Kids + Teens

Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish

Hi, everybody! It’s Kate Messner, the author of Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish, and I had the delightful opportunity to interview the book’s illustrator, the talented and hilarious Andy Rash. It might come as a surprise to some people that authors and illustrators don’t usually communicate much while a book is being made. Part of the magic of a picture book is that it’s two people’s visions, rolled into one. That means once I’ve written the manuscript and sent it to the folks at Chronicle, it’s time for me to let go and turn it over to Andy for the illustrations. Occasionally, there are situations where the text is revised after the illustration process starts, and usually in those cases, our editor Melissa Manlove steps in as sort of a middle woman to get things done.

So finally having the chance to chat with Andy about his part of the process was a treat for me! Here’s our conversation…

Kate: When you first get a manuscript in your email in-box, how does your illustration process begin? Do you dive right into sketching or is there some other planning that comes first?

Andy: The first thing I do is read through the manuscript several times and make notes about the characters. I illustrate lots of books with sea monsters and mutant dinosaurs and other imaginary creatures, so I need to sketch out character designs that match the descriptions from the author and also have the ability to do the things the character does in the story. Does this creature need to hold a cup? Wear a shirt? Type? Usually, I have a lot of flexibility, especially with picture books. Also, I need to like the way the character looks. I’m going to be drawing this character a lot, so I need to make friends with him. Hopefully, that means the reader will also make friends.

Kate: I have to tell you that whenever your sketches come in for the Sea Monster books, my whole family gathers around my laptop to see what you’ve come up with. How do you manage to capture so much personality in the faces of these sea creatures? Is it harder to do that when you’re dealing with non-human characters?

Andy: Facial expressions and gesture are really useful storytelling tools. The characters have to have a flexible and sympathetic face. Giving emotions to Ernest the sea monster is great fun because he is very flexible. His long neck can tell you a lot about whether he is feeling relaxed or not. The bossy fish has sort of a smarmy know-it-all expression most of the time, but that quickly disappears when he is suddenly in over his head.

Kate: Some people may not realize that illustrators not only work with the author’s text for a manuscript but also add elements of their own, especially when it comes to humor.

You do so much of this in the Sea Monster books, from the “Friend Fish” band logo to the expression on the cafeteria fish’s face, and I feel like it creates a book that can be enjoyed on so many levels, by the younger listeners as well as the more sophisticated adults who are reading aloud. Do you think about those grown-up readers, too, when you’re illustrating?

Andy: Absolutely! Most parents have had the experience of reading a picture book over and over and wondering what in the world their child sees in it. Any illustrator’s first audience is himself. If what I’m doing isn’t funny to me, or doesn’t make me feel the appropriate emotion, then I need to start over. When I do get it right, I’m counting on the idea that other adults reading with their kids are also getting something extra out of it. I sometimes sneak in a reference that a kid is unlikely to get, but only if it doesn’t distract from the story at all. For example, in Sea Monster’s First Day, there is a reference to the movie Jaws.

Kate: I love that scene and always get a kick out of it when a parent reader lets me know they’ve noticed it, too! So what’s your favorite illustration in Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish, and why?

Andy: You already mentioned her, but the Lunch Lady fish is my favorite. I feel like I got her expression and gesture just the way I wanted it. You know: lunch-lady-like. A close second is the delighted gasp a large mouth bass gives as he is being presented with a hand-knit (fin-knit?) scarf.

Kate: I love that little guy, too! Anything else you’d like to add?

Andy: I would like to thank you, Kate! You are a talented writer and an enthusiastic collaborator, and I really enjoy working with you. It has been great fun illustrating these Sea Monster books. Ernest’s world is a fun place I enjoy returning to, and I hope we get to do another book together!

Follow the “Making Fishy Friends” Back-to-School Blog Tour for tips on how to help kids make friends, banish bullies and have a great school year!

Tuesday 8/20/2013: Kid Lit Frenzy
Wednesday 8/21/2013: There’s A Book
Thursday 8/22/2013: Mommy Ramblings
Friday 8/23/2013: Maestra Amanda’s Bookshelf
Saturday 8/24/2013: Reading Rumpus
Sunday 8/25/2013: 5 Minutes for Mom
Monday 8/26/2013: Ruth Ayres Writes
Tuesday 8/27/2013: The Family That Reads Together
Wednesday 8/28/2013: This Kid Reviews Books
Thursday 8/29/2013: Sharpread
Friday 8/30/2013: KateMessner.com

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