I had the honor of hosting Ben Clanton on my blog two years ago- check out that interview here. He’s back today to talk about Rot, the Cutest in the World!
Hi Ben! Welcome back to my blog!
Thanks, Dylan! It’s a pretty great place to be!
Tell us a little bit about your new book, Rot, the Cutest in the World!
This book (the start of a series!) stars one of my very favorite things to draw: a mutant potato. His name is Rot and like most mutant potatoes, Rot loves mud, eating stuff, and all sorts of games and contests. So when Rot sees a sign for a “Cutest in the World Contest,” he can’t wait to enter. But he finds out he has some tough (and somewhat mean) competition: “an itty-bitty baby bunny, a little-wittle cuddly kitten, and an eenie-weenie jolly jellyfish. Yet, like most mutant potatoes, Rot doesn’t give up easily.”
Rot, the Cutest in the World! is first and foremost meant to be a fun book to read, but at the same time is very much about self-confidence (something I struggle with) and that most things are “in the eye(s) of the beholder.”
Tell us about where you got the idea for Rot.
Quite a few years ago I started drawing dirt clod creatures with flowers growing out of their heads. I’m not really sure why, but it made me happy. So I kept making them! And soon those dirt clods became potato monsters (again, not sure why!) and they would eat up all the cute/fluffy things in my sketchbooks. It was after a phone call with Christian Trimmer (children’s book author and editor) in 2015 that they became mutant potatoes instead and the idea for a story starring one of them struck me. Christian asked me during that call if I had any characters or ideas worthy of a picture book series. He talked about Ian Falconer’s Olivia and Mo Willems’s Pigeon. He essentially challenged me to do my best to create something worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those series.
At first, I was overwhelmed by the challenge, but then I remembered how I read about Mo Willems’s Pigeon taking over the margins of his sketchbooks and it reminded me of how my potatoes seemed to be demanding their own story with their antics. I also remembered an ugly and somewhat revolting little comic I had drawn once about a foul monster that much like my potato monsters had the bad habit of eating people up. The trouble was that the monster in that comic and my potato monsters were not very likable, and I didn’t care much for the idea of making a series about unlikeable characters. I like to have protagonists you want to root for! So I looked back at those early dirt clod people/creatures I had drawn. They were friendly looking and I decided to allow that friendliness to enter my potato monsters. Soon they were mutant potatoes instead. They were still weird looking and acting, but now in a good way. My first mock-up for Rot, the Cutest in the World! came together pretty quickly after making that change as too did a bunch of other stories starring Rot and my mutant potatoes.
Can you share some of your process for illustrating Rot? Were real potatoes involved?
I had oodles of fun making the art for this book! Probably more so than any book I’ve worked on previously. And, yes, real potatoes were involved in the making of this book! I bought a couple huge bags of potatoes (russet and yukon gold) and gave myself about a week to play with them. I cut potato stamps to make textures and the speech bubbles for the book. I even ended up using a photo of a potato at one point in the book. The illustrations are mainly made using colored pencil and watercolors but I think the potato-made additions really added a lot. I rendered pretty much all the components separately and then assembled everything on the computer (Photoshop). In the illustrations, I strived to really distinguish Rot from the other creatures in the book. So I went with flat-ish pastel colors for the “cute” creatures while Rot is a blotchy and earthy brown/green. The line-work for him is also a little looser and I went with a messy-ish hand-lettered approach for Rot’s speech bubbles while the “cute” characters have flourish-y lettering.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on Narwhal and Jelly book #4! Peanut Butter and Jelly (the third book in that series) comes out in March and then Monster Boogie by Laurie Berkner and illustrated by me comes out Summer 2018. After finishing the next Narwhal and Jelly book I will be making a Rot sequel in which we meet Rot’s brother!
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
Sure! Rot’s name is a bit of a nod to a book I grew up with: Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel.
And I’ll share more about Rot soon over on my blogsite: www.benclanton.com.