Once upon a time, as a child, I read as many fairy tales as I could get my hands on at the library. Then as an early teen I discovered “The Juniper Tree” written by the Grimm brothers and illustrated by Maurice Sendak and it changed my life forever. It was dark and gory and horrifying. I didn’t know fairy tales could do that! I then became addicted to reading the “original” fairy tales and delved into ancient library loans for years. Then I discovered a series of short stories anthologized in the late 90s by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (with names like “Snow White, Blood Red”), written by a ton of amazing authors and I fell madly in love with interpretations and the reinvention of fairy tales. They were endless.
That love of fairy tales will never leave me. In fact, upon reading Mem Fox’s “Reading Magic” in college, I found the perfect anecdote to justify my love of them. A mother meets Albert Einstein and asks him what she can do to make her child as smart as he is, to which he responds, “read him fairy tales.” “And then?” she asks. “Read him more fairy tales.”
Fairy tales capture the imagination of children in a way that permits their brains to think creatively. And coming up with newer interpretations may seem impossible at this late date, but it can still be done. That’s why I’m absolutely thrilled to talk about today’s picture book with both the author AND the illustrator again. “It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk” is written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Edwardian Taylor.
Josh Funk has visited my blog several times in the past due to the fact that he is a writing DYNAMO! He already has a couple of books coming out next year, as well as a several more under contract (including a sequel to “It’s Not Jack” AND another sequel in the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series). If you don’t already know his work, you can learn more about him at his website.
Welcome back Josh!
Me: I love a good fairy tale adaptation and “It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk” is definitely a good one! But it’s a bit different than your usual story. It’s a bit longer, it doesn’t rhyme and it doesn’t have a straightforward plot. What gave you this idea?
Josh: I really wanted to write a story that was interactive for the adult reader. I wanted the parent/teacher/librarian/caregiver to have to ARGUE with the characters in a book. And I really wanted to make the adults look silly in an effort to entertain the child audience. And that’s really why I wrote this the way that I did, in a nutshell (or a beansprout?).
Me: Your approach to the story reminds me ever so slightly of Mac Barnett and Adam Rex’s “Chloe and the Lion” (among others) as it breaks the frame of the normal story. You’ve conquered rhyme, epistolary format, sea shanties, and now metafiction. Do you just like playing with genres? What genre is next? How-to?
Josh: It’s funny you should ask about ‘how-to’s, as HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE comes out on June 5th, 2018. However, this isn’t your traditional ‘how-to’ book, as it’s actually an ‘informational fiction’ book about coding.
And I haven’t done a ‘school’ picture book yet either – but that will change on May 1st, 2018 with ALBIE NEWTON – about a boy whose first day of school goes awry when he tries to make friends in all the wrong ways.
The truth is, I’ve never really thought about all the different picture book sub-genres I’ve explored; I’ve just written whatever interested me at the time and the stories came out the way they came out.
Me: I can’t believe I forgot about “How to Code a Sandcastle” when I asked that. LOL! The illustrations by Edwardian Taylor are pitch perfect for this story. Were there any illustration surprises with this story that you just loved?
Josh: As has always been the case (literally with every book of mine), Edwardian Taylor’s illustrations were so much better than I could have hoped for. The character designs are brilliant – I love all of their facial expressions! And Edwardian also added loads of hidden fairy tale, nursery rhyme, folk tale, and fable characters throughout the book. There’s even one on the title page that I didn’t notice until Edwardian posted about it on Instagram (see if you can find it).
Me: LOL! I’ve looked and looked and haven’t been able to figure it out! Okay, I’m going to ask an even more in depth question about illustrations because I know beginning writers are always wondering where the lines are drawn between writing and illustration. In the book there is a scene where Jack is climbing and has a conversation with Cinderella. The visual on this bit of dialogue is fantastic. Can you give us an insight into your manuscript? Were there any art notes for this bit? What did it look like?
Josh: Okay, I dug out the original manuscript that I submitted back in 2014. Here’s the text for that entire spread.
I did use an illustrator note: [far away on castle turret]. I used different colors for the storyteller, Jack, and Cinderella. I used ALL CAPS to show SHOUTING vs talking. And I used italics to show when the storyteller went off script.
My general rule for illustration notes is that they should only tell what is happening. Not how. Let the illustrator show how. And frankly, I might have gone even further than I needed to with the how as I could have just said ‘far away’ – and left it up to the illustrator to decide how to show it.
You hear that illustration notes should be used sparingly, and I usually agree. But if it’s important to the plot, or is a visual gag, or even if it’s something that will make the editor or agent understand the story better, I think it’s okay to use them. Editors and art directors will strip them out before sending them off to artists if they want to.
Me: Wow! Great insight! What surprised you in writing this story that you hadn’t encountered in your writing before?
Josh: IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is my first book that’s not in rhyme. So figuring out how to do that was a challenge. I always felt that rhyme was the charm that I brought, so I needed to figure out what made this special without rhyme. The answer (for me) is the meta or crossing the fourth wall aspect.
But I really wanted to do it differently than it had been done before. There are lots of ways to cross the fourth wall.
There are books where the author and illustrator insert themselves into the story (like Chloe and the Lion, as you mentioned) – crossing the fourth wall by adding specific people (the creators) IN the book.
There are books where the characters interact with the reader (like The Monster at the End of this Book) – crossing the fourth with words from the character TO the reader.
There are books where the characters are simply aware that they are in a book (like We Are in a Book) – not crossing the wall, per se, but AWARE of the wall.
But I found very few books (really only one) that forced the reader (not the author) to cross the fourth wall and go into the book – not as an illustrated character, but with words only. And B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures had no characters in the book to argue back. But what it did do, was make the adult reader look foolish.
Previously, I tried my best to make the adult readers look as good as possible when reading my books. So making them look absurd for laughs was certainly something I had never tried to do before.
Me: LOL! So reader beware. Though honestly, I ham it up so much when reading any book to my students, I don’t mind. ANYTHING that will engage them. I’ve heard rumors that there is already a sequel in the works. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Josh: Ahh, IT’S NOT HANSEL AND GRETEL – more of a companion than a sequel. In this story (due out some time in 2019, also illustrated by Edwardian Taylor), once again our frustrated storyteller just wants to tell the traditional tale. Unfortunately,
Gretel’s feistiness and Hansel’s naiveté won’t allow them to play along particularly well. I can’t wait to share this one!
Me: I saw your list of favorite fairy tale picture books on Twitter a while back and had to read a few on the list I’d never seen before. Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Or fairy tale picture book adaptation that wasn’t on that list?
Josh: Ahh, yes – my #pb10for10 post. Honestly, my favorite is probably from that list – An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler and Whitney Martin – partly because it’s newer to me, even though it came out in 2005. It was recommended to me by a bookseller at The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis and I had never seen it before. It’s brilliantly meta and hilarious. It’s not a retold or fractured fairy tale, but it’s so clever – one of those books I wish I had written. If you haven’t read it, definitely check it out.
And if you haven’t been to The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis, definitely check that out, too.
Ahh! Interesting! That was one of the books I had to track down and read and was surprised I hadn’t run across before. It was hilarious! Thanks for stopping by Josh!
Thanks so much for inviting me back for another Simply 7 interview, Jena!
Don’t run away just yet readers, because there are more treats in store! I also interviewed the illustrator of this fun picture book and there is a puzzle to explore. Josh already mentioned it (without knowing that Edwardian and I would discuss it as well). IF anyone can figure out the hidden fairy tale character (leave a comment here), I will send you a MYSTERY prize! HOW’s that? I just REALLY want to know what is hidden in the first picture! LOL!
Edwardian Taylor was pretty much born with a crayon in his hand. He is ALWAYS drawing! He has an incredibly diverse resume and is on all of the social media sharing his work. If you want to see more or learn more about him, you should visit his website (already mentioned by Josh as well).
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing?
Edwardian: I’ve been drawing for as far as I can remember. My mom and dad would always bring me scrap paper from work and I would draw for as long as I had paper. Sometimes I’d end up drawing on my bedroom walls, which several times has got me in trouble. I was a bit of an enigma, since both my parents really didn’t have anyone in their families who were artists, nor did they know any artists themselves. But they were always supportive of me pursuing art in school. It was a bit more difficult (in the days before the internet) to be able to research the many options a career in art could lead to, but I ended up going to college for it.
I ended up graduating with a BFA for Drawing and Painting from the University of North Texas. I got it in my head I could be a serious painter. . . . but as a backup plan, I also double majored in Psychology. I still didn’t know what I could do with my art degree. Until one day a friend of mine that worked at a video game company in Dallas called GearBox, told me to come up and visit him. He show me around the studio and showed me what he did, and told me that I had the skillsets, but just needed to learn the programs they used. I realized that it was possible to work in videogames, but learning programs on my own wasn’t possible. I ended up going back to school to get my MFA in Arts and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas. Long story short, I finished the program as a 3D Visual Effects artist, and stayed on to teach some of the beginning classes. Still, I couldn’t find my foothold, so I ended up taking online 2D classes on CGMA. And there, I took 2D classes to learn more about becoming a Character Designer for Animation.
Eventually, I landed my first studio job as a Concept/Storyboard artist. But studio downsized its crew, and I was let go. I never been unemployed before, so I had to figure out where else I could use my skillsets. I ended up applying to several Illustration agencies, and landed representation with the wonderful people at The Bright Group International/ USA. A few weeks after being signed on, I got my first book deal. And since then, it’s been an amazing! So I guess I had one of the more unconventional journeys. lol
Me: How wonderful that one of your first picture book projects would be with Josh Funk illustrating a creative fairy tale adaptation AND that it would have a sequel already. How exciting is that?! Although you have quite a diverse resume of clients and experiences. So what is it that draws you to picture books?
Edwardian: If you asked me when I was a kid, if I’d be illustrating children’s books, I would’ve never imagined this. lol It’s been a fantastic surprise that I get to work on children’s books for a living! When I was offered to illustrate “It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk”, I enjoyed reading the manuscript. It read to me like a script for a tv show, so I approached the sketches like I would a storyboard for animation. Since most of my background has been designing characters, I knew I would also get to enjoy all the possible characters that I could put in this book. I had talked with Josh about any other stories that were set up in the same world as Jack’s and he said he did. So I made plans to add characters that could possibly have their own book if this one did well. I’m so glad that it did and that we’re now working on “It’s Not Hansel and Gretel.” What draws me to children’s books is knowing that the art that I’m putting out there might influence other children to want to be artists as well. It’s like going full circle. I know many of the books I read as a kid left an impact on me, even today. To think I could have that kind of influence is awesome.
Me: I saw one of your favorite scenes that you illustrated from this book on your Instagram. I’m DYING to know who the hidden fairy tale character is! Can you tell us? I’ve looked at that pic forever and can’t find it! Is it Tinkerbell? Thumbelina? The Cheshire Cat?
Edwardian: hahaha it’s funny some of the characters people are telling me they are seeing in the page. Lets just say that you’re warm. . .
Me: My guesses were wrong?! You’ve got to help me solve this one readers! What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating these stories?
Edwardian: That I was sad to have finished the first book. lol I enjoyed collaborating with Josh and our team at Two Lions so much, that I want to keep exploring the world that Jack and the other fairy tale characters live in. When I started the first book with Josh, I wanted our book to be something we could continue to grow together. Either we visit Jack on another adventure, or maybe we explore another fairytale that is still within Jack’s world, like what we’re doing with “It’s Not Hansel and Gretel.” I’m just glad that the first book was so well received, that I hope we get to continue building on what we’ve created together.
Me: What does your illustration process look like?
Edwardian: I usually will draw tiny thumbnails in the margins of the manuscript print out. Just for an idea of a layout. These are so bad, that no one will ever see them lol Then I’ll go into Photoshop and flesh out the thumbnail sketch into the formatted psd file for the book. At that point I’ll also place the text that is supposed to be on the page in the composition to help me figure out how the illustration will work together with the text. After I submit the rough sketch, if there are any notes given, I update the sketch, then resubmit it for approval. Then if all goes well, I move into color rendering. This takes the longest because I try to keep everything on their own layers and organized in photoshop to make any adjustments easier. Once I finish the illustration, I send it off for the approval that it’s good to go.
Me: Any advice for other picture book illustrators?
Edwardian: Oh boy, well I have a few thoughts:
- Time Yourself- know how long it takes you to finish a complete illustration. You don’t want to take on projects that end up being a lot of work and at the end you’re losing money because you didn’t do the math.
- Don’t stress out about style- this comes naturally when you’re working and all artists evolve their style.
- File and label- put the time in while you’re working to keep layers separated and organized. Also name them to make them easier to find. You’ll be happy you did if you end up having to make last minute adjustments down the line.
- Social Media is your friend- be active and post often. When you do that, publishers will find you easier for book work. Don’t think your agency should do all the work advertising for you. Be proactive.
- Getting to know you- take the time to get to know your author, editor, and art director. You’re going to be working with them for a bit of time, and you never know, you might get a sequel/spinoff with them. lol
Overall enjoy the process and have fun with it. When you do, it shows in your work.
Me: I love that you’re drawn to magical and fairy tale characters. What is your favorite fairy tale? How about fairy tale character? And do you have a favorite character in the book?
Edwardian: Oh thats easy. My favorite fairy tale is Hansel and Gretel. When I was little, I used to love drawing the witch’s’ gingerbread house with all the candy on it. lol And incidentally I have two dachshunds named Hansel and Gretel. So when Josh told me he had been working on the sequel/spin off with Hansel and Gretel, I was so excited. But it’s more pressure, because I want to do the artwork justice.
My favorite fairy tale character(s) would have to be the Three Little Pigs. They’re characters I’ve always loved drawing as a kid. Even now, I find myself drawn to making illustrations of them. They even make an appearance in “It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk.” It would be awesome if I could work on a children’s book about their story. Ahem Josh lol
In “It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk,” my favorite character has to be poor Bessie. She was Jack’s best friend, so when she gets sold for the magic beans, I was sad too cause even Jack knew that was wrong. I had asked Josh what happens to her in the story? He didn’t really know. So he left it to me to figure it out. Which if you read the book, you’ll notice she is back. I imagined that the Giant bought Bessie back for his new friend Jack. So I got the closure I wanted lol.
LOL! I love that and I even noticed that Bessie came back. There were a lot of little visual jokes and references that I was thrilled to see in the book. Thank you for stopping by Edwardian. Readers, if you haven’t had a chance to check out this book yet, you must! It’s such a fun read!
In the meantime, I’m serious about that puzzle and that mystery prize. I’m itching to figure out what is hidden in that picture! LOL!