appeal for me:

Making light of the darker things, allowing the strange and ridiculous in the front door whenever possible. Avoiding trends, like antlers and ironic bunny rabbits. Making it personal.

2). The illustrations for Vivian Walsh’s new picture book, June and August (Abrams, September 2009):

“June and August met one evening. It was dark and the stars were bright.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

Adam’s art work seems to get better with each book, and he’s at his most playful in these smart, funny illustrations for Walsh’s clever and offbeat tale of friendship:

“The next day, August looked for his new friend. He saw many clever-looking creatures. Which one was June?”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

“‘Are we in space now?’ asked June. ‘Nearer,’ said August. It was dark and the stars were bright. The two friends liked what they could see.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

3). The illustrations in his other new illustrated title, written by Bobbi Katz (interview with Bobbi to come a bit later) — The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme (Sterling, September 2009). Have you seen this book? Fellow Illustration Junkies, take note. Here is Adam’s choice-of-medium for this title:

“lots of paper, spaghetti, twigs, tape, Adam’s great grandmother’s stamp collection, paint, file folders, rubber stamps, a scanner, old sketchbooks, new sketchbooks, a printer, a ballpoint pen, a Xerox machine, scraperboard, computer programs, clip art, things found on the street, and some string. Oh yeah, and a few brains and hands.”

(Yeah, brains and hands. This is a retired monsterologist’s scrapbook of sorts—in rhyme, no less—of his gruesome discoveries, after all. And the design work on the book? Brilliant.)

{Ed. Note: The two illustrations below comprise one spread from
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme.
Click on each to see the spread in its entirety.}

4). In fact, Adam was awarded a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators for the “monster stamps” that appear as endpapers in The Monsterologist. Yup, the endpapers alone took the prize. Brilliant again.

5). And, while we’re on the subject, he also does Book Covers Which I Love, including this one, also recognized by the Society of Illustrators:

6). He’s funny as hell:

7). So, okay. This has been on my mind a lot lately, what with the unusually prevalent (for him) Sendak-coverage, due to the release of the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, but one thing I love about Adam’s work is that he seems to know that you can scare children in a picture book. And it’s okay. In fact, it’s sometimes good for them. This is from Richard Michelson’s Oh No, Not Ghosts! (Chronicle Books, 2006):

I thank Adam for stopping by this morning. For our breakfast chat, he’s opting for “non-fat vanilla yogurt with fruit and some toast with butter and jam. Yeah, it’s boring, but I’m 43. What do you want?” Hey, man. I’m down with that. I’ve got my coffee, and I’m set. Let’s get the basics from Adam while we set the table…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Adam: Illustrator.

Illustration from Amy Eldon’s Angel Catcher for Kids,
Chronicle Books, 2002

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?

Adam: Picture Books – My Friend Chicken, The Lima Bean Monster, Halloween Night, Martin MacGregor’s Snowman, Oh No, Not Ghosts!, Mom and Dad are Palindromes, June & August, The Monsterologist.

Chapter Books – Time Warp Trio, numbers 9-16; Wayside School series; Gym Shorts series.

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Adam: Mixed media. I could go on about this, but will refrain here.

{Ed. Note: The two illustrations below comprise one spread from
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme.
Click on each to see the spread in its entirety.}

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?

Adam: I’ve come to enjoy illustrating for an older age group in general, although the only truly young-age-group book was the only one I’ve also written, My Friend Chicken. I’m not sure if I could shed light on the uninitiated about illustrating for different age groups. As far as I can tell, that’s the editor’s job to tell me what isn’t working for a given situation. If it were up to me, I’d probably be bringing on the heavy stuff for the young’uns, for better or for worse.

Illustration from Jon Scieszka’s Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge?,
Viking Books, 2002

Illustration from Louis Sachar’s Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger,
HarperTrophy, 1998

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Adam: California. The left.

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Adam: Being an illustrator, I was asked by Chronicle Books to submit ideas for books when a designer I’d worked with over the years became their Children’s Book Art Director. They liked my manuscript, and it became my first published book, My Friend Chicken. My future wife and then girlfriend, Cynthia Wigginton, did the design work on the book, as she’s done on a number of them since.

Spread from My Friend Chicken,
Chronicle Books, 1999

One of Adam’s comics

7-Imp: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


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

Adam: Usually fun, a bit exhausting, often fulfilling, sometimes confounding.

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

Adam: I’ve only sat in for friends’ classes and spoken at classes. Both my parents were art teachers, so that has colored my perception of art students a bit.

Spread from Mark Shulman’s Mom and Dad Are Palindromes,
Chronicle Books, 2006

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

Adam: Cynthia and I have signed on to a new book with creative director Scott Piehl, whom we’d worked with on Oh No, Not Ghosts! and The Monsterologist. The book is called I Think I See a UFO, but I believe it won’t be out for a while. It’s about aliens landing on a guy’s bbq, and he ends up going to their home planet and opening a bbq restaurant. The rest of the story is top secret for now, sorry.

{Ed. Note: The two illustrations below comprise one spread from
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme.
Click on each to see the spread in its entirety.}

Mmm. Coffee.Our table’s set—coffee’s on, and Adam’s got his yogurt—and breakfast is ready. Time for the Big Seven. Er, six, in his case. Let’s keep at it…

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?

Adam: Each book is different. I’m always trying to push forward with how I go about a book these days and am most attracted to projects where I’m encouraged to do this. Generally, I usually map the book out first and focus on how to create the right arc to the visuals; beginning, middle, end –-the visual narrative. Separately, I develop the characters involved with the story, which can mean a little kid or a mini-van or a lamppost. I usually make a little dummy as things progress,so I can check and make sure the flow is happening and make adjustments. Because my wife, Cynthia, often does the design work, she’ll offer opinions and suggestions and ideas, which I throw in the stew before presenting more developed sketches to the publisher. When it’s time for final art, I’m usually pretty fast — I like to block out a chunk of time to do it all at once, if possible.

Illustration from Pamela Liflander’s The Little Book of Solitaire,
Running Press Book Publishers, 2002

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

Adam: I’ve taken two of the top floor bedrooms in our house as studios: one for artwork; the other for computer work. They’re smallish and often a wreck, but work fine for me right now. On a book project, I’ll essentially circle around and procrastinate for hours/days/weeks and then eventually dig in, which means holing up in my drawing room listening to the radio and drawing, occasionally going to the computer for reference/fact-checking/distraction, then returning to the drawing room.

Cover art for Neal Shusterman’s The Schwa Was Here,
Dutton Children’s Books, 2004

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

Adam: The first book series I was really obsessed with were the Oz books. My father had read and collected the series as a child, so he readily encouraged me to indulge in them. I got in an argument with my second grade teacher about them, because she didn’t believe there were more than one Oz books. (There were forty!). Then, Tolkien, who inspired me to create my own alphabets/languages, and then (and still) Tintin. I remain a rabid Tintin fan. Hergé’s sophistication in both story and art still astound me, but as a kid I was most focused on how he produced the books (especially the color). My sister got me into Tove Jansson, who I still keep on my shelf as a reminder of how cool and esoteric a book can be — yet still retain it’s universality. As far as picture books, as a toddler I was into Ant & Bee and was read Goodnight Moon and Beatrix Potter and then, of course, Sendak. I was also haunted by Struwwelpeter and, later, Edward Lear and Gorey.

Spread from Lisa Broadie Cook’s Martin MacGregor’s Snowman,
Walker & Company, 2003

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


{Ed. Note: The two illustrations below comprise one spread from
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme.
Click on each to see the spread in its entirety.}

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?

Adam: As I’m a musician with upcoming gigs, I am listening mostly to the songs I need to learn in time for the shows! Three different bands that I play drums with…Bermuda Triangle Service (with my lovely wife), a kid’s band called Me3, and a band called The Bouvier Girls.

{Ed. Note: I did some digging—and listening—and discovered that this book trailer for The Monsterologist includes some good tune-age from Bermuda Triangle Service. And might I add that it’s rare that I see book trailers that I actually like?
This one? Me likey.}

{Okay, and while we’re at it, Adam did the music for the
June and August trailer, too, I see}:

If I listen to anything while I work, it’s usually radio. NPR, but when that gets me down I switch to KUSF. KUSF is awesome, as is Pirate Cat Radio, which unfortunately has recently disappeared from the airwaves for some reason. I love all good music.

Illustration from Christopher Paul Curtis’ Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money,
Wendy Lamb Books, 2005

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

Adam: I’m known in certain circles as Moondoggy.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Adam: “Squelb.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Adam: “George Bush.”

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

Adam: Invention.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Adam: Disrespect.

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

Adam: “Arseblower.”

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

Adam: My Gretsch drums.

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

Adam: Car alarms.

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

Adam: Quantum physicist.

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

Adam: U.S. census-gatherer.

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

Adam: “Sorry about all that crap my followers put you all through.”

* * * * * * *

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred. He was created by Matt Phelan, and he made his 7-Imp premiere in mid-September. Matt told Alfred to just pack his bags and live at 7-Imp forever and always introduce Pivot. All that’s to say that Alfred is © 2009, Matt Phelan.

Photo of Adam is courtesy of Sterling. Photo credit: Bart Nagel.

JUNE AND AUGUST. Copyright © 2009 by Vivian Walsh. Illustrations © 2009 by Adam McCauley. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

THE MONSTEROLOGIST. Copyright © 2009 by Bobbi Katz. Illustrations © 2009 by Adam McCauley. Published by Sterling, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

All other illustrations courtesy of Adam McCauley. All rights reserved.

14 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Adam McCauley”

  1. Oh lust-o-rama. Mercy this stuff is brilliant. What do I have to write to get hooked up with this guy in a book????

  2. I am delighted with the stunning job Adam has done with
    the Monsterologist, a character I created a long time ago and imagined quite differently. Part of the magic that occurs with the mating of author and illustrator by editors and art directors is the transformation of an initial concept into (in this case) a very exciting new experience.

  3. Super, super, super cool stuff. So much energy and vitality, with plenty of mischief.

  4. I particularly love Adam’s illustrations for the Wayside books.

  5. Great interview! I am a fan 🙂

  6. Very inspirational work, and wonderful interview. I am going to have to get his new picture book. I love Vivian Walsch’s writing, and Adam’s pictures are just beautiful!

  7. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Adam McCauley […]

  8. been watching this guy grow for years. smart, funny, hard-working. what’s not to like.

  9. Adam also keeps a mean sketchbook fine gallery art habit going too. An inspiration to me to say the least. Thanks for this nice interview!

  10. I love palindromes!

    The monster stamps are fantastic.

    I like when giraffes are too tall for frame, both here and in the Babymouse graphic novels.

  11. I’m not sure how I missed this, but I did link to it today in my interview with Bobbi Katz. Thanks for sharing!

  12. […] strangely beautiful The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme, released by Sterling in September, in my recent breakfast interview with Adam McCauley, the book’s illustrator. I had been presented the opportunity to ask Bobbi some questions as […]

  13. […] next week anyway and this? This is awesome. Jules over at 7-Imp pointed it out to me in her extensive Adam McCauley interview and I’ve suddenly a notion to become the man’s biggest fan.  His band The Bermuda […]

  14. […] The illustrator for Kathy Duval’s I Think I See a UFO is Adam McCauley. To read an interview with him, check out this wonderful blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. […]

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