the news section

By "news" of course, we mean that which is new. Information, projects, ideas, that sort of thing. Maybe sometimes now and then you might find the "recent" and occasionally something quite "old" might find its way on to these pages. Possibly it could be in the form of an illustration, or perhaps I"m just behind the curve in some way. Enjoy.

Feliz Díos de los Muertos

October 29, 2014 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Muertos

(Click the images to see them bigger. In some cases, much bigger.)
I was recently asked by Steven Malk, my literary agent at Writers House, to create a promotional card for the upcoming holiday. No, not Halloween. Rather, the Day of the Dead, or Díos de los Muertos. I actually volunteered for this — he is putting together a series of these promotional images for the lesser-known holidays. Arbor Day, Grandparent's Day, and so on. When I saw Muertos on the list I jumped at the chance. I've long admired the work of J.G. Posada, whose wood-cut skeletons and other imagery I associate with the holiday.

8097112_orig

cyclists---Posada

diadetrans

Originally I thought I might even play with some printmaking techniques to pay a little homage to Posada as I make this image, but I quickly realized that with the looming deadline for the second Frank Einstein book, this would not be possible. I had to do what I do the way I know how to do it, and go from there.

I pretty much knew what I wanted to do from the start. The festive atmosphere of a Day of the Dead celebration is one that everyone should at some point experience. I don't love the goofy goth-horror side that Americans have sort of adapted over the years, and I wanted the story told here to be less about the costumes and more about the idea of this old guy moving from this life to the next. I went through a few phases with the sketches but it came together pretty quickly.
Below I post various steps in the process, in order that I made them, and some details from the final art.

The first sketch -- just two guys.

The first sketch — just two guys.

I thought a background would be involved at first.

I thought a background would be involved at first.

Working out color stuff.

Working out color stuff.

The big tight sketch that becomes the basis for the inked art.

The big tight sketch that becomes the basis for the inked art.

Inked and scanned, ready for color in Photoshop.

Inked and scanned, ready for color in Photoshop.

trio_detail1

trio_detail3

trio_detail2

The printed card.

The printed card.

The reverse side with the necessary information.

The reverse side with the necessary information.

The printed card is only 4.25" x 6", so I'm sad that a lot of the detail of the line-work is difficult to make out. I'd love to print this thing bigger at some point. Maybe when I get the mythical screen-printing gear in my closet here set up and running…

dead and happy

October 22, 2014 | bookmark | 2 Comments

I did a Day of the Dead job recently that I'll post next week — in the meantime here's what I think of as "skull practice." A couple of sketchbook things, and a small painting for my brother's baby daughter in The Ukraine.

Roxane skulls

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bestseller!

September 11, 2014 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I mentioned this in the last post, but there has been progress! This is a first for me, and after three weeks I think I'd like to make it a regular thing.

September 07, 2014 edition of the New York Times Book Review bestseller list:
07 Sept

September 14, 2014 edition:
14 Sept

September 21, 2014 edition:
21 Sept

Thanks everyone who has been reading, buying, and spreading the word about Frank Einstein.

Getting some press…

September 2, 2014 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I was on vacation in lovely Fenwick Island, Delaware last week, but that doesn't mean that everything grinder to a halt or anything. Quite the contrary. First, there was a really nice interview with me in the Washington DC CityPaper in anticipation of the National Book Festival. My friend Mike Rhode did the interview and i just answered the questions.

Check that out here.

And then there was the day itself at the National Book Festival. I did a presentation on drawing robots and then signed books. My signing corral was right between New York Times Best Sellers Andrea Beaty of Rosie Revere fame, and Eric Litwin who writes Pete the Cat. So it was kind of like being between two rock stars. But the folks who came down my aisle were awesome and enthusiastic.

The view from the National Book Festival 2014

The view from the National Book Festival 2014

Maybe the best drawing I've ever drawn. Maybe.

Maybe the best drawing I've ever drawn. Maybe.

Wait, did I just say I was stuck between two New York Times bestsellers? Well that's interesting because the biggest news of all for the week was finding out that Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor is joining that club. Yeehaw! This is a first-time for me and it likely goes without saying that I was pretty excited on Wednesday when I got that phone call from Charlie and Nicole at Abrams. Currently the book is at #10, but I'll take it! Cross fingers that it does nothing but climb…

Thanks to everyone who has bought and read the book. Now I gotta get busy on finishing book 2!

NYTBS

the evolution of a Frank Einstein

August 19, 2014 | bookmark | 6 Comments

FRANKcoverscan

Today is publication day for Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor. This is the first book in the six-book Frank Einstein series, written by the lovely and talented Jon Scieszka and published by Amulet/Abrams. When a new book comes out, I always like to publish a post showing sketches and process. You might think this is more boring than canned peas. But I like it, and I know one other guy who does as well so at least there will be him reading.

I first learned about this book series back in the fall of 2012. Jon had just come up with the idea and was tossing ideas around. I worked up some sketches (seen below), and the next thing I knew, there was a contract and a deadline. As Jon wrote the first book over most of 2013, I completed work on Everything Goes and some other books, checking in every now and then and producing the odd sketch here and there.

I'd never worked on a book where the author had not yet finished the manuscript. This created a very different kind of process, where I was sketching covers that included characters that did not even end up in the final script, for example. We didn't know what the characters should look like, and we didn't know what personalities the robots had. At some points, the tall robot would be the erudite, smart guy, and the short robot would be the emotional goofball. Jon felt that this overlapped C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars a bit much, so he went with the reverse in the end. In some ways, my early sketches influenced some of the characters and scenes in the book and it was pretty interesting to be part of the process so early. For this reason, these early sketches I'm posting here are different from early sketches of most of my projects. Interesting to note that on the cover sketch, the name of the book didn't even exist yet. Jon went through several possible titles, some of which you'll see in later sketches here.

(Click on the image to embiggen it and see it more better.)

The first sketch of Frank and the robots. It's like looking at dinosaurs.

The first sketch of Frank and the robots. It's like looking at dinosaurs.

Early early cover design.

Early early cover design.

Klanks. Or are they Klinks?

Klanks. Or are they Klinks?

Very early Klink. He became  Klank.

Very early Klink. He became Klank.

early versions of Klink and Klank

early versions of Klink and Klank

Sketch of Frank used in the original proposal.

Sketch of Frank used in the original proposal.

Robot Army?

Robot Army?

We tried various directions as we contemplated the cover art. One of the suggestions from former teenage heart-throb Charlie Kochman, the editor of the series, was to consider an invention of some kind on the cover. Like something Rube Goldberg would design. I love Goldberg and this made a lot of sense to me immediately, but I had no idea how we'd pull it off, and the idea of "inventing" my own Goldberg was pretty daunting. Here are a few that show the invention idea just kind of dummied in, and then a batch of sketches that show a more action-packed cover that I thought was reminiscent of a movie poster.

FRANK-sketches

FRANKsketches

We liked aspects of these, but I was having a hard time making them work. I really liked the movie-poster ones, but apparently no one else did!

Jon had suggested in various ways that the books might look like journals. Like something a scientist would carry around in their pocket to make notes and record observations. I knocked off this field-guide-looking version at some point, and Jon and I both loved it. There was no way that we'd ever get this to be "the cover" but it was an interesting place to start.

A Field Guide to Robots, apparently

A Field Guide to Robots, apparently

Not knowing then that this was eventually going to be a dead-end street, I started digging up reference and inspiration for this kind of thing. Journals, science-fiction manuals, and especially old text books had such a great look to them. I felt that with the older crowd that we were shooting for here (as opposed to 3-5 year olds as we might be for a picture book) that we might be able to do something with this that had a retro-sophisticated spin.

inspiration

Several directions came from this exploration. I loved the idea of breaking up the cover into these panels, where we could show various characters and scenes from the book, but also symbolize various scientific principles and ideas. They reminded me of comic-book panels, which I thought was perfect. I imagined they would be in three-color printing: black and two other colors. You can see that when the two colors overlap, they create a third.

FRANKcoversketch_revis5

FRANKcoversketch-revis3

FRANKas-textbook2

FRANKas-textbook

Amazingly, we got a preliminary go-ahead on this direction with the caveat that there was one more meeting coming up where the concept had to pass muster. I kept my fingers crossed. Alas, it was a no-go. One never knows exactly who said what or how things went, but the general consensus that I understood was something along the lines of “oh my god, everyone hated this.” It was too subtle and esoteric for the kind of audience they were aiming at, and it was just too weird and busy. The problem now is that we were late late late with the cover, and marketing really needed something to work with. Chad, the art director of the project, went back to some early concepts that were more straightforward, more direct, simpler to understand, and simpler to execute. Sounds like a plan.
I'd designed this type treatment for the Frank Einstein title, which was a nice anchor.

FRANKtype1

FRANK-EINSTEIN-oldtype

Chad's direction was something like “let’s just get the three main characters in the middle, doing something, and let’s put the type on the top.” It worked!

finally, something good!

finally, something good!

Here's a cleaner furthering of this idea.

Frank cover sketch

Everybody loved it! They had no choice! We had to get this done! But everyone loved it anyway!

Closer....

Closer….

Ironically, there were some issues with the title typography which Chad solved with the sleek sophisticated logotype below. As a small aside, this is the first book I've ever illustrated that I didn't hand-letter the title. Just a little trivia for you there.

Chad's type treatment

Chad's type treatment

I designed this atomic-themed background pattern to replace the graph paper,

FRANKatom_background

Chad put everything together into a crazy complicated Photoshop file, and voila! We have a cover.

The final cover

Now that was easy, wasn't it?

One of the cool, more subtle things about this cover (and the five remaining as well) is that it's not just a scene of the characters "doing something." We kept the Rube Goldberg-inspired riff, where the mechanics of the illustration are explained with text on the back cover. Here's an example of a Goldberg cartoon:

Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg

And here is the text as it was placed on the back cover of Frank Einstein.

rubetext

I'm also posting a few interior illustrations and some of the early earliest sketches of the same scenes. Certain aspects of the book Jon had locked in from the beginning. Like the climactic confrontation at an old industrial site/factory/power plant. And the Frankenstein riff at the beginning. It's weird to see the drawings here, created more than a year apart.

climactic scene, after

climactic scene, after

climactic scene, before

climactic scene, before

opening scene, before

opening scene, before

opening scene, after

opening scene, after

Again, the book is out now now now and you can go get it at your favorite bookseller or, if you must, a big chain store or online retailer.

Read the book? Like the book? Leave a comment…
Thanks and please enjoy!

Frank 1 cover

BookPage makes up words

August 4, 2014 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

cow fart diagram

Is Cartoon-tastic a word? It is now. The internet says so.

BookPage reviewed Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor today, and they published a "Behind the Book" feature where Jon and I discuss our favorite scenes from the book. We look handsome in our photos.

Here's the link to the review.

And here's the "Behind the Book" feature.

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