In my opinion, books are the best accessory.
I’m a big fan of Michael Rex’s work. His books and humor connect well with many of my readers and I love sharing them… Michael has a series with two new books coming out this year. The main character is Icky Ricky, a boy I hope I never meet, like pigpen from Charlie Brown combined with Horrible Henry’s antics… quite attractive to my readers… especially fans of Fangbone! This is an early chapter book series I look forward to continuing to update for the library.
Newest book coming out:
Goodreads Summary: “The creator of Goodnight Goon and The Runaway Mummy pulls from his mad-scientist brain a kid so attracted to slime, muck, dirt, and yuck that he could only be called Icky Ricky. Uh-oh! Icky Ricky is in a mess and has a lot of explaining to do. Why? Well, you see . . . A water demon took over the sink in the boys’ bathroom! Icky Ricky and his friends cleaned up the house—with a leaf blower. His sweaty armpit is a perfect robber-proof bank. The dead raccoon he bought at a garage sale is speeding downhill in a runaway go-cart. Can Icky Ricky stop it? Icky Ricky is up to his eyeballs in trouble—and in ick!”
What was your favorite childhood book memory?
I remember staring at Richard Scarry drawings for ages. I think that as a young child, I was more influenced by images. We had a lot of books in the house, and I know my parents read to us, but I really remember the pictures more than the stories.
Have you read any children’s literature books recently? I am always reading something written for children. I check out the books my boys bring home from school, and I try to read the books that are close to what I am trying to do. However, most of it is slightly academic, and I read with a professional distance. I consider it part of my work. I want to break the story down and look for the mechanics.
For my own enjoyment, I read books aimed at adults. Lately, I’ve been enjoying historical non-fiction, true crime and books on exploration.
Do you still have any of your books from when you were a child?
Yes. I have most of the picture books we had in the house when I was young. What was interesting was that when I started exploring the idea of making picture books, I looked around in my parent’s attic and found a big box of them. While I remembered the books being in color, most of them were black and white, paperback book club versions. But I remembered them in color, which is a testament to great illustration.
Are you in a writers group? If so, has it helped you?
I am not in a writers group now, but was a while back. In fact, I was invited in when Brian Selznick left. That’s a hard act to follow. Brian Floca was also in the group, as well as Patricia Lakin. My writing group was amazingly helpful. It was interesting when five different people would have five different interpretations of something that I presented. It taught me to be incredibly focused on specific goals when writing.
Not only was it great for feedback on my own projects, it was a great way to learn how to listen to what others were trying to do. I would suggest that anybody trying to write get into a group. It might not click at first, and it’s hard to put yourself out there, but it was very worth it.
I tell kids not to worry about spelling and punctuation. Just blast ahead. It’s basically the same reason that creative spelling is accepted in school. Just put you’re ideas on paper and fix them up later. I believe that most creative endeavors are best approached that way, but kids really aren’t taught to think that way.
There’s a great Ray Bradbury quote about writing that I think of often. While not exact, he says, “Throw up in the morning. Clean up in the afternoon.”
For older kids, I have told them to stay away from Fan Fiction. Some say that Fan Fiction it’s a good way to practice the mechanism of story. But the thing is, character, and concept are the two hardest parts of writing, and in Fan Fiction those are the parts that are already done. Create your own work. Even if it’s lousy, it will be yours.
For adults, I encourage them to just do what they want. Don’t worry about the market, or reader age, or the word level, just go for it. Those other things can be hammered out once there is a story and a character. I think it’s important to also be honest about who you are. We as writers are often encouraged to “write what we know” but I tell people to “write who you are.”
I also try to tell people to do their research. If you are writing a picture book, know the genre as well as you can. Go to the library and sit on the floor of the children’s room and pull one book after another off the shelf and read them. Do this as often as you can.
Icky Ricky #3, “The Dead Disco Raccoon,” comes out May 13, and #4, “The Hole to China,” comes out in September.
How do you feel about the development and growth of the e-Book industry?
Since I mainly do picture books, it hasn’t really affected what I do. I will say that I don’t like that there’s this odd push to make picture books interactive. It reminds me of when people were trying to make movies interactive to compete with video games. When I read a book, I want the author in total control. I want him or her to guide me through a carefully planned story that results in me feeling the way that they expected. I don’t want to make the choices.
Did you always plan on a writing career or if not…?
No. Not at all. In fact, a teacher at School of visual Arts said to me, “You think you can write, but you can’t.”
Growing up I did not consider myself a writer. I was a terrible student and I considered myself pretty “stupid.” But I could draw really well, so I wanted to work somewhere in the arts. The writing came later, in bits and pieces.
What truly influences you as a writer?
That should be an easy question, but I’m finding it very hard to answer. I guess it changes every few years. When I first started in 1995, I wanted to make simple picture books that reminded me of the books I read when I was young. I had a young niece at the time and she was the first child that I ever spent much time with and I found out that I felt very comfortable with kids. When I started getting published I just kind of felt that I had found something that was a good fit.
These days, I write with my own 7 and 9 year old boys in mind. I want to crack them up. I want them to see me as an adult who loves his job and who has found a way to do what he loves for a living.
I think my biggest drive as an illustrator and writer is that I simply enjoy creating. I like having something at the end of the day that did not exist at the beginning of the day.
If you weren’t a writer, what occupation would you be working in?
I would be teaching, I think. I taught high school in the Bronx for a few years in the middle of my writing/illustrating career. I also worked around the edges of the film business when I was younger. In fact, the summer I got my first illustration job, I had an offer to become a union Scenic Painter. I had to turn it down because I had to get the book done. It all worked out in the end.
Did any teacher or mentor specifically influence you in your career?
I took two classes with comic legend, and Mad Magazine creator, Harvey Kurtzman while at SVA. He liked my work right away and we became very friendly. He even invited a few of us to his home for the 4th of July. Knowing that someone of that stature liked my work was a huge influence on me, and made me push ahead with my drawing and writing.
*Do you have any favorite topping you like on your pizza? (in honor of my husband who thinks it would be cool if I collect a list of author’s favorite pizza “You can learn a lot about a person from the pizza topping they like.”) – I’d really appreciate you answering this one!!
Red and green peppers, and meatballs.
Sentences to finish:
The best advice I’ve received for my profession was….
At the beginning of my career I was trying to sell I book that I had written and wanted to illustrate. Andrew Glass told me to stop worrying about selling a book and get some illo work. I landed a book to illustrate two months later, and then pitched my own book to the editor I was working with.
The habit I never break for my writing practice is…
I don’t sit down to write unless I have enough ideas. I keep lots of sketchbooks and notebooks, and when I feel that I have thought something through well enough, I write. When I write without a clear guide of where I am going it never works out. Be prepared. I would have made a good Girl Scout.
If someone had told me…
How many hours I would spend alone writing and illustrating, I might have been frightened off. While time spent deeply focused on a project can be very rewarding, it is, at times, crushingly difficult. Growing up I did a lot of Community Theater, in high school I was involved with stagecraft, and at SVA I worked on student and low budget films, so I was used to the camaraderie of in groups. But as my drawing got better and more professional, I ended up mostly working alone. My favorite part of creating a TV pilot for Fangbone! has been working with other talented artists, bouncing ideas off them and searching for the best solutions for problems.
Why do people always assume…that I’m either a writer or an illustrator? Often, I have to point out that I do both.
Debbie, you forgot to ask me… Which is harder, writing or illustrating?
I find writing to be much harder for one simple reason. When I’m drawing, I can tell pretty early on if it’s good or not. If it’s not working out, I start again. When the end of the day arrives, I can look at a stack of art and know I spent the day producing something worthwhile. However, with writing I simply don’t know. I don’t know if the humor is working, if the story makes sense to others, or if it’s entertaining. I have no clue at all, so I cross my fingers and send it off to my editor.
Thanks so much Michael, grateful you took the time for this interview!
Hoping that Fangbone! tv adaption is picked up in the US, see the trailer below:
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