This Week’s Statistics

Statistics for the week of Sunday, April 29th to Saturday May 5th:

Average waking time: 6:25am

Average getting-up time: 7:45am

Number of cups of coffee consumed: 7

Number of alcoholic beverages consumed: 5

Number of times I left the apartment: 7

Number of hours spent drawing: 48.5

Amount of chocolate consumed: yes

Average number of daily emails sent: 12.5

Average bed time: 11:30pm

Most unprofessional phrase used in a professional email: “I am a stressed muffin.”

 

Leap of Faith

There is a moment that happens while working on any big art project that for me is full of electricity and magic. In a film, this moment would fall at the end of Act 1, about 25 minutes in, when the character makes a choice and crosses into the world of Act 2. It’s when Ripley and the Nostromo touch down to investigate the signal in Alien. It’s when John McClane decides to stop the terrorists in Die Hard. It’s when Joel gathers his things to erase Clementine from his memory in Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind. (Can you tell that I’m married to someone who loves to talk about story structure in film?)

But in art, in books, when working on a manuscript in life, this transition into Act 2 really does happen (which is why it works in stories at all). And for me the moment looks just like this: a tiny box divided in half full of scribbles that represent a page spread:

To anyone else this might look like the very beginning. After all, my sketchbook is empty, and I’ve made countless trips to the kitchen to avoid doing actual work. But usually months have already passed since the initial project discussions and I’ve been turning over the problems in my head for some time. I’ve met or spoken with the editor or art director at least once or twice, and I’ve done my reading, I’m doing research, and I am beginning to fall in love with the material and the context. Perhaps I’ve even started to doodle some characters. Anything (but not everything!) is in the realm of possibility, and I’m trying not to let my fear of certain failure keep me balled up on the couch.

Now there’s nothing left to do but to “start.” More and more I am learning to recognize (and have faith in) the threshold of Act 2. There is a beat, a breath, a pause… and the world goes absolutely silent. I peer into the abyss ahead, knowing that in six months or one year I’ll have completed the project, even though from where I stand I can’t see how it will happen. I pick up a pen and I take a leap of faith. It will all work out (or it won’t) but there’s not going back to Act 1!

Mesoamerican Research!

This week I’ve been stalking the shelves of the New York Public Library for visual resources to start on roughs for BURIED BENEATH US. Yay! So far the most useful finds have been the Discovery School Social Studies DVDs, which are sort of a mediocre version of something you might see on the History Channel. The stiff acting, repeated footage, and discussion questions are bringing me back to 7th grade, but aside from some inner groaning they’ve been ever so helpful in giving me context for the four cultures the book will cover (Cahokia, Aztec, Maya, & Inca). This week I’ve also been scouting neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens for our new apartment. Feel free to send good apartment vibes and leads our way for a June 1st move!

Three hundred pages of S. S. Taylor’s EXPEDITIONERS!

‘Tis Friday the 13th, which means that I finally get to announce the THIRD book (!!) that is on my desk and in my life: this spring and summer I am teaming up with none other than mystery novelist/teacher Sarah Stewart Taylor to illustrate the first in her fabulous chapter book series, THE EXPEDITIONERS! Whooooot!! Book one, THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN’S CANYON, is full of action, suspense, high adventure, and a dab of steampunk futurism, and is exactly what I would have loved to read when I was a kid. I am oh-so-happy that the weeks and months ahead will be filled with time spent in the world of this book. Orphaned children and government agents? Mysterious treasure, terrifying cave birds, and a newly discovered glowing slug? Boy howdy, do I love it!!

Here’s how our publisher describes THE EXPEDITIONERS online: “Explorer of the Realm Alexander West has disappeared and is presumed dead under mysterious circumstances while on an expedition … But not before smuggling half of a strange map to his three intrepid children — Kit, the brain, M. K., the tinkerer, and Zander the brave. Why are so many people trying to steal the half-map? What powerful secrets does it hold? (And where is the other half?) It’s up to Alexander’s children — call them The Expeditioners — to get to the bottom of these questions, and fast. Success could mean fame and wild riches. Failure could be … Well, let’s just say failure is not an option!”

Sarah and I first met at The Center for Cartoon Studies where she teaches writing classes to first and second-year students. While Sarah is a terrific teacher, and her graphic novel on Amelia Earheart is one of my favorites, I never dreamed that I’d soon be at work on her first book project written for children. THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN’S CANYON will be out this November from McSweeney’s McMullens, which means that it will be my first book with a major publisher to hit the shelves of a book store. There is still a vast amount of work to do between now and the final art for both the interior and the cover, but it begins with notes and sketches filling the margins of the 308-page manuscript as my studio wall rapidly fills up with roughs:

With the thirty-six black and white illustrations we’ll need for the book, I’m doing by best to try and both 1) capture each scene and 2) maintain an even pace. In the end it will be a bit of a balancing act, as there are 50+ chapters of 2-10 pages each, but thanks to a terrific 2-day brainstorm with Sarah in my New York apartment and many, many hours of work put in at my drawing table, I think we’ve hit on a good direction from which to take the roughs. The next step is to fully work through all thirty-six drawings to get a clearer sense of what’s working… and what’s not.

The loudest “THANK YOU!” ever shouted is soaring over hills towards the state of Vermont. Sarah, thank you so much for wanting to work on this series with me, it’s been a privilege and an honor to be on your team and build this visual world. I’m already such a huge fan and can hardly wait to read the rest of the books to come!

Last, but not at all least, a programming note is needed for this simultaneous explosion of good news: EXPEDITIONERS, CITIES, and SHARK all at once would not have been possible without my Amazing Agent, who has maintained order in my drawing universe for the last four months straight. Stephen, I think I owe YOU a burger feast. Or, in the very least, a bacon pancake shake. : )

 

Huzzah! Macmillan Book Number Two!

There are so many things I love to draw: Nature. People. Architecture. Ancient civilizations. Llamas.

Did she say llamas??

YES!

With cheers of excitement and at least one bottle of wine, I am delighted to announce my SECOND book deal with Macmillan as the illustrator of BURIED BENEATH US by author/wicked-smart professor/Danny DeVito look-alike Anthony Aveni! From where cities come from and how cities grow, to daily life and the function of religion, this terrific and compelling non-fiction picture book focuses on life in four ancient American cities: the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Incan city of Cuzco, the Mayan city of Copan, and the mound city of Cahokia on the Mississippi.

The book will about 96 pages long and filled with dozens of my black-and-white illustrations, which will both help explain the information and reach a wider audience. The final art is due September 1st, and will be published with Roaring Brook sometime in 2013. A huge thanks and shout out to Deirdre Langeland, my soon-to-be editor for this fabulous book! Huzzah, let’s do it! Ready or not, llamas, here I come!

Over the spring and coming summer I will be up to my ears in research and graphite, which is the BEST kind of way to spend any season. In anticipation of this book I’ve already paid a brief visit to both the Met and the Museum of Natural History here in New York City to do a little preliminary visual research and refamiliarize myself with ancient American art. How I love the simple elegance and design of Incan fabrics, Aztec sculptures, and Mayan vases! Here’s a glimpse of some quick doodles from one of my (oh-so) high-tech sketchbooks. More drawing are sure to come this way soon:

In the meantime I have ONE MORE AWESOME BOOK that I’m already waist deep in the midst of illustrating. That triumphant announcement will be made this Friday; stay tuned for more news from my studio and mountains of roughs, sketches, and process work to come. Whew, what a busy year I have ahead of me!

 

FANTASTIC NEWS! Birthdays and Book Deals

I really can’t think of a better way to top off a birthday than with a book deal. A lifetime supply of chocolate? A month of luxury living in Paris? A few days with a time-traveling Delorean? (actually, that would be pretty cool…)

BUT NO! I will take my birthday last week just the way it went: a beautiful day in New York City, a lunch spent dining at the Society of Illustrators, an email in the early evening bearing the news that Macmillan Publishing had made an offer on my first solo picture book (AHHH!!!), followed by a delicious dinner with my favorite person on earth.

Rough Draft Cover for SHARK

My shark book, tentatively titled SHARK: THE GREAT WHITES OF THE FARALLON ISLANDS, follows a day in the life of a young white shark at the Farallons just off the coast of San Francisco. Ancient, gorgeous, and endlessly cool, these apex predators return to hunt elephant seals every fall using some of the most amazing (and lethal!) adaptations on earth. The story goes way beyond teeth and dorsal fins to explore shark hunting methods and the way the ecosystem of the Farallon Islands works, and just how badly this species needs our compassion and protection.

In diving into the book I have absolutely fallen in love with great white sharks, and I am so excited to share what I have learned with readers of all ages. As of right now the pub date is completely up in the air, but may possibly be sometime in late 2013. In the meantime I am a busy kid. More on what I’m currently working on to be posted soon!

Publishing world, I am calling on the Shark Phone: non-fiction picture books, here I come! 

Calling on the Shark Phone

Cartoon Crier

This month The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) is teaming up with National Cartoonists Society (NCS) to publish a tabloid-style newspaper full of comics that explore humor and sorrow, and it looks like my Caterpillar 4-panel strip will be among the many other contributions! Based on a true story, it begins with Caterpillar’s discovery that a dastardly rat has been eating the cookies…

This one-shot edition will feature gags, strips, and a few full-page features drawn by both NCS and CCS faculty, students, and alumni. The copies will be given away for free at the upcoming spring conventions, as well as in the lobby of CCS during gallery hours. Stop in to pick up your copy later this month!

 

 

Adventures in Art & Story by Katherine Roy