Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Marc Rosenthal

h1 October 4th, 2011 by jules

My visitor for breakfast this morning—designer, editorial illustrator, children’s book illustrator, and sequential artist Marc Rosenthal—has a brand-new illustrated title coming out … well, actually today. (Really. I don’t plan these things. I’m hardly that organized and haven’t even seen the book yet. I just have really lucky timing sometimes.)

But I have to say: He illustrated an early 2011 title that I still claim to be one of the funniest books of the year. You haven’t forgotten it, have you, dear readers? Written by Eileen Rosenthal, Marc’s wife, I Must Have Bobo! (Atheneum, January 2011)—as I wrote in January—is the story of a straight up showdown between one young boy, Willy, and the family cat, the dilemma being that the object of their affection is one beloved sock monkey, named Bobo. Bobo, however, can only be with one creature at a time. In a book full of subtlety and understatement, which was also Eileen’s picture book debut (so promising, too, and I’m eager to see what she brings us next), Marc brings Willy and Earl (the aforementioned and very funny cat) to life with warmth and wicked humor, nailing the emotions of a young child. The Kirkus review wrote that it’s “an exercise in self-recognition and empathy for the intended audience.”

So, back to today’s release: You can read a bit more about it below and see a sneak-peek inside it. It was written by Alison McGhee and is called Making a Friend. As I said, I haven’t seen it, but according to IndieBound anyway, its publication date is today. And the School Library Journal reviews tells me this:

The digitally manipulated pencil illustrations have a retro look and are reminiscent of the work of Louis Slobodkin. There is a lot of white space, particularly on the pages where only the boy and the snowman are depicted, giving the impression that they are in their own special private world. A simple but deeply nuanced story that should resonate with children.

Sounds promising. I look forward to it.

And let us not forget that Eileen and Marc will be bringing us some Bobo sequels—score!—and that previous to these newer titles, Marc has had a busy career of illustrating children’s books and creating editorial art. So, let’s get right to breakfast and have him tell us more about that. “I make my own granola,” he told me, “which I eat almost every day, mixed with other cereals, and several cups of strong coffee with steamed milk.” Ah, yes. An illustrator after my own heart. Strong coffee. Let’s do this breakfast thing.

And I thank him for stopping by.

Note: The interview is interspersed with some of Marc’s editorial art, as well as some of his personal pieces of artwork.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Marc: Illustrator / Author.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Marc: Books I have illustrated:

Books I have written and illustrated:

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

Marc: My mediums have changed and continue to change. I had mostly worked in ink and watercolor, adding pencil shading for Phooey! and Archie. For the Bobo books, I used a much more casual pencil and digital process. I am not sure what I will use next. Maybe I will draw with my own blood.

Above: Early tests from Archie and the Pirates

Illustrations from Archie and the Pirates (HarperCollins, 2009)

Jules: 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?

Marc: I think the differences are mostly in the complexity of the writing. The approach to the art seems more connected to the feeling of the story. That said, books for older kids need to have lots of levels of engagement. I like to put in elements that might not be noticed until the third or fourth reading.

Some of Marc’s sequential art

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Marc: I live with my exceptional wife, Eileen, in Lenox, Massachusetts (the western edge of MA in the Berkshire mountains/hills). It is very pretty and quiet.

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Marc: I had been an editorial illustrator for many years before I tried my first book. Eileen was once a children’s book designer at Knopf and is friends with a wonderful editor, Frances Foster. Frances asked me to illustrate [Kate Banks’] Peter and the Talking Shoes in 1992. I brought my next project, Where on Earth, a wonderful book my brother wrote (a sort of anti-textbook on geography), to her.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


Some of Marc’s personal works

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Marc: I have done some library and school visits with small kids. I generally read a book or two and then draw pictures on an easel. I enjoy showing kids tricks about drawing—stuff that seems very simple, like making a square into a three-dimensional-looking box really goes over big with 6-year-olds.

I have been volunteering at our local elementary school, teaching a five-week cartooning class to third graders. That is a great age.

Eileen and Marc signing books

Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Marc: I have taught a few college workshops and will be teaching a class in conceptual illustration at RISD this fall.

More of Marc’s personal works

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

Marc: I have just finished illustrating the next Bobo book, I’ll Save You Bobo!, which will come out January 2012. I will be drawing pictures for the almost-written, third Bobo book (where Willy and Bobo go outside!).

Sneak peek of 2012’s I’ll Save You Bobo!
(Click each spread to enlarge)

I also illustrated Making a Friend by Alison McGhee, coming out fall 2011. This was a real change of pace and a challenge for me. I was looking at very early Sendak drawings for inspiration.

Color test

From Making a Friend
(Click on second image to see entire spread from which the two images come)

(Click to enlarge)

I am in the early stages of a new book idea which is top secret, though it looks like it will be lots of fun.

Mmm. Coffee.Coffee’s ready, milk is steamed, and the table’s set now for six questions over breakfast. Let’s get a bit more detailed, and I thank Marc again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: 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?

Marc: Generally, I start by finding the character — or characters. Then I start laying out the book: the pacing, where the page turns are, what becomes a spread, etc. One of the last things is deciding on the style/medium, though sometimes that’s in my head from the start.

If it is a book I am writing, I write it as if it were a comic strip, words and images happening simultaneously. When Eileen and I worked on the Bobo books, I would be drawing pictures as we went along. Sometimes the pictures would suggest to her a new line of text.

(Click each image to see the entire spread from which it comes.)

Illustrations from I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal (Atheneum, January 2011)
(Click to enlarge spread)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Marc: My studio is the third floor of our Victorian house — lots of space and lots of light. It is a bit like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party—I have several drawing tables, and I tend to move from one to another.

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

Marc: For picture books, Babar was my favorite, though I also loved Garth Williams (The Sailor Dog) and Robert McCloskey.

When I started reading chapter books, the Oz books (they were SO strange) and Doctor Doolittle were ones I loved. I hadn’t realized what a socialist Hugh Lofting was until I read them to my son. There were long passages about workers in the factories.

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

Marc: Maurice Sendak, Mo Willems, Philip Pullman.

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

Marc: Currently on my iPod: Vampire Weekend, Édith Piaf, Leon Russell, Fats Waller, Steve Earle, various Cuban and Italian singers from the 1950s.

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

Marc: People who don’t know me don’t know that I am a bit of a yoga fanatic (Ashtanga) and that I love gin martinis.

Bottom four images are samples of Marc’s editorial art

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Marc: “Hapless.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Marc: “Loser.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Marc: Creatively: looking at art; spiritually: a beautiful day; emotionally: sharing a good meal with Eileen.

Jules: What turns you off?

Marc: Pomposity.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Marc: “Fuck” (of course).

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Marc: Light rain.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Marc: Leaf blowers.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Marc: I would like to be a cabinet-maker.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Marc: I would not like to be a surgeon.

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

Marc: “All your friends have been waiting for you.”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images used with permission of Marc Rosenthal. All rights reserved.

I MUST HAVE BOBO! Copyright © 2011 Eileen Rosenthal. Illustration © 2011 Marc Rosenthal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

8 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Marc Rosenthal”

  1. Great interview. I picked up a copy of Making A Friend on Saturday. It is wonderful!

  2. Thanks for this one, Jules. I’m a big fan of Marc’s work and, as expected, there some amazing stuff here. His work is fearless (in my opinion, the best stuff always is). The new book looks awesome.

  3. I love Bobo too! Can’t wait to see the new title…

  4. Love Bobo and Marc’s work. So glad to see another Bobo book coming next year!

  5. Jules, Is this the first time an illustrator has suggested he might start doing illustrations in his own blood at 7-Imp? That made me laugh.

    Also, Vampire Weekend–WOOT! WOOT! Also in rotation on my iPod, perpetually.

    I am really looking forward to more Bobo books.

  6. Thanks, all.

    Adrienne, that made me snort-laugh, too.

  7. Thank you! Marc Rosenthal is one of my very favorites.

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