Momo & OHora (& Frank Zappa) Before Breakfast

h1 September 30th, 2015 by jules

Author-illustrator Zachariah OHora visits 7-Imp today to talk about his newest picture book, My Cousin Momo (Dial, June 2015). Momo is a flying squirrel, and he throws his cousins for a loop when he visits and does things his own way. You know, we all have a cousin like that (thank goodness, because normal people worry me). It’s a story about family and acceptance and embracing your inherent weirdness, and it’s very funny. OHora has a style all his own, and you can see that for yourself below in the art he shares. He also shares some preliminary images, which are always fun to see.

Let’s get right to it. …

Zachariah: In looking back in my folders, I have over 17 fully sketched-out dummies of Momo. I was working with Nancy Conescu at the time, and we just went down a writing rabbit hole — in part, because it was hard to parse what the book was all about. In the beginning, it was about Momo being such a weirdo but saving the day by becoming a human (?) kite in a contest after he ruins the cousins’ chances of winning. Ultimately, and with a lot of help from Nami Tripathi, the story became more about acceptance and lowering one’s expectations. Or maybe adjusting one’s expectation of other people and realizing they are great, even if it’s different than who you are or what you are projecting onto them.

These are a few of my favorite spreads:


“We’d been counting down the days until his arrival.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


The treehouse was a lot of fun to paint. It gave me a good excuse to troll for treehouse pictures on the internet, a wonderful way for me to waste an amazing amount of time. I even saved a few pictures just to stare at them once in a while and pretend I live in one. How fun would it be to live here?


(Click to enlarge)


I loved making this spread [below], because Momo is so dejected about having to fly on command, despite the fact that he has the whole neighbor-wood cheering him on. And since this is a semi-modern tale, there’s always that chipmunk with a video camera waiting to load it up to YouTube or sell it to TMZ.


“We might have told a friend or two about Momo’s special ability.
But Momo seemed kind of shy.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


Acorn-Pong. This game also had varying degrees of importance depending on the dummy/draft version. This one still makes me smile, especially the little sister’s frustration, which is straight out of Schulz’s Peanuts, except they’re acorns.


“We started a game of Acorn-Pong instead. Every squirrel, flying or not,
knows how to play Acorn-Pong! Every squirrel except Momo.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


In all my books, I put in lots of personal jokes. And I usually do one or two that are also sly references to Frank Zappa. There’s a great Zappa/Captain Beefheart song called “Muffin Man” that I always loved. As it happens, Zappa was riffing off an old nursery rhyme from England, so it kind of comes full-circle here. The muffin theme is from a different version of the book, where Momo makes the best muffins ever. Somehow that turned into the Muffin Man. Here’s a link to the Zappa song if you are so inclined:



“So we decided we should play superheroes.
But Momo’s idea of ‘superhero’ was a little strange.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


Here are a couple old thumbnails and sketches. This is a version pretty close to the final art.


(Click to enlarge)


Early on, Momo was going to win a kite contest for the cousins by flying as the kite. This is the moment when they see him win the contest and fly for the first time:


(Click to enlarge)


Early on, the cousins tried everything they could to trick or coerce Momo into flying.


(Click to enlarge)


Some early thumbs on mini Post-its:


(Click to enlarge)


Here are the first two drawings of Momo. On the left is a mini book cover, and on the right is the very first drawing of Momo, a Valentine for my wife Lydia.


(Click to enlarge)


Here is an early cover concept:


(Click to enlarge)


The final cover:



* * * * * * *

MY COUSIN MOMO. Copyright © 2015 by Zachariah OHora. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin, New York. Illustrations used by permission of Zacharian OHora.

3 comments to “Momo & OHora (& Frank Zappa) Before Breakfast”

  1. Go MOMO! So cool to see the early versions and thumbnails/sketches. This book also has my favorite case cover of 2015 – great stuff! Thanks Jules & Zach!

  2. […] blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books. The above blog was posted at 7-Imp on September 30, 2015. Follow […]

  3. […] Light shows color comps, early layouts, sketches for Swap! Zachariah OHora shares post-it note thumbnails for Momo on Seven Impossible Things (every post there is mindblowing – be careful or the whole day […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.