Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meet John Klassen: Part One

Welcome to another installment of my weekend contemporary author's series, wherein I interview an artist who is creating children's books now but has a solid foundation in and an acute love of books of old.

Today's artist is one of my new favorites. Fresh off a Geisel Honor award for his fantastic I Want My Hat Back, meet Jon Klassen. Perhaps you've seen his name in the credits as an illustrator for one of your child's favorite movies like Coraline or Kung Fu Panda 2. He's cool like that. Nowadays, however, Jon has turned his attention to creating books for children.

After working with other authors on books like Cats' Night Out and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, I Want My Hat Back is the first book for children that he both wrote and illustrated. Right out of the box, it was hailed by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Illustrated books of 2011. The Canadian-born artist has only just begun his career in children's books, but man, oh, man is he a natural. His latest book is Extra Yard, which he illustrated for Mac Barnett, and I seriously can not wait to see what he does next. So without further blah, blah, please welcome, Jon Klassen.

VKBMKLs: I am in the business of how picture books and stories of old connect to people in a nostalgic way. That said, what books influenced you as a child?

JK: I was mostly given older kids books when I was little - picture books from the 60s that came out when my dad and his siblings were kids. We'd get them from my grandparents house, and I don't think I was ever conscious of how old they were. But my memories of those books for sure influence my work in books now. My favorites were mostly by P.D. Eastman's - Sam and the Firefly was the one I liked best. There's so much mood in it. Go Dog Go! is still a great and mysterious book. There were these books by Benjamin Elkin about kings and riddles and stuff that I liked a lot, too. One book of his called The Big Jump I read over and over. It had this terrifying Bad King who was the worst.

VKBMKLs: Were there any images from books you loved or owned as a child that haunt you into adulthood?

JK: One image I remember was an Edward Gorey drawing for the cover of The 39 Steps by John Buchan. It was this big rock hanging in the air over a staircase going down a cliff. It was a really cool drawing, and I remember thinking that it wasn't literal, that it was representing something instead, which is a big thing to think when you're little.

VKBMKLs: Do you collect any vintage children’s books as an adult, and if so, who are some of your favorite authors who you’ve come to later in life?

JK: I do collect some vintage books. There was a lot of stuff I never saw till I was in college or even after. Leo Lionni, Brian Wildsmith - both of those guys for the design as much as the actual illustrations. There's so many good ideas in them. I never read any John Bellairs books when I was the right age either, but I love those ones - The Mansion in the Mist, especially. I never had any William Steig, and I don't know if I would've connected as hard with them when I was little as I do now. His longer stories - Abel's Island and Dominic - are especially amazing to me. His writing is so so great.

VKBMKLs: Do you remember the first thing you ever drew, and can you describe what your childhood was like as a budding artist?

JK: I don't really remember the first thing I ever drew - I liked houses and cars and garages to put the cars in. The idea of a home with things in their shelves and compartments really appealed to me - carving out a little corner of the world for yourself. I always drew, but I was never very good at keeping a sketchbook or anything like that. I went to a drawing class when I was in 4th grade and we copied Looney Tunes characters onto a big newsprint pad with a black marker and I was pretty proud of those drawings. Books and comics didn't seem like something I could ever do, though. I liked looking at them, but it wasn't with a mind of picking them apart or thinking this is what I wanted to do, specifically. For some reason I always thought of animation as a possibility, though.

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the interview!


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Carter Higgins said...

Love this! I was a huge Jon Klassen fan before, but even more so now that I know he is a Go, Dog. Go! fan. Thanks for this, can't wait for part II!

Burgin Streetman said...

i love that he called it "mysterious". when i was little, i always thought about it in that way....

Kristen said...

Been lurking your blog for a few years now, I'm a big fan :) Also a very huge Klassen fan, his work is just wonderful! Thank you for this!

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