Catching Up with Tim Miller

h1 May 9th, 2017 by jules

“In the dust and dirt at the bottom of the spring, the monster grabbed Collin
and dragged him off in the direction of an impossibly huge coin pile.”
— Early character sketch and final art from Mark Riddle’s
illustrated by Tim Miller

(Click to enlarge spread)


Did you all see Mark Riddle’s Margarash (Enchanted Lion), released last November and illustrated by today’s return guest, Tim Miller? It was one of my favorite picture books of 2016, so gloriously bizarre and altogether unlike any other picture book released that year. It’s the story of a monster, named Margarash, who lives “in the deep, dark cave that lies below the cushions and springs of your couch” and one boy’s attempt to outwit him. In the end, it is, as the Kirkus review put it, a “sweet tale of a mutual passion and an unlikely friendship.”

Last Fall, Tim and I started chatting via email about the book, as well as some of his forthcoming books, and we are just now wrapping up that chat. What can I say? I got busy. He got busy. These things take time. Given my lateness in posting, now those forthcoming books are published books. Moo Moo in a Tutu (Balzer + Bray), the story of a curious, adventurous cow and his friend Mr. Quackers, was released last month. And it marks Tim’s debut as both an author and illustrator. We also talk today about his spot illustrations for Tom O’Donnell’s Hamstersaurus Rex books. (Hamstersaurus Rex, the debut, was released last October from HarperCollins, and Hamstersaurus Rex vs. Squirrel Kong releases next month.)

Let’s get right to it! It’s definitely time. I thank Tim for visiting 7-Imp again.

Jules: Hi, Tim! I’m glad you can visit 7-Imp to talk about your new books.

Tim: Hi, Jules! Thank you so much for having me!

Jules: Do you want to start with Margarash, which I love?

Tim: Sure, let’s kick things off with Margarash. I’m happy that you enjoy it so much, because the book has a lot of personal sentiment to me.



Jules: That one came out last Fall and was unlike anything I’d seen in a while. What’d you think when you first read Mark’s manuscript?

Tim: The first time I read Margarash, it bowled me over, because I couldn’t believe how unique and special it was. It had the quality of something mythological to it, and there was so much depth there in the characters and their respective worlds. I questioned taking it on, because I was daunted by the task of getting it right, but I knew it was something I couldn’t pass up.


Margarash storyboards
(Click each to enlarge)

Jules: What was it about the book that struck a personal chord with you?

Tim: The book has special meaning to me for a couple of different reasons. First, it strikes a chord, simply because it’s so unusual, compared to anything else out there. The story is dark and terrifying but then surprises you by the unexpected relationship that develops between Collin and Margarash. It’s so satisfying to me, because it has complexity to it, and I admire how it challenges the reader to ponder the unknown.

I’m also a little sentimental about the book, because I went out of my comfort zone to make it, executing everything by hand instead of leaning on the computer, as I’ve done with other books. I felt the story warranted something raw and visceral, even though it took me a long time to figure out how to do it. I tried to approach the project as an opportunity to play around and take chances that I wouldn’t necessarily take with a more conventional book.


“More than his telescope, his trains, or his Tyrannosaurus,
Collin loved coins.”


“Collin looked for coins everywhere ….”
(Click to enlarge)


“Collin always made fun of this monster legend.”


Jules: Can you talk a bit about deciding how to create Margarash’s look/character appearance?

Tim: It took me a long time to figure out what Margarash looked like. The first image that came to mind when I read the manuscript had echoes of John Gardner’s Grendel, but it was pretty cloudy. It was only a whiff of an idea, and I spent about a good year and a half going around in circles trying to track it down. I filled up a lot of sketchbooks, and every so often I got my hopes up that I stumbled on the right answer — only to realize later that it was a false alarm. I also took detours thinking about the work of Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, André François, William Steig, and Ralph Steadman, looking for answers. I even created sculptures of the character to try and figure out how to see it from all sides.


Pictured above: Margarash outtakes


The final look for the character is a result of all these different meanderings coming together — mean, angry fearsome eyes; giant, menacing sharp teeth; ferocious roar; long scaly arms with giant hands and sharp claws. I tried to bring it all to life by infusing it with the energy of Margarash’s volatile nature, while also giving him a hint of cartoonish-ness to allow his tenderness to shine through.


“But just as he was about to flee, Collin realized that Margarash couldn’t harm him.
So he watched and waited. And like a thunderstorm breaking up the night sky before disappearing out to sea, Margarash’s anger flared up and then left him. After a time, Margarash said in as slow whisper, ‘I may be trapped in this cage, but you …
you are trapped in my world with me.’ The monster was right. Collin knew he couldn’t climb the couch springs. He didn’t even know which couch-star was his own.
But he knew one thing Margarash didn’t.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


Jules: I’m so glad you note that about the book’s tone. I love how dark it gets. I love that it never patronizes child readers.

Changing books here, I want to ask about Moo Moo, but do you want to say a little bit about Tom O’Donnell’s Hamstersaurus Rex, released last year?



Tim: Sure, I’m happy to. Thanks for asking!

Working on Hamstersaurus Rex is a total riot. I love the story and characters and think Tom’s writing is hysterical. It seems pretty clear that Tom has a lot of fun with what he’s doing, which makes my job a lot easier. It’s the kind of thing that almost draws itself because the humor is so visual. I’m just basically laughing along with it.


“‘Get back here, Sam!’ yelled Beefer behind me.
I ran for my life.”

(Click to enlarge)


“He was now gorging himself on a greenish Smiles-Corp bodybuilding powder.
Something called Dinoblast Powerpacker.”


“Hamstersaurus Rex looked around. He looked at me. His lips pulled back in a
weird little smile. I smiled back. He cuddled up next to a
plastic parasaurolophus and gurgled.”

Jules: That was your first time doing spot illustrations and creating art for a novel, yes?

Tim: Yeah, it’s the first opportunity I’ve had to work on a novel. I auditioned for the gig by doing character sketches and some sample images of action scenes, but other than that, I really had no idea how to go about things once I landed it. The biggest curve was simply identifying which moments to draw, as well as discerning what deserved full-page status vs. spot treatment. I give full credit to my editor, Abby Ranger, and art director, Joe Merkel, for educating me with this. They helped me learn how to spotlight the key moments of humor, as well as the most pivotal moments of action and suspense.


“The events of the next two seconds seemed to happen in slow motion. …”
(Click to enlarge)


“Occasionally he threw a spectacular rampage inside of his cage ….”
(Click to enlarge)


“‘Hey! It’s Hamstersaurus Rex!’ cried Dylan.”
(Click to enlarge)


A top-secret tidbit I’ll confide is that Sam’s character is based off of a character I used to draw of myself when I was younger. All the characters for that matter are drawn in a style that echoes cartoons I used to make as a teenager. It was unintentional at first, but when I saw it coming through, I embraced it. It made sense, because I relate to the character at his age. He’s uncool, unpopular, and unconfident, but has this knack for drawing cartoons that he’s always scribbling in his sketchbook. It’s both a refuge for him and a way to interact with his peers, since they identify him as that kid that draws. That was definitely me, growing up, and it’s another layer of entertainment for me — to make the images for the book, as though I’m Sam.

Jules: Let’s talk Moo Moo!

Tim: Absolutely!



Jules: That was an April release, yes?

Tim: Yes, Moo Moo in a Tutu was released on April 25, 2017 with Balzer+Bray.


Early brainstorming
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: It’s your debut as an author-illustrator, right?

Tim: It’s my first book that I wrote and illustrated.


Moo Moo character sketches
(Click each to enlarge)

Jules: How does it feel?

Tim: I would say that I’m experiencing a Moo Moo state of euphoria about the whole thing. I feel a little bit like Mr. Quackers too: I can’t believe it’s for real. It’s been a long road to get here from that first spark of the idea to untangling the story and characters and fine-tuning everything with the help of my Editor, Donna Bray, and Art Director, Dana Fritts. Moo Moo, Mr. Quackers, and I have grown pretty close through all of this, and I couldn’t be more excited for them to finally step out into the world and introduce themselves to readers.


Rough sketches and color study thumbnails
(Click each to enlarge)

Jules: And aren’t there plans for more Moo Moo books?

Tim: Yes, I’m excited to share that Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers will be back! I just finished work on the second book in the series, called What’s Cooking, Moo Moo? It comes out in April 2018. This time around we find out what happens when Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers open up a restaurant together. (I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.)

What comes after that still remains to be seen (fingers crossed).


“I think it’s time to share my talent with the rest of the world!”
(Click to enlarge illustration, sans text)


(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Any other projects you’re working on now (that you’re allowed to talk about)?

Tim: Yes, there’s something really exciting on the horizon, but that’s all I can say for now, because it’s stop top-secret!

Jules: Can’t wait to find out. Thanks for visiting 7-Imp again!


“Ready or not . . .”
(Click to enlarge illustration, sans text)


(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

All artwork and images used by permission of Tim Miller.

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