If you are like me, the images in a book are just as important as the words, especially when it comes to creepy crawly middle grade delicacies like Zombiekins! And for many of us, the cover of a book can entice you to purchase it if the artwork is terrorific. Such is the case for Kevin Bolger's and Aaron Blecha's Zombiekins.
Aaron had me at undead and hooked me right away when my eyes skipped over the latest Madonna book and landed on some of the best pus-filled eye candy in a long time. The story held up and the art was its equal. I love it when that happens. And thanks to Kevin, I was able to connect with Aaron to talk about his craft and what makes all the critters inside his inky-noodle work.
Can you give us a bit of your background and how you came to doing illustrations for kids books?
Aaron Blecha: It's been a somewhat unusual path for me. I've always been a drawer of weird and funny characters growing up but was sidetracked into graphic design at university for a few years. But then I moved to San Francisco, where I found a community of professional artists that were endlessly inspiring to me. That's where I got into character design and illustration for animation and toy companies. After moving on to London, I tried guiding my career into children's books. After illustrating a few graphic novels for kids, Kevin Bolger got in contact and wanted me to animate a cartoon based on his first book, Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger. After we squeaked out Sir Fartslot vs the Dragon, he asked me to illustrate his next book Zombiekins (click here to read the awesome review over at one of my favorite sites Kinder Scares)
From an illustrator point of view do you like it when an author writes in great detail or leaves it up to the imagination and you to create the image?
AB: It's important to have a little direction because the majority of the time an author has a character's image in their head and that can help to kick off the design process. Hopefully as an artist you can take that beginning written description and expand on it and create something both close to what the author visualized but add in your own style and point of view to it. Having an overly descriptive write up can be limiting at times. Luckily Kevin Bolger is the best and and we work very well together.
What is your favorite part of taking on a new book for illustration?
AB: The beginning and the end stages. I really enjoy the initial concept stage of designing the characters. That then sets up the entire look and feel for the world the book is set in. I also get into putting the final touches on the illustrations right before I send them in to the publisher. A couple of days are usually set aside to go through the finals to add some extras. Atmospheric shadows, highlights and funny little details can really make an illustration so much better.
Does a writer get to converse with you about the images? How does that process usually work?
AB: Sometimes it's very much a team effort, other times I don't talk with the author at all during the whole process. A strong relationship with the art director and/or designer of the book is important. I prefer to have open communication with an author though- the book will only be better if both illustrator and writer have a good working relationship and can bounce ideas off one another.
What books and artists have been a major influence on you? Why?
AB: As a kid, I loved Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are as did most boys my age. But the early books by Mercer Mayer (Professor Wormbog in Search of the Zipperump-a-Zoo, How the Trollusk Got His Hat, etc) probably have the most influence on me as an artist. He created such a rich world of goofy characters and monsters that has influenced me to this day.
I feel like the children's books in the 70s had more of an edge than the books do that are around now. One of them that I grew up with is Tailypo- A Ghost Story. A scary book about a creature in the deep dark woods that wants revenge. The suspense, the mood and loose drawing style are perfect. Another great old one I just picked up is In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories.
|In A Dark, Dark Room...|
Growing up, I'd open the newspaper directly to the Comics section and have to read Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side first. I loved Bill Waterson's beautifully composed scenes and wicked humor. Even if I didn't always understand The Far Side, Gary Larsen's google-eyed, buck-toothed idiotic characters cracked me up. Both strips went out top of their game!
Nowadays I admire the artwork in the graphic novels illustrated by Guy Davis (BPRD) and Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon).
If you could have illustrated any book throughout time what would it have been and why?
AB: My own books! I've got a bunch of ideas for children's stories that I need to develop and sketch out. Hopefully in the next year or so I'll have some to share.
As far as other books, I guess any classic science fiction stuff- something by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells or Ray Bradbury. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has always been a favorite. Something Wicked this Way Comes is excellent too. But really anything with monsters, deep sea creatures and random weirdness would be good.
What sort of face melting were you doing before Zombiekins?
AB: Before Zombiekins, I illustrated three graphic novels based on old fairy and folk tales for Stone Arch Books. They are creepy and funny retellings of classic stories- The Three Little Pigs, The Ugly Duckling and Paul Bunyan. It was a ton of fun to recreate old characters and update them in my own style.
AB: Currently I'm illustrating two other book series- George Brown, Class Clown by Nancy Krulik for Penguin and the upcoming Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless by Allan Woodrow for Harper Collins.
|I hate it when trees give wedgies!|
Well, I was a big fan before I got to see most of Aaron's work and now I can call myself an uber fan! In short, my mental socks have been blown off and my eyeballs are tizzed out by all the visual sugary goodness that they have been witness too today.
I can't thank Aaron and Kevin enough for hanging out at the Asylum and being seriously cool. If you haven't gotten yourself an armful of Fartsalot or Zobiekin or George Brown, the get up from the chair this very moment and get to that local bookstore, order them online, get to the library, purchase the e-book... I'll stop before I start talking in an over-amped voice and then want to sell you a vegetable peeler.
|A whole gaggle of Blecha characters!|