I’m pleased to welcome author/illustrator and graphic novelist Mark Crilley to 7-Imp this morning. He’s stopped by to share some art, tell us a bit about where he’s been and what he’s up to next, and to give 7-Imp a gift!
Mark says he started drawing, growing up in Detroit, almost as soon as he could hold a pencil in his hand. After graduating from college (more on that below) in 1988, he taught English in Taiwan and Japan for nearly five years. His first comic series, Akiko, was published in 1995, leading Random House to invite him to adapt it as a series of chapter books. His latest graphic novel series, Miki Falls, was chosen by the American Library Association as one of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens for 2007 and has been optioned by Paramount Pictures and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Production Studio for development as a feature film. His newest project is a six-volume graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics called Brody’s Ghost, which he tells us more about below.
Currently, Mark lives in Michigan with his wife, Miki, and children, Matthew and Mio. I thank him for stopping by and for sharing some of his art with us this morning.
Mark: Some people are blessed with an incredible clarity of purpose in life: They see precisely where their greatest talent lies and they know exactly where they want to go with it. If you are such a person, I’d like to ask you to stop reading this right now.
Good. Now the rest of us can huddle around and say, “Don’t you just hate people like that?” Or, if we’re willing to be a bit more honest about it, “What’s their secret? How come we can’t be like that?”
As a creative person, I am hopelessly all over the place. I try out one style; it doesn’t work; I try something else. I try out another style; it does work; I try something else anyway. A friend of mine says, “Mark, changing styles all the time is career suicide. No one will know what it is you do.” He’s right, of course. But on I go, firing off experiments in all directions. It’s who I am, for better or worse.
I was very fortunate to study under David Small when I was a Fine Arts major at Kalamazoo College back in the mid-1980s. Indeed, I was one of the last lucky few to study under him, just before he stopped teaching for good. (I swear, having me as a student was not a factor in that decision. Well, not a major factor. Surely.) He became a true mentor and, for me, has remained a great friend, taking a special interest in my development as an artist. He once told me, “Don’t worry about pursuing your own style. Just do what you do, and your style will emerge on its own.” Here’s hoping David was right. He generally is.
These three images are from my first published works: The Akiko comic book series and the Random House young reader novels of the same name that grew out of it. My comics publisher, Sirius Entertainment, gave me a remarkably free hand to do whatever I wanted with the series, bringing in all manner of influences over the course of its 53-issue run, comics-based and otherwise. This Winnie-the-Pooh tribute , which appeared on one of the back covers, was born of my huge admiration for the illustrations of E. H. Shepard. (Did anyone draw trees better than him? I’m thinking no.)
I always felt the “big clock” front cover was one of my better ones from the comic book days. I liked the limited-palette approach to the color and the near-symmetrical composition. Working the logo and price information into the artwork, on the other hand, is probably just evidence of lunacy.
The wrap-around cover comes from the Random House Akiko novel series. I remember the editor being particularly fond of this cover and saying she’d love to see me do a picture book in this style. Alas, doing a picture book remains one of my unrealized dreams, though I’ve no shortage of ideas for them. Someday, someday.
Leaping ahead a bit, we come to the Miki Falls manga series, unquestionably one of the highpoints of my career. My editor was Susan Rich of Lemony Snicket fame, and she, in spite of never having edited a graphic novel before mine, had such brilliantly inspired suggestions you’d have sworn she’d been working with the things all her life. This “making of” spread shows my process from rough to final art.
Multiply this by 670 and you have an idea of the work that went into producing this series. And I loved every minute of it.
This splash page image of a Japanese doorway, with my protagonists Miki and Hiro in the distance, is one of my favorites from the series.
I’ve always had an interest in putting the reader into the story by way of fully-rendered environments. I like to think this illustration would be at home in any number of books, not just a graphic novel.
The fourth and final book in the series, Miki Falls: Winter, featured this artwork on the front cover.
I enjoyed the seasonal aspect of the series (there’s a volume for each of the seasons), and was pleased with the colors in this image. Note the presence of Anra, the little cat-like creature near Miki’s legs. All of my stories seem to include a little creature of one kind or another. They tend to be “less is more” creatures, simplified down to the bare essentials needed for the thing to qualify as a living being.
For whatever reason, I just don’t seem to show up on people’s radars as an illustrator for hire. The happy exception was Little, Brown’s recent re-issue of Oliver Butterworth’s The Enormous Egg. Joe Monti brought me in to provide new illustrations for this classic, and I really had a ball with it. This picture is probably my favorite of the bunch.
I was a bit nervous about replacing Louis Darling’s marvelous pen-and-ink originals, but did my best to go back to the text and discover fresh ways of presenting each scene. It was a blast illustrating someone else’s story. If I ever get the chance again, I’ll jump at it.
Finally, we come to my latest project, a six-volume graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics called Brody’s Ghost. True to my let’s-try-something-different instincts, I’ve gone from the rural rose-tinted Japan of Miki Falls to a decaying futuristic cityscape in which greenery is seemingly prohibited by law. I’ve imagined a chaotically multi-cultural future in which no single language predominates. And please, no flying cars or slick humanoid robots in this series. For once I want to see a future that’s not wildly different from the present: just a bit more rough around the edges.
Here’s a sample page from early in the first book.
Though our main character is a young man, the story features a strong female protagonist in the ghost, Talia. I’ve enjoyed playing with people’s preconceptions of what a ghost is supposed to be: scary, ethereal, vaguely Victorian. Talia is the complete opposite: modern, sassy, and—though dead—every bit as alive as Brody in terms of her personality.
Finally, we have the front cover.
Brody’s Ghost is a slightly tricky experiment. Can I produce an action-oriented story that’s tough enough to appeal to a young male audience, but doesn’t include swearing, extreme violence, or mature content? It comes out this Wednesday: I’ll let you know.
Thanks again to Mark for visiting, and best of luck to him with Brody’s Ghost. I’m happy to say that Mark also contributed an original illustration for 7-Imp’s Mad Tea Party collection:
It has gone up in the header of this page at the site. I love it! Big thanks to Mark!
(All artwork used with permission of Mark Crilley. All rights reserved.)
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New folks are always welcome.
So, here’s the good thing about these weekly kicks: They are good for one’s soul. Or so I think. I had a week filled with one too many migraines (what in the what the is up with that?) and also feelings of severe inadequacy, since my writing this month is going slower than I’d like. Perhaps the two are related; it wouldn’t surprise me a jot. Consequently, I figured I had no kicks. Really. Sad, huh? Good thing for these weekly exercises in gratitude, as insufferably Dr. Phil-y as that might sound.
1). My girls survived their swim class, which they pretty much just put up with — but at least without whining. If you’d handed my six-year-old a ball of tin foil as an alternative to getting her face wet, I think she would have opted to chew on said foil a while.
2). They had a great summer art-camp kind of class this week. No complaints about art from them.
3). I’m happy Mark stopped by. He’s not only talented; he’s super nice. And I love love love the new Mad Tea Party image.
4). I’ll be speaking at The University of Tennessee at the end of this month about the best picture books of 2010 (oh twist twist my arm), and I’m enjoying prepping for that. Can I just say how much I love this book…
…but perhaps I’ll post on it later.
Oh, and where has this picture book been all my 2010? I hope to share art from this soon, too:
(That’s this book, since I know it’s hard to read the creators’ names in that image.)
5). A very funny email conversation with David Small (funny that Mark mentions him, too, this week), in which he figured out that, indeed, I’m a lady and not a gay male.
6). The Nashville Public Library is now allowing free music downloads, a certain number of mp3s each week. I mean, how great is that?
7). The July issue of The Bluegrass Special is up, and this month they included my piece on David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken. I still feel honored that these talented guys include my posts in their publication.
BONUS TREAT: You may remember that Elisha Cooper stopped by in late March to share art from one of his 2010 picture books, Farm. Well, he has another new one out and is giving us a peek inside today. It’s called Beaver Is Lost (Schwartz & Wade, June 2010). It’s the (mostly) wordless tale of a young beaver who is separated from his family but eventually makes his way back to them. It’s adventure as only Elisha can bring it — understated and with watercolors Kirkus calls “splendid…Stunning in their simplicity, these pictures speak a thousand words.” Here are a few illustrations, and I thank Elisha, as always, for sharing:
(Click to see the spread from which this illustration comes.)
And the cover…just ’cause…
Lovely, yes? My girls and I had fun taking in that one this week.
Big thanks again to Mark Crilley. What are YOUR kicks?
Oh, my other bonus kick is that we’re surprising the girls today by taking them to an aquarium a couple hours away. My nonfiction-lovin’ six-year-old, obsessed with ocean life, will probably squeal to see cuttlefish. But this means I won’t be around much of the day. If spam grabs your kicks and tries not-so-impossibly to eat them before breakfast, I’ll release the hounds later. And I’ll talk to you all when I return.