Monday, September 30, 2013

Filk Song!

Amazing song about THE TRUE MEANING of SMEKDAY by a teen named Rosie. Makes me so happy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Then I started a yawn...

...that swayed up the block, crossed two policemen, rounded the square, and followed me home.

(from MOONDAY, available now)

Monday, September 2, 2013

The band on Bleecker Street...

...could only sigh into the microphone: Lullaboo/ I love you/ Shush-a-loo-la/ Lullaboo.

From MOONDAY, out tomorrow.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I looked through my heavy lashes...

...though the window, through lean trees to see my blue moon staring back at me.


I walked over...

...and under and around to where Mom and Dad waited.

'What now?'

Another from MOONDAY–September 3rd.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The next morning...

...the moon was lower and larger.  And very nearly on the ground.

It was in our backyard.

From MOONDAY, my new picture book–available September 3rd.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


A detail from my next picture book, Moonday.

In stores September 3rd.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hey, Georgia.

I'm going to be at the Decatur Book Festival on September 1st, talking about my new picture book, Moonday.  Let's you and me get caught up.

Monday, July 8, 2013


I've moved into a new studio!  This is what it looks like on the inside!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Phoenix Comic Con

Hey, come see me this weekend at the Phoenix Comic Con.  Here's my table number and schedule:

where I'll be

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How I Make a Picture Book

And not the only way to make a picture book, obviously.

If it’s not my own story, then I’m starting with just a Word document or whatever of the author’s manuscript. Sometimes you can tell by the way he broke up his sections how he thinks the book ought to be paginated. But I’m free to ignore that if I like–paginating the book is the illustrator’s prerogative.

A manuscript as it appears on my computer-machine. This is actually some text from the next book I'm doing with Gaiman–couldn't find the last one.

So I print that manuscript out and start marking it up. I draw brackets around sections that I think ought to stay together on a page or a spread. This turns into a bit of a puzzle for at least a couple reasons–because you want to be deliberate about where your page-turns are falling, and because virtually all printed books have a page count that’s divisible by eight. In a novel you can just throw a bunch of blanks at the end to round out another eight pages if you have to, but with a picture book you need to be more precise. Add to this that nearly all picture books are either 32 or 40 pages long, and it gets even more restrictive. Few PBs are more than 40 pages. None are less than 32 (board books don’t count).*

I probably just lost half my readers discussing this stuff, so I’m bailing out now. But there are a lot of tricks for getting to the right page count, and not all of them are obvious. So to the guy in the comments section who is going to claim he found a PB with 35 pages I preemptively say: Nope. You didn’t. We can talk about it after class.

Once I know what’s going where I can start sketching the thing out, and I always end up doing something like this:

Actually the thumbnails to Chloe and the Lion.  Couldn't find the thumbs to Chu's Day, either. Should I have made a "panda thumbs" joke here?  Because pandas have thumbs? Maybe it's a little too on the nose.

I draw 32 or 40 or whatever little boxes on a single page of my sketchbook and start filling them in. I only have the most rudimentary notion what each page is going to look like, but this is where I usually discover the ideas that will make this my book as opposed to a book that was merely illustrated by me.

Once I have all my pandas in a row I probably sketch character designs. This is easily my favorite part of the process, when everything's still new and the book in question is still the best thing I've ever done or will do.

On this sketchbook spread you also see Merle Lynn, a character from my COLD CEREAL trilogy, and also Abraham SuperLincoln fighting an octopus on the moon.

I refine the page thumbnails into loose sketches, and the loose sketches into finished sketches.

Eventually I compile all the sketches into a dummy of the whole book.  In the old days that meant a lot of photocopying and binding together a physical mockup.  Nowadays I just assemble a pdf. This is often the first thing the publisher sees from me.

The pdf is named for its inventor, Paul Diogenes Format.

Now's when I start entertaining comments from the editor and art director, and make changes, and fight for things I don't want to change.

 I don't remember there being much disagreement over this particular book, though HarperCollins didn't care for the way I was treating the text in my pdf. They nixed the CMY bubble-things, and hired a letterer so I wouldn't have to worry about that, as I was already several months late at this point.

At this step I consider why I fail to meet deadlines, and why I'm such a constant disappointment to all who depend on me. You may want to skip this step, but I can't seem to.

Anyway, you can guess the rest. Once the editor and I agree on everything, and the author either likes it or else the editor decides the author is wrong for disliking it and therefore doesn't tell me, then I finish the illustrations.

I render the finishes a little differently on each book.  About halfway through I'm so sick of pandas I'm actually glad they're endangered.

When I turn in the art I'm worried that it's totally inadequate.  When the book arrives in stores a year later I only see mistakes.  A few months later I love it.

*Okay, almost none.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Postcards to Kids

When kids mail me actual letters, I try my best to actually mail something back (emails get emails).

Here are a handful of postcards I sent back to readers during 2012.

This girl sent me a picture of her own fantasy land, which included animals called bublis.  So I drew my own.

This kid told me he got in trouble for reading in class.

This guy told me about his own story he was writing, titled "Bug World War: Spiders Vs. Ants."  Which rules.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kahlo and Rivera

I just got back from a trip to Mexico City, and while there my wife and I visited the studios of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Frida's first:

Note Kahlo's actual wheelchair (from late in life) in front of the easel.

The wall-plaque said:
In this part of the house–designed by Juan O'Gorman in 1944–the artistic essence of Frida Kahlo is distilled: her brushes, her easel (a gift from Nelson Rockefeller), the mirror she used for her self-portraits, and her books...There are also perfume flasks and varnish jars which the artist used to hold her paint.  All of the materials remain exactly as she left them.  One striking feature of the studio is the painting which depicts the evolution of the human fetus, a reminder of Frida's obsession with the maternity she was never able to achieve.
Yeah, so here's that fetus poster they mentioned:

I was also captivated by whatever this was:

Besides awesome.
Next, Diego's set-up:

Didn't even understand what these were.  Pigment manufacturer's samples?
And there are boxes of powdered pigment, I guess?  I'd love to read opinions in the comments.

Monday, March 18, 2013

For those who keep asking...'s what it'd look like if the Wall Street Journal ran a feature on Mac Barnett as the star of an 80's cop show.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Tucson Festival of Books Schedule

Schedule: Saturday, March 9

1:00 – 2:00 College of Education Room 353   Panel Discussion: No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Picture(book)  Adam Rex, Peter Brown, Lester Laminack

2:00 – 2:30 Autographing right outside the south entrance of the COE and to the east. 

4:00 Autographing at the Tucson Weekly booth

Schedule, Sunday, March 10
 1:00 – 2:00 – College of Education Kiva.  Fear, Intrigue and Humor:  Engaging Kids as Readers. Stephan Pastis, R.L. Stine, Adam Rex. Jennifer J. Stewart is the moderator

2:00 – 2:30 Autographing out the south doors of the COE and directly east.

3:00-3:30 – Storyblanket (Chu’s Day)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

They're Not a Lover of the Cover That is Graven with a Raven. A Fairy in the Dairy is the Jacket That'll Hack It.

In 2010 I finished the first draft of a novel called Cold Cereal.  It’s the first of a trilogy about a kid who discovers that a breakfast cereal company is stealing glamour from leprechauns and fairies and magical beasts, and slipping this stolen glamour into their magically delicious cereals, and using these cereals to raise an army of sugar zombies and conquer mankind.

It’s meant to be funny.  Whether you find it funny will have a lot to do with your tolerance for this sort of thing.

I went through the usual battery of sketches for the cover of this novel:

Many of them eventually focused on my main kid (Scott) drawing a sword Excalibur-style out of a box of cereal, as if it were the prize inside.  This was an idea that my editor kept pushing, and which she kept insisting was mine.  I think I probably had originated it during some spitballing phone conversation, but the truth was that it made me uncomfortable–Scott doesn’t have a sword at any point in the book, and it’s exactly the sort of conceptual image that we accept as adults but which would have struck me as dishonest as a kid.  I’d be waiting the whole book for the sword scene.

Well, it did make for an okay cover image.  Painted in Photoshop, type design mine.

I ended up liking it.  My wife liked it.  My agent liked it.  My editor liked it.  She showed it to the Sales department, and they didn’t like it.

So we reeled back to an older idea: that of Scott approaching the cereal factory at night, seen only by the plaster eyes of mascots that overlook the entrance.

Now everybody was happy but me.  I was on the faculty of the Illustration Master Class in Amherst that summer (2011), so at the end of my keynote I put this cover up on screen.  I suggested that the students might enjoy critiquing one of my pieces after several grueling days of listening to the faculty critique theirs.  I remember being concerned that no one would feel comfortable digging in.  Instead, several students may have dislocated their shoulders from so much vigorous hand-raising.

They had, in fact, much better ideas than I could execute before the book went to print.  But I took as much as I could to heart and turned in this revision.  

Then I got to work on the 40-some pages of interior B&W illustrations, and started writing the sequel.

The sequel, Unlucky Charms, had its own cover struggles.  I thought I’d knocked it out of the park right away with a dreamy image of two of my heroes approaching a giant raven:

Turns out someone at HarperCollins is afraid of birds?  Or something?  Anyway, they said it was “too scary.”

The next was “too sexy.”

The third idea turned into one of my favorite digital paintings.

Everything just kind of came together–or at least, it did after I made a 3D staircase model in SketchUp to help me draw the vines.

I REALLY like this painting, which is why it pains me a little to tell you that it isn’t the cover of Unlucky Charms.

I believe Cold Cereal has been selling only modestly (I’m not sure because I only get sales figures twice a year, and it hasn’t been in stores all that long).  When a book isn’t performing to expectations the only thing you can really change about it is the cover.  So may I present the cover of the paperback edition of Cold Cereal:

And the redesigned Unlucky Charms, out this week:

I like them.  Again–Photoshop, dodgy type design mine.

I’m writing the third book, Champions of Breakfast, as you read this.  I already have an approved cover sketch.  They went along with the first idea I pitched.  It’s TERRIFYING.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unlucky Charms is OUT!

To compensate you for this nakedly promotional post, please accept this disquieting picture of Queen Elizabeth II.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Excerpt from Unlucky Charms

Decided to post an excerpt for this image that I put up the other day:

The tree, possibly tired of being hacked at and pelted with stones and filled with tiny hairy people, sprang to life.  John leaped away, and Finchbriton flew free.  The tree snapped a root from the earth like a tentacle, and gave John an uppercut that he only partially managed to absorb with the chickadee shield.  He landed hard on his back, and looked up to see a spindly fist of branches swinging down at him.  He rolled and turned, just as he had done on the set of Galileo’s Revenge, and carved a few twig-fingers from the fist.  Then Finchbriton fluttered in and set the rest ablaze.

The tree pulled back, creaking and groaning, and shook itself like a dog, joggling the some twenty Hairy Men still camped in its branches.  Then it plucked one of these Hairy Men free like an apple and chucked it at John.

“WAAAAH!”  The brownie whanged off John’s shield and landed in a wad a few feet away, then crawled off.  After a moment the tree found another brownie and did it again.

“WAAAAH!” (whang)

“Stop that!” said John.

“WAAAAAAH!” (whang)