Interview with Jon Klassen continued from yesterday...
VKBMKLs: Seeing as your roots are in animation -- having worked on films like Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Kung Fu Panda 2 -- are there any old animated films that inspire you?
JK: For sure - Pinocchio is my favorite of the Disney movies. It's so crazy that it was the second one they made. It's so vague about the rules in the story but it's just enough to hold it together. There's also a ton of black in the design of it - dark corners and shadows that things fade into, but it's not a morose or intentionally dark film - it's a really warm story. I also really love a Russian guy named Yuri Norstein - he's pretty well known in animation, and I will probably always in the back of my head want to totally rip off his film called "The Hedgehog in the Fog".
VKBMKLs: Do those roots help to inspire you visually when you go to create a children’s book?
JK: Sort of, but you have to be careful because what makes a good visual idea for a film doesn't necessarily work for a book. With doing artwork for a film, especially in a studio, it's like you're building pieces for a train set that have to work when you're not going to be around. You're working on how they might join up in different ways later. But with a book it only joins up that one specific way and it only has to work for those few pictures and you're in charge of the whole thing. It's pretty scary.
VKBMKLs: The first picture book you both wrote and illustrated, I Want My Hat Back, has garnered great kudos and praise. The story has also been scrutinized because (SPOILER!) of the bear-on-rabbit mealtime action. How did the idea come about and what do you hope children will get out of it?
JK: It started out just as a cover - I liked the idea of a book called I Want My Hat Back with just somebody on the front, under the title, not wearing a hat. The story came out of the decision to do it all in dialogue. I was nervous about writing something, and so that took a lot of the pressure off, and it sort of implied the tone that it ended up having. The ending really was the only one that worked. I don't know what children will get out of it, although I think they might recognize people like the rabbit. He doesn't really have a reaction when he's confronted about this thing he did, he just sort of looks blank and indifferent, so the bear does pretty much the only thing you can think to do when you run into something like that.
VKBMKLs: Your latest book Extra Yarn, a collaboration with Mac Barnett, reads and looks like an old-school story. I love the contrast in color of the drab world against the little girl’s knitted creations. It gives it a very Tomi Ungerer, mysterious edge. Seeing as you and Mac are friends, did you work together in ideas for the pictures or were you in more of a silo? (And is the drawing of the bear supposed to resemble the I Want My Hat Back Bear, as when my son gets to that page he breaks out into peels of laughter making the connection?)
JK: Thank you very much! The Tomi Ungerer connection is especially nice - both Mac and I really like his books. We worked together on that book more than I have with other authors on other books, because we do know each other, and I think Mac did me a lot of favors in the writing of it. He knows what I like to draw and what I don't like to draw, and the tone of the story felt like a good fit. He also wrote in a lot of ideas for the wordless spreads at the end that helped me pace it out, and it really is written well for the page-turns throughout, I think. (The bear in this book I guess is supposed to be a different bear, or at least he isn't supposed to be the same bear. I was working on both this book and I Want My Hat Back around the same time, so my range in bears, or lack of it, shows especially hard. I am glad it goes over well, though.)
VKBMKLs: As someone who collects and covets old books, I’m always curious to find out about the people who created them. Generations from now, when you are old and gray and your books end up on thrift store shelves and some child stumbles upon them, what do you hope they will find in your work? What part of yourself do you hope to convey to the world?
JK: All the books I loved when I was little were older books, but I never really saw them as being old or dated because they weren't overly designed to the styles of the time, and they stuck to the story, mostly. I guess that's probably the best I could hope for for my own books, is that they kind of look like their own thing a long time from now.
Thanks again Jon. To check out his world, visit his Website at www.burstofbeaden.com.
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