Wednesday, December 28, 2005

looking back

2005 is just about done! Looking back at the year, I realize that I toured more extensively that I have ever so far. I had about 45 book events, which means that I read Punk Farm approximately 125 times (that's roughly 500 “EEE-I-EEE-I-OH's”) to 7,000 or so kids (plus that one kid from the San Francisco Borders). And after all of that, I am still left wanting to do more with those animals from Punk Farm. I finished art for two books - Giddy Up, Cowgirl (which will be in stores before I will even realize) and My Buddy, Slug (which still seems surreal, as it is the book I had always wanted to make).

So before I get all ambitious and tell you what I want to do in 2006, I’m going to wax nostalgic and make a list of all things ’05 in studio jjk land...

Funniest thing a kid said to me this year –
Kid: Do you know when the author is coming?
Me: Hmmm…I’m not sure….
Kid: Oh, because I’m pretty sure I just saw her….
(Houston, TX)

Most Humbling Book Tour Moment-

Having one kid turn up at the San Francisco Borders

Most Rock Star Book Tour Moment-
When I overheard any kid exclaiming, “I love Punk Farm,” when I pulled the book out to read it.

Scariest Book Tour Moment-

Evacuating from Hurricane Rita. (I wrote about this here - )

Coolest Picture Sent in by a Reader (potentially ever)-

Top 5 Favorite Books (with pictures)-

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black
Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown
Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Jen Corace

Top 5 Favorite Books (without so many pictures)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Superstud by Paul Feig
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (OK, it doesn’t come out until 2006, but I had an advanced copy and it ROCKS!)
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard S. Marcus (OK, this came out a while ago, but I just now read it and loved it.)

Favorite Compilation Book –
Guys Write for Guys Read

Favorite New Inovation of’05-

Favorite New Podcasts –

NPR’s Most E-mailed Stories of the Day
The Sound of Young America
Book Voyages

Most Surreal Moment –

Leaving the Random House building and realizing that I just handed in art for Slug.

Top 5 Albums of 2005
Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
Gorillaz – Feel Good, Inc
Aqualung – Strange & Beautiful
Sujfan Stevens - Illinois
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

Top 5 Concerts –
Green Day
Bloc Party
Mates of State
Hot Hot Heat

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas Tree(s)!!!

Every year, my sister Maura, brother Richard and cousin Michael come over and we decorate a crazy Christmas tree. It started in 2002 when I decided I should have my first tree as a grown up. We decided to make our own decorations, inspired by my newly purchased Pac-Man machine (very grown up, I know), and made a Pac-Man tree. Then each year after, we just sort of decided on the spot what the theme would be.

They were just here this past weekend and sticking with tradition, we didn't think about the theme until we went to the tree lot and then poked around a few dollar stores looking for inspiration.

I thought people out there might enjoy seeing what we've done over the years...





Friday, December 09, 2005


Drawn. ca is this great source for current illustration and I check into the site on an almost daily basis. Jared Chapman just interviewd me for the site. (Thanks Jared!) You can read it at -

back at the RISD

A few weeks ago at the Robert's Snow opening I ran into an old college professor, Oren Sherman. Oren was by far one of the greatest teachers I had while a student at RISD. There was no way you could get away with doing marginal work in his class and in crits - no matter how good something was, he'd let you know what needed to be fixed and no matter how bad something was, he'd point out something that was working. So when he asked me to come in and talk to his illustration I sophomores, it was pretty easy to 'yes'.

I went in to talk to his students yesterday. I've returned to the school on a number of occasions to talk, but mostly it's in a bigger lecture setting. But this was cool because I stuck around for the day, participated in crits and got to know some of the students. And I didn't show slides, just talked about how I got to where I am while they thumbed through my books. It totally reminded me of that time in my life where I was a sophomore, eager to get into the game of illustration.

And man, these kids have skills. Their projects were great and I can't wait to see where some of them are in just a few years as seniors.

Friday, December 02, 2005

kid quote - what happens when you graduate from college?

So I was visiting a school here in the Boston area yesterday and I was doing my presentation for 5th graders. I talk about my life as an artist and part of my shtick is that (when I get to the part of graduating college) I ask them, "What happens when you graduate from college?"

Of course I always get at least one kid who says, "You get married." I get the occasional "You can do whatever you want!" But yesterday I received quite an array of responses. The last one by far being the most surprising of any of my presentations.....

ME: So what happens when you graduate from college?
KID#1: You're a grown-up.
KID#2: You need to get a job.
KID #3: You need to pay your own taxes.
KID#4: You need to pay off your college loans.
KID#5: You get a car.
KID#6: You need to pay your child support.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Snowflake Dedication

A few weeks ago we had the kick off event for Robert’s Snow. It was a beautiful night and there were crowds of people who came from places as far off as Chicago and Virginia – all just to see the snowflakes in person. And everyone seemed to have a story as to why they were there. There was this kid Chad who was there with his mother. They had flown in from Virginia because they had purchased a snowflake last year. And they had purchased a snowflake because Chad had lost his father to cancer. One artist dedicated his snowflake to his brother who he had lost to cancer.

And it made me think. Why exactly am I involved with this project? To raise money for the Dana-Farber cancer research institute, sure. To help my friend Grace, absolutely. Because I’ve been so involved with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and the kids there, of course.

But it all comes down to one person for me. And I’m dedicating my snowflake to him.

Eric Orfao.

I met Eric when I was 16 and he 4. In September of 1994, I loaded up in a van with a bunch of my high school classmates and we headed up to Maine on a school-sponsored week to volunteer at this place called Camp Sunshine. We’d be working with children who had cancer and their families. Eric, along with his brother Jason and sister Mary had a profound impact on my life. Eric was 4 and had leukemia. So he was a normal kid who loved the Power Rangers, loved the Red Sox and loved to play, but he also had cancer.

I would later visit him at the Dana-Farber when he would go in for a bone marrow transplant and his family and I would often get together.

Because of Eric I stopped worrying about my own problems. Because of him I went on to work so many summers at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Because of him a countless amount of important people have been brought into my life. Because of him I began to think about using my talents to entertain a young audience.

He lost his battle just before his 6th birthday and a large part of who I am is because I knew Eric.

And coincidentally, I used his family's barn (and horses) as reference for "Punk Farm", for which my snowflake is based.

I still think about him all the time and keep a photo of he and his family at the front of my drafting table. In times of stressful deadlines it reminds me of what is important in life.

So my bid often and bid high on everything Robert’s Snow. The money raised is going to an extraordinary cause. Cancer research is something that benefits us all. I have been consistently proud to be a part of this project and it has far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

My PUNK FARM snowflake is on auction December 4th and can be found here -

Eric and I in September 1994


It’s 1997. The fall semester. I’m a junior at RISD and enrolled in a class called “Picture and Word”, where we are writing and illustrating picture books. It is by far the coolest class I have yet to take. In the class I write a story called “Hello,” said this Slug. Eager to get my rejections out of the way, I submit it to a publisher. It is promptly rejected. So I send it out again. And again. And again… Some rejections are nice, some are harsh and some are form letters on half sheets of paper (clearly I wasn’t even worth a full sheet). So I move on, write more stories, graduate, etc. But I am still sending SLUG out and still getting so much positive feedback from everyone... my family, my friends, all of the kids at camp…so I keep sending it out. And it keeps getting rejected.

Then something miraculous happened. Random House gives me a contract for Good Night, Monkey Boy. Amazing! A book of mine is actually getting published. “This is it,” I think. Now it will be easy to get my SLUG published. Except it isn’t. It gets rejected…again.

Then one day my friend Sarah Tucker (whose namesake was used much to her chagrin in Baghead) tells me that SLUG is by far the best story that I’ve ever written and I need to get it out there. So I rethink everything and completely retool the story, changing scenarios around, but keeping character traits, certain themes and a few jokes in line. And I submit it to Random House. But nothing happens with it. Max for President happens, then Punk Farm happens.

I mention to my editor Michelle that we never really talked about the new SLUG, because we both got so caught up in my new projects. Then I begin to think of a scheme. I will inundate her and everyone at Random House with little Slug paintings. They’ll get dozens, hundreds of them in the mail and they won’t be able to ignore him!

I make three and then I get a phone call. It’s my editor Michelle. “We love Slug and want to pick it up!” My jaw drops. We finish our conversation and hang up.

I pick up the phone and call my grandparents, every family member and every friend who ever listened to me talk about this story about a boy who met a giant slug. It’s December 2004 and my dream book is beginning to become a reality.

So the following months are spent editing the story, rehashing sketches and shaping the book up. After six or seven revisions we have a version of the book that’s nearly ready. I’ve gone though dozens of new title ideas and we have a few that might work. It’s near the end of summer and I now need to paint!

I’m painting in the early morning, throughout the day and into the night, until it is officially morning again. This happens over and over again. I’m throwing my studio in a suitcase and bring the work with me while I’m on the road. I’m painting in Jamie and Jeremy’s studio in Houston (which is amazing as Jamie was in that original RISD class and we haven’t painted together since college – and there I am, working on that same character once again). I’m working on revising texts while on airplanes. I’m in New York City and painting in Katie and Dan’s living room, putting the finishing touches on the paintings until 3 AM the night before the book is due.

And then the day. November 18, 2005. I hand in all of the paintings for the book I had always
wanted to make. I debuted the work to all of the good people at Random House and then my editor Michelle, her assistant Michele, my designer Melissa and publicist Christine all have an amazing lunch; a lunch-a-thon. I then bop around the offices for the rest of the day saying hello to people and sitting and talking about plans for the book. So of course I’m ready to take a break, but then my art director Isabel shows me something.

The paper samples and book comps for my graphic novel series…and my head starts to spin again…

It’s evening and I return to Katie and Dan’s house and I crash. I wake up from my nap and I start to wonder, “Did all of that really happen? Did I really hand in the art for SLUG?”

So now I wait. In just under a year…9 years after I initially conceived the story…My Buddy, Slug will be in bookstores.

Words can’t fully express my excitement.

The Stinky Cheese Man Man

Amherst Reads was a great day all around. Angela worked her butt off to make the event a success and it was a HUGE success. The literary celebration centered around the works of Jon Scieszka, who is a living legend in the industry. I had the chance to be a part of the Guys Read section of the day’s events with friends Tim Basil Ering and Tony DiTerlizzi. When the day was done, we all celebrated with Chinese food and I couldn’t help but be amazed by the energy and the creativity of everyone around me. I’m continually feeling as though I am a real part of something as I grow into this world of children’s publishing. After spending time with Jon, one can’t help but feel a sense of awe of what he has accomplished and by his good nature. He is a role model for all of us who are publishing.

PS - We were also attacked by ninjas.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Posts from another post

here are some posts that i had written in another blog (which i had only started) but i'm going to make this my official jjk blog-

Friday, October 28, 2005
Kansas City: it's worth the trip

That's my slogan pitch to the KC tourism council. I've been in KC almost all week and ya know what - it's a great city. Not that I didn't think I'd enjoy it, but it really is a cool city! I'm sititng at the airport about to board and get home. I spent the day today at Kalaedoscope, which is this amazing craft/art/creative place attached to Hallmark. So much fun talking to kids out there. Tomorrow is Amherst Reads w/ Jon Scieszka. And I have so many paintings to get done in the next two weeks. Ugh! I hope I make it.

And last weekend was easily one of the best weekends of my life. One of my best friends, Ali Baghai got married. (You may know him as the guy who took my author photo for Bubble Bath Pirates! or the guy at the San Diego radio interview with me in The Punk Farm Book Tour Movie.) Everything about the weekend was just outstanding. A big house on the water that all of his friends rented. Non-stop fun. And me and a wedding reception dance floor is like a were-wolf and a full moon....I can't be held responsible for anything that happened.

I might be getting sick. I hope I'm not getting sick.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

on the tv

so i was on the tv today and i didn't mess it up -

Saturday, October 15, 2005
food court suicide

today i was running the mall. and i ate sushi in the food court. it was good, even though i feared death from eating sushi at a food court.

a few hours later i walked by looked too good to pass up.

and i can't stop listening to the black eyed peas' "my hump"

what's wrong with me?

"whatchyou gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside yo' trunk...."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005
today, i was attacked by seagulls

So this morning was rare, in that i woke up early and left my house before 7:30 AM. I took the train into Government Center, because I was interviewed for 7 NBC. I guess the news people like to wake up early. Illustrators don't.

Anyhow, I hadn't eaten breakfast. How could I, when I needed to leave by 7:30? So I stopped at Dunkin Donuts. With a coffee in one hand and a donut (glazed) in the other, I walked across the Government Center steps when a seagull came awfully close to my head. It startled me and I joked with a stranger passing by. When "SQUAWK!" another seagull came close to my head, and grabbed at my hair. It freaked me out and I looked up to see a dozen or so seagulls circling me.

THE DONUT! I thought. They wanted my donut! I shoved it in my mouth and ran.

I wasn't about to give up my donut.

i had to sign in to blogger to comment on grace's blog. so here i am - an official blogger....

i had a livejournal, so now i have both. maybe i'll update both someday. right now i need to paint. PAINT! my 'slug' book is due next week. it's the book that i always wanted to make. the book i always dreamed of. and i'm procrastinating.......

but when i was flying back from kansas city last week, i made this teaser for the random house employees.....