Look at these illustrations! Amazing, right?
Well, today we have the oh-so-talented James Burks on the blog to tell us all about them! Welcome, James!
Will you share with us a little bit about the process–how it works when a publisher brings a story to you? Do you send them samples or sketches? Or do they know you’re so awesome that they beg you to take the contract?
JB: The process is a little different depending on the project and the publisher. Sometimes you have to do samples and compete against other artists and then the publisher picks the one that they think best fits the project. That wasn’t the case with the Monstore. They had contacted my agent out of the blue after seeing something on my website that caught their eye. So they had already decided they wanted me to do the project. All I had to do was say, “YES!” Fortunately, there was no begging involved on anyone’s part. They asked and I said “YES.” Easy-peasy.
What was your first impression of the manuscript? When did it begin to come to life in your mind?
I think I was excited about this project before I even read the manuscript. All I had to see was the title and I was hooked. A book about a store that sells monsters. How could I pass that up? When I take on new projects one of the first things I consider is; Will this be a fun project to draw? And with the Monstore the answer was a big YES! Drawing monsters ranks right up there with aliens, dinosaurs, and cats. The first thing I did after reading the manuscript was start drawing pages and pages of monsters or various shapes and sizes. They had multiple eyes, multiple arms, you name it, the kookier the better. Then I went back through and picked the ones that I thought best represented the main characters of Manfred, Mookie, and Mojo.
3. Did Tara leave you any illustrator notes, or were the artistic choices all up to you?
There were minimal illustration notes. I think Tara was comfortable enough to let me take the reins on the visuals for the book. That’s what I do. I take words and turn them into pictures. Even if there had been a lot of illustration notes I probably would have still sketched out what I was seeing in my head. Then if Tara or the publisher wanted something else I’d give them something else. But initially I have to go with my gut. Once I start second guessing myself then the creative process comes to a screeching halt and that’s no fun. I think every illustrator has a certain point of view and that’s why they are asked to do projects. If someone else had illustrated the Monstore it would have probably looked very different. My goal as an illustrator is not to just illustrate what was written but to take the story to another level. To create a world beyond just the words where these characters exist. Almost like they are living and breathing. This includes giving all the monsters names and sometimes a backstory that wasn’t in the manuscript. That’s just how my brain works.
4. It must have been so much fun creating all those monsters–each one is unique! Which is your favorite?
Working on the Monstore was a ton of fun. I really pushed myself artistically to the next level not only with the character designs but also the overall look of the book and how it was colored. Which monster is my favorite? Hmmm… wow, there are so many good choices. How can I possibly choose one? I guess if I had to pick one it would be “Peepers.” He’s the little eyeball monster that appears in various places through out the book. He tends to hide in the shadows here and there just outside the light. So keep your eyes peeled for little ol’ Peepers. He might just follow you home.
5. What did I miss?
On the technical side of things. I did all the initial sketches of the monsters, kids, and the manager in my sketchbook as well as the rough page layouts. Then once I had something that worked I scanned those into my computer where I used Photoshop and a Wacom Cintiq monitor to do all the final art including the color. The text you see in the speech bubbles of the kids is actually my own hand writing. I made a custom font a few years back and use it on most of my books.
I guess that’s about it. I hope everyone enjoys the Monstore as much as I did creating it. Thanks so much for taking the time to ask me these great questions. See ya at the Monstore!
You bet! See ya at the Monstore!
James Burks started his art career working in the animation industry on various movies and television shows, including THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE, ATLANTIS, TREASURE PLANET, HOME ON THE RANGE, SPACE JAM, THE IRON GIANT, WOW WOW WUBBZY, FAN BOY & CHUM CHUM and currently on the Cartoon Hangover show BRAVEST WARRIORS. James’ first book Gabby and Gator (Yen Press) was a Junior Library Guild Selection as well as a CTA Read Across America title for 2012. His other books include Beep and Bah (Carolrhoda) and BIRD & SQUIRREL ON THE RUN (Scholastic/Graphix). James is currently hard at work on his next graphic novel Bird and Squirrel on Ice.
Visit him online at www.jamesburks.com.