Hey Evan! Thanks for joining me here to talk about your latest book projects!
Thank you so much for inviting me!
Tell us a little bit about The Storyteller, which was released last year.
The Storyteller is my first book as author and illustrator, and it is a story, within a story, within a story, about the power of stories to give us hope, protection, and sustenance in times of need. It is based on the Moroccan art of public storytelling, a tradition that extends back a thousand years, and follows a young boy who inadvertently becomes an apprentice to one of the last master storytellers.
Tell us a little bit about Muddy, which is coming this summer!
Muddy, written by Michael Mahin, is a picture book biography of Muddy Waters, one of the most legendary and influential blues musicians. It follows his journey from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the juke joints of Chicago, and the creation of his electric sound that brought the souls of those, two places and their people, together. Muddy Waters was a part of the Great Migration of African Americans fleeing the violence and oppression in the South during the first half of the 20th century. He and other blues artists created a unique music out of this painful and pivotal period that would be the backbone of American music for generations.
For me, it was a wonderful project to be a part of. The writing is beautiful. Artistically, it was exciting to delve into research and learning about something new. I was able to go to where Muddy was from in the Mississippi Delta, see where his music blossomed in Chicago, and hear and draw musicians playing the blues in the both places. The artwork was inspired by incredible artists like Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and the Gee’s Bend quilt-makers of Alabama, as well as the music itself. The roots of blues are so deep, and what Muddy did with them was so electric and new, that I wanted to show those two sides coming together in the artwork.
Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.
My process usually begins with research! I do a lot of reading and looking at artwork related to a particular project. Then I will try to find some way to make it real. For The Storyteller, it was about going to Morocco and meeting and talking with real storytellers and carpet weavers, and getting a feel for the place by drawing it. With Muddy, I went to listen to the blues musicians in Mississippi and Chicago, and talked with the people there. The on-location drawing I do usually has a big impact on the final artwork of the book.
Have you always been into writing and illustrating ?
Pretty much! I always loved writing and illustrating picture books when I was in elementary school. They were usually about an obscure animal of some kind. Then, in art school, I continued working on my own illustrated book projects, and thanks to my art director, Ann Bobco, I got an early entry into the industry right out of school!
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I think the most exciting part of creating books is the research phase. I just get to learn and draw, which is the best. I love making the final artwork, seeing it all done, and talking to kids! Really every part of the process is wonderful. Getting to talk with kids about the artwork and the story on school visits is so exciting for me!
What inspires your creativity?
I get inspired by drawing and by reading. When I learn something new, or see something new, I want to study it and share it, and that usually leads to some kind of story! I always love looking at new kinds of art, and seeing the endless possibilities.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I have two cats! Bert (Full name: King Aethelbert) and Pica (Full name: Empress Pica Bunnycup (because she has a little bunny tail))
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?
I think maybe making movies? It’s kind of a similar process, but coming from a completely different angle. I’d also love to design a stage show! Costumes, sets, lighting… That seems like an amazing job.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I am almost done working on a new book right now called Heartbeat. It’s about a baby whale who loses her mother during the heyday of American whaling in the 19th century, and swims through the next 200 years seeing how human attitudes towards whales shift throughout the decades. In the end, she’s able to find solace in the compassion of one young girl who hears her song and sings with her, with hope for a brighter future. It’s based on the the reality of whaling, in that there were many orphaned whale calves, and that recently some whales have been discovered to have been over 200 years old! The amount of things we have used whales for over the decades is staggering: Oil for light, mechanical lubricant in the industrial revolution, machine guns and bombs in the two World Wars, food, automatic transmission fluid in cars, and whale oil even coated some of the first photos we ever took of the moon in space! So it’s a book about a lot of things: whales, history, the environment, loss, compassion, empathy, and the way we treat/commodify the most vulnerable in our society. In the end, it’s really about connection, and how listening and understanding can unite us. It will be out from Atheneum in 2018!
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
Just a thank you to you for doing the work of spreading your passion for books to kids and everyone else! And a thank you to anyone out there who is reading these books! It really is a remarkable feeling to have someone connect with something you’ve made, and I am so grateful!