Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interview Adventure series—Julia Gorton • 5

Julia Gorton is the illustrator and designer of many books for children, including Abrams’ Score! 50 Poems to Motivate and Inspire and Harpercollins's I See Myself by Vicki Cobb, the MathStart book Super Sandcastle Saturday by Stuart J. Murphy, and Ten Rosy Roses, by Eve Merriam. She teaches design at Parsons the New School for Design. Julia Gorton lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey with her husband, author-illustrator Daniel Kirk, and their three children.

Julia Gorton with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth

CW: How would you recommend to other illustrators to get there work published?

Get out of the studio and make an effort to meet people. Be friendly and send lovely mailers that will be memorable and useful. Follow up and don’t give up. Volunteer to do work for your friends, their bands and any local spots that need updated graphics and images. Think of making small editions that use a narrative theme to show someone how you might work on developing a story across many pages. Do something different, but not so different that there is not a place for it in the market.

CW: Who are your influences.

JG: Hmmm. Lots of graphic designers, they’re great at creating understandable images, Alice and Martin Provensen and Charlie Harper for their stylization, Eloise Wilkin for creating the books that I remember from my childhood, Maurice Sendack for the perfect Little Bear, those classic Golden Book illustrators like Leonard Weisgard and Garth Williams, my husband Daniel Kirk, as well as my creative kids.

CW: Do you have any rituals that you go through before you can get to work?

JG: I look at the things that I’ve collected over the years; like books, fabrics, vintage packages as well as favorite photos of my family. I spend time thinking and remembering, trying to get into the right frame of mind. I procrastinate and do laundry. I look at typefaces and design the text for the book so that the words have the right visual sound. I have coffee and watch CNN.

CW: What process did you go through to develop your styles.

JG: I think about methods to help me save time. Having my first child lead me to move from painting with a brush to using the airbrush. By the time my third child was born, I was working on the computer.

CW: You have a variety of styles all equally good as the next how do you manage them. Do art directors ever get confused?

JG: Thank you. I am not sure if art directors get confused. They generally seem pretty pleased with the finished work.

CW: I find with young illustrator the question of style is a confusing prospect.
Which can take some time to work out so it flows with out frustrations.

CW: What style did you use for Just Like Mama and why?

JG: I spend time in meetings at Parsons, the school where I teach. Usually I sketch in my notebook during meeting as this helps me concentrate and makes the time go more quickly. My friends at work are very supportive of this sketchbook work. At the same time, I observed my 18 year old son become very adept at working with markers. Watching him work looked like so much fun. He fills in his pen work with the most beautiful colors. I combined these two approaches into a style that I felt would have warmth and heart and give me the opportunity to try something new and free myself from the computer where I spend too much time.

CW: What did you find most challenging and most rewarding about working on Just Like Mama?

JG: Working with a new medium was stressful at first. There were even some tears of frustration in the beginning. But once I got the hang of it, I loved watching the saturated colors seeping into the paper. Of course, the color selection is more limited and some markers don’t cover large areas [like walls] very smoothly so I had to be thoughtful before the markers ever touched the paper. The original drawings were done with micron pens and then scanned, enlarged and printed on cheap sketch pad paper. If I made a big mistake, I just printed out the original black line art and a new piece of paper and started over. If I made a mistake or changed my mind about something later on, I just made a patch and glued it on.

CW: You teach at Parsons and from what I hear you are a very popular teacher there. What kind of classes do you teach?

JG: Believe me, teaching is really hard and all the students are unique challenges. I hope by the end of class they understand that design is a process and that you learn from your failures. That getting involved, doing your research and working with people is a crucial part of your work as a designer. I teach Graphic Design, Print Design 1 and 2 and a class called Laboratory which introduces first year students to team work, designing for a specific user, utilizing New York City as a resource, and working within a budget.

CW: What do you feel is the biggest difference between picture books today and picture books of 20 yrs. ago? How have they changed? Has the process changed?

JG: Publishers are much more concerned with every part of the book, as the market has become more competive these days. There is no room for vanity projects. Books need a specific bridge to an audience, occasion or holiday. Everyone at the publishing house is more involved in the entire process, so if you aren’t good working as a team member this is not the job for you! Editors and Art Directors are actually brilliant at what they do, and they help you do the best job possible. Listen to them and learn from them. They’re great teachers.

CW: Do you also have time to do your own personal work? If so what is it all about?

JG: I don’t have currently have time for personal work. My family is a wonderful work in progress that I am part of each and every day.

CW: What makes an extraordinary picture book in your eyes?

One that your child and you both love to read again and again. That’s it.

CW: What is next for you? Have you ever thought of writing as well?

JG: I’m writing something right now that was inspired by a friends daughter.
So hopefully I’ll be able to write, illustrate and design my next book.

Julia and Her Family

CW: You just illustrated a picture book called JUST LIKE MAMA so what do you do that is Just like your Mother?

JG: I am sure that there are many ways in which I am like my mother that I am not even aware of. But here are a few . . . she’s good at talking with strangers, and I find myself talking to just about anyone and everyone I run into. People are endlessly fascinating and are treasure troves of experience and information. I love history, old buildings and old stuff. Now it’s called vintage shopping, but back in the day we went antiquing. My parents took me to country auctions, flea markets and during high school my mother would take me out of school on Friday’s when there was an Estate sale on the fancy side of town! We’ve taken our kids to explore old cities, scouted out abandoned factories, traveled to estate and rummage sales and been to auctions at Christies.


Just Like Mama is a beautiful testament to the love between mother and daughter, and especially how, in a child’s eyes, a mother does everything perfectly, from cooking to playing to simply loving. There are some things that no one can do as well as a mom. “With a pile of pancakes shaped like moons, and cocoa with a cloud of cream, no one can cook breakfast just like Mama.” Nor garden, host tea parties, cook supper, or tuck her child into bed. No one does it just like Mama can. And in the end, nobody loves Mama just like her little girl does.

Authors: By Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Julia Gorton
Imprint: Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 0-8109-8393-1
EAN: 9780810983939
Availability: Prepublication
Publishing Date: 4/1/2010
Trim Size: 9 x 9
Page Count: 32
Cover: Hardcover with jacket
Illustrations: 32 pages of full-color illustrations

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Look Back on Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Book and the Movie by Charles Kochman

Last week the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie premiered and now there is talk of producing a second film. But how did we get here? It just seems like yesterday that we started work on the cover. Which was over 3 years ago now. The first time I ever heard anything about Diary of a Wimpy Kid was through a PW announcement informing us that Charles Kochman had acquired a book told in cartoons. It was the first time I had seen an announcement like that about a book I was going to be working on before working on it. I had yet to work with Charlie since he was an editor for the Abrams imprint and had yet to work on anything in the Children's Dept. Not knowing what lay ahead there was an air of excitement around this book from the day one. Charles Kochman took a moment last week to reflect back about the movie and how Wimpy Kid came to be.

Charles Kochman: It’s late in the afternoon on Sunday, February 26, 2006, and I’ve been working the New York Comic-Con since Friday. A young man walks up to the Abrams booth and we begin to talk about Mom’s Cancer, a Web comic we’d just published as a graphic novel that was starting to get a lot of attention. He then asks if we would ever consider an online comic that was written for younger readers. “If the material was right, sure,” I say. “I can’t see why not.” The man then hands me a 6 x 9 spiral-bound packet of eighteen pages. There’s a simple line drawing on the front and a title scrawled across the top, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I looked down at his proposal, smiled, then looked up, the eight year old in me thinking, Why wasn’t there something like this when I was a kid? I offer encouragement, leafing through the pages, and let him know I’d be in touch after I read it and looked at his Web site. The man walks away into the crowd and, as he told me later, called his brother and said, “I just met the guy who’s going to publish my book.” Little did he know, but as I watched him walk down the aisle of the Javitz Center that afternoon, I thought the same thing.

That night I went home, ate, and sorted through my stack of swag from three days at the con. Spread out on my bed were comics, books, posters, postcards, buttons, and proposals, each in its own pile. And then I unpacked Diary of a Wimpy Kid and read the first page and started to laugh. By the time I got to page seven and the Reading Group titles Einstein as a Child and Bink Says Boo, Jeff Kinney and Greg Heffley had won me over completely.

The original proposal for Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Flash forward four years: It’s March 4, 2010, and I’m sitting next to Jeff Kinney and we are in the Ziegfeld movie theater in New York watching the first 20th Century Fox screening of the film in front of 800 kids bused in by the NEA (National Education Association). Directly in front of us and to our immediate left are the two leads, Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron, who play Greg Heffley and Rowley Jefferson. And seated behind us are the producers, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson. Ninety minutes later Jeff is onstage with Katherine Paterson, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (and the author of The Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved).

You can’t imagine how surreal this all is. When I was fifteen I sat in the Ziegfeld for the premiere of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. My family and I had nothing to do with the movie, but my father was somehow able to score us an invite. It was inconceivable then that thirty-three years later I would be sitting in the same theater, watching the New York premiere of a movie adapted from a book I had edited, and that I would be seated next to the author exchanging comments as familiar dialogue and scenes came to life on the screen in front of us.

It was the first time I was struck by the reach of our series. I knew the books are sold into more than thirty-seven countries and appear in thirty-five languages, but I share Saul Steinberg’s view of the world, and despite the pile of foreign editions all over my office, there is a book-to-book correlation between each of them. The film, however, was transformative. And as I sat in the theater and heard the audience laughing and got caught up in the emotion of the film, I realized that our wimpy kid had grown and left his Abrams home and now truly belonged to the world. Sitting there with Jeff, I was as overcome as I was when I first saw the Mother Ship descend on the Ziegfeld’s legendary silver screen. I also realized something about Diary of a Wimpy Kid I have almost taken for granted these past four years: We are not alone.

Obviously, a lot transpired in those four intervening years between the time I met Jeff and last Friday when the movie was released: We published a series of four bestselling books, a mostly blank journal, and a movie diary. Jeff was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. And he’s received other awards, spoken at various conferences, done book signings for 1,000s of fans, and has made a series of network television appearances (and thanks to Jason I even got to sit in the Green Room and exchange pleasantries with Barbara Walters when Jeff was on The View, and with Al Roker the first time Jeff was on the Today show).

When I first presented this series before our Publications Board, I never imagined any of this. We signed up three books. It was a fun story with art we were all charmed by, but it was never a lead title, and in any best-case scenario we ever imagined, no one, not even me, believed it would have any impact on the publishing industry, much less the world. But like most outliers, its success seemed to happen overnight, but in reality happened organically as word of mouth spread and middle school readers discovered the book and told their friends, who then told their friends, etc. etc. The book was released in April 2007, and a month later, on May 6, it debuted at #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List, where it has remained at the top ever since.

Success is unexplainable.

Continued success, however, has to be managed, and is truly a collaboration. Every week a group of us meet in Michael’s “Strategy Chamber” and brainstorm all things Wimpy Kid,

led by Michael, Mary, Jason, Veronica, Marty, Elisa, Howard, and Susan, with occasional guest appearances by Chad, Scott, Jutta, Tom, Larry, Anet, and Jacquie. Over the years this team has coalesced and plays a crucial role in this cultural phenomenon, and in the continued success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Without each and every one on the team playing their part, and the countless others here at Abrams and our field sales teams, as well as at our printers, Lehigh Phoenix and Worzalla, there would never have been a Wimpy Kid movie. Without laying the foundation with our books, there wouldn’t have been all of those fans eagerly waiting the film’s release, each of whom came out its opening weekend to spend over $22.1, making it the highest-grossing debut ever for a non-animated, non-fantasy children's book adaptation.

Not bad for a wimpy kid.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

MAN DAY at Greenwillow Books

Today I am the special guest blogger on the
for a very special "MAN DAY"

TO MARKET—Sneak Peak

Nikki McClure is working away cutting out her next book TO MARKET. Here is a photo of her progress so far. She is going to need a larger studio floor once this one is done.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Wimpy Gang

Jeff Kinney, Charles Kochman, Zachary Gordon, Chad W. Beckerman and Jason Wells

For more WIMPY KID photos
Click Here


Wednesday, March 17, 2010