Hi Andrea! Thanks for stopping by my blog!
Thanks so much for having me, Dylan!
Tell us a little bit about your new book, Crab Cake.
Crab Cake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb 2019) is a story about altruism in the face of disaster.
It starts off with an underwater community where aquatic animals go about their business, doing aquatic animal stuff. The narration swings from a documentary-voice to describing oddball Crab – who’s off baking cakes.
Then a ship dumps a ton of trash onto their reef and everyone freezes in shock.
Crab sees this and then … does what Crab always does, which is bake a cake.
Everyone gathers, supports each other and takes action together. It’s like a defiant barnraising. Here’s the publisher’s description:
“Under the sea, fish do what fish do: Seahorse hides, Pufferfish puffs up, Parrotfish crunches coral, and Crab . . . bakes cakes? And so life goes on, until one night when everything changes with a splash! In the face of total disaster, can Crab’s small, brave act help the community come together and carry on?”
When I was little, I was urgently worried about big, ugly problems I wanted to change in the world at large and in my own community, but, especially as a little kid, it seemed so overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you continue? As an adult, I still struggle with this – I think everyone does. I wished I knew that change can happen collectively, incrementally, that it’s messy, it takes time and stubbornness and creativity, and that you don’t need permission to start or to try. And sometimes the smallest thing you can do is to take care of each other in the face of indifference or injustice. Communities all over do this all the time during disasters big and small and I want to honor that.
Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.
I’m always drawing and cartooning in my sketchbooks. Crab Cake started in there, then I wrote it by thumbnailing many different drafts for months in conversation with my wonderful editor, Kate O’Sullivan.
Once the story (and the rough pencils) were finalized, I gathered as much reference as I could – drawing from photos of marine life and screenshots from Blue Planet.
Next, I made a digital palette, scanned watercolor, gouache, and textures to use in Photoshop, and tested color treatments. The text was roughly placed at this point – I knew where the bubbles would be and how much room to leave for them.
I printed the pencils in light blue so I could “ink” the linework with dark mechanical pencil. Based on something fellow cartoonist Molly Brooks said about transparency, I used tracing paper so the seaweed would “float” on top of the art. The speech bubbles and handdrawn type were a separate layer.
After that, I finished eveything in Photoshop: cleaning and separating out the linework, color flatting then coloring the spreads.
Generally, I like using different media depending on each project or if I’m messing around. Probably the tools I end up using most frequently are mechanical pencils, pens, and a water brush full of watercolor or a marker.
Have you always been into writing/illustrating?
Yes, I’ve been drawing and telling stories as far back as I remember. I’ve also been a reader who loved art and stories as long as I remember – comics, picture books, movies, tv, the news – I love it. It feels like I’ve been training to make books my entire life, building up skills incrementally over the years. It’s a long game, for sure.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
My favorite part is the doing of it. I love the part just after I’ve finally started, when I’m in the middle of the project playing around and solving problems. Just working is the best part. I’m a bit like a border collie: happiest on the job; a lump when not.
What inspires your creativity?
I’m fascinated by how people think and behave. That’s why a lot of my work is observational and character-based and why I’m so interested in history and humor. In practice, to second another author you interviewed, Corinna Luyken, my work comes out of sitting down to draw and cartoon. I have to sit down and getting my hand moving.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I used to be a set painter and set designer in college. As a freshman English major, I signed up for it as an activity because I wanted to do something creative in the company of other people. I was also really freaked out because it was new and confusing, but I’ve since learned that anything that scares me that way usually makes me grow. Honestly, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done because it was fun, introduced me to a lot of wonderful friends, got me using power tools, and taught me so many vital things about storytelling, working with others, and enjoying yourself.
If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?
If I couldn’t do it professionally, I would be writing and illustrating for myself. It’s always been a big part of my life and I can’t imagine existing without it. But I that’s not your question. If it was an “anything is possible!’ situation: I’d be a film editor, a documentarian, a librarian, or a detective’s sidekick.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
This March, a picture book I illustrated, Not Your Nest! by Gideon Sterer, comes out from Penguin Random House. It’s a fun story of nest theft, revenge, and compromise about a little yellow bird who keeps losing her nests to jerky bigger animals.
And in the fall, Kondo & Kezumi Visit Giant Island, the first in a chapter-book series by David Goodner, comes out from Disney-Hyperion. It’s about friends sustaining each other through risks and new adventures. It’s also about cheese and storms, and all kinds of ludicrous animals that were fun to invent.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
You can see more of my work at: