Most people know today’s author-illustrator from his hit graphic novel series “CatStronauts,” but today I get to share about his latest picture book and *gasp* it’s about dogs!
Drew Brockington graduated from Kalamazoo College with a degree in Art and Art History, and soon found himself in Central Park working for Christo and Jeanne Claude on “The Gates” artwork installation in the winter of 2005. He went on stay in New York as a graphic designer, using his illustration talents to help create custom logos and stationery pieces. In his spare time, he continued to doodle in his sketchbook, as well as, participated in cheese eating contests.
In late 2012, Drew and his wife relocated to Minneapolis, where he refocused his efforts into writing and illustration. He currently draws in his home studio, while his dog, Leroy, snores next to him.
His work has been featured at Shirt.Woot, The New York Pops, Central Park SummerStage, and Bisquick. He has a special love for comics and will never shy away from a pun. Drew is represented by Elena Giovinazzo, agent for Pippin Properties. You can learn more about him at his website.
PUPPY BUS is a picture book about a boy who has moved and has to start at a new school. BUT he gets on the wrong bus and makes it to a school for dogs. NOT an obedience school, it’s a school where everyone is a dog (students, principal, etc.). It’s a really fun twist on the back-to-school topic that I haven’t seen anywhere else before. Yes the new boy stands out, but how could he not? He’s literally surrounded by dogs! There are so many funny tidbits in this that I’m afraid I might spoil some of them. This is one you’re just going to have to read yourself (and trust me, you will want to).
Me: Can you share about your artistic journey? When did you start creating art? How did that bring you to where you are now as an illustrator?
Drew: I started making comics in 8th grade. I would draw them over the summer, make copies at Kinko’s, and then sell them out of my backpack. That taught me a lot about making comics.
When I graduated I started making T-shirt illustrations. Websites like Threadless and Shirt.Woot were having regular open calls for new artwork. This was a fun way to keep illustrating while I was working full time.
One day I went to a local comic show and saw that everyone tabling was my age or younger. This re-kindled my interest in creating comics and in turn, led me to discover Children’s Illustration.
I spent 2 years self-publishing comics and zines and attending as many shows that I could. During that time, I also took a continuing ed class in Children’s Illustration that helped me develop my portfolio.
Me: What did your illustration process for this book look like? Are you a traditional or a digital artist? Or do you use a blend of both?
Drew: This book was sketched by hand, and then drawn and colored in Procreate. I love analog drawing and try to do it as much as possible. But somewhere in the process for Puppy Bus, it became aware to me that to get the look I wanted, I either needed to practice 10,000 hours of gouache painting or draw and color the book digitally.
ILLUSTRATION NOTE: These are the 4 cover sketches that I submitted to the publisher. The big feedback was that the cover needed the kid added. Eventually we settled on the 2nd cover of the bus pulling up, and would add the kid and puppies getting on the bus together. Option 3 became the inspiration for the end papers and the under jacket cover.
Me: I don’t think I have ever seen a story about the first day at school with dogs on a bus. What gave you the idea for this story?
Drew: I was playing with my (at the time) toddler daughter one morning. She took a toy bus and filled it with tiny stuffed puppies and in a low gravelly voice said, “Puppy Bus.” That was it. I knew right there that “Puppy Bus” needed to be a book. I just needed to figure out what the story was going to be about.
Me: Which was harder: writing or illustrating “Puppy Bus”?
Drew: Oh, writing for sure! Paws down! I went through so many versions of the book over about 4 years before it actually became pitch-able. The core story of a kid accidentally getting on a bus full of puppies and going to puppy school for the day stayed constant, but everything else changed before the final version.
I would write each version in a blank “Dummy” book where I could turn the pages and set up my reveals for the next spread. This also allowed me to sketch a bit while I was writing, so I could story board out the book and work on character design in each version.
Me: You’ve already got a following for CatStronauts, so I have to ask: why a puppy bus and not a cat bus? Are you a fan of both cats and dogs, or do you have a preference for one over the other?
Drew: I don’t sit down and say, “Let’s make a ‘bus with animals on it’ book today.” I really wait until a concept or a title sparks inspiration and then I work out the story around that. My daughter saying “Puppy Bus” to me was such a gift. I had the title and a solid concept, there was no way that bus would have anything else besides puppies on board.
I do love cats, although I am allergic to them. I love dogs too, but I am also allergic to them (although I’m still more allergic to cats.)
If I HAD to choose between dogs or cats, I would choose sloths. Sloths are amazing animals.
Me: Haha! Excellent choice. Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Drew: Make a full dummy of a book. If you have your portfolio in a good spot, choose an idea you like and hash out a story for it. You could even take an existing manuscript and illustrate in your style, just sketch out an entire book.
I made a dummy for my portfolio and I learned so much about pacing, characters, staging, layout, and how much time it takes to make a book by creating that dummy.
That dummy was never picked up, but that’s okay. It gave me a chance to practice everything I needed for creating my first picture book.
ILLUSTRATION NOTE: These are sketches from all the different dummy versions that I worked on. You can see how the Principal evolves through the drawings. I love how I tried Glasses on the dog at some point, and it was WAYYYY to absurd. The last change was the publisher wanting an Older Dog in the role of principal. I love that the glasses still made it in there, but placed on the desk. It’s absurd, but not TOO absurd.
Me: Any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Drew: I’m working on some fun stuff! New CatStronaut stories in the future and I’m also designing and illustrating a board game based on the series.
Oh wow! I’m sure all of your fans will absolutely love that board game. Thank you for stopping by my blog today Drew.
Dear readers, this book is released TODAY! Make sure you you don’t miss it as it’s a very entertaining read.