Q&A WITH AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL + TOM LICHTENHELD
Q: Amy, how did Wumbers come about?
AKR: I wish I had a fancy fun answer…is there a fancy fun way to say “it just came to me?” But of course we all know that the thing about ideas is that they are a by-product of, you know, life and living. The hope is that the lifetime of influences and experiences that are floating around in my noggin will mash up in a pleasing/productive/interesting way with the countless hours I spend thinking, observing, writing, tinkering, strolling, pondering… You never know when/if/how/where an idea will happen…But that’s the great white hope (great write hope?!).
And the short answer is: for someone who absolutely loves, loves, loves word play (and William Steig) perhaps the idea of Wumbers was somewhat inevitable?
Q: Was working on Wumbers similar to or different from working on Duck! Rabbit!?
TL: It was different in that it’s a collection of scenarios using a similar device, so, unlike Duck! Rabbit!, it doesn’t have a narrative. The big job was to create a ton of scenarios, making sure we invented as many wumbers as possible. This gave us a large pool of work to pick from.
AKR: Similar, happy to say! Collaborating with Tom is 1drous! One other point that seems instrumental here is that we both think in words and in pictures, sort of squashing those standard labels of who does what. Tom is an illustrator/artist who also thinks in words, and I’m a writer who thinks visually…so this “you got chocolate in my peanut butter, you got peanut butter in my chocolate” approach is natural and fun for us!
Q: Your working relationship is somewhat unique as the majority of picture book authors and illustrators don’t work together directly. How do you communicate when working on a project together?
TL: We start by working together in person. We’ll commandeer a table in a coffee shop and spend most of the day there; tossing ideas back and forth, sketching, and shaping the book. Then we work via email and phone. Sometimes we’ll get together a couple more times before the concept is finished, because working across the table is usually more productive than working independently.
AKR: We communicate in just about every possible way I think…
- talk on the phone
On any given day, there’s a good chance we’ve done at least 3 of the above. And then the golden form of communication for us is when we meet up at a coffeehouse, spread out our papers and ideas and laptops and just jam away together for hours. We do this every few months, and it’s always super fun (or at least it is for me!).
Q: Tom, what medium did you use to illustrate Wumbers? Did you ever get stuck on how you were going to illustrate any of the Wumbers? If so how did you get un-stuck?
TL: I used a brush pen, Pan Pastels, and a bit of colored pencil. The brush pen is a felt-tip paint brush with an ink cartridge, so it doesn’t need to be dipped in ink. This means you always have an even flow of ink. I like the spontaneity and looseness of line that it gives me. And it keeps me from getting too fussy. Pan Pastels are bright pastel powders in small trays, sort of like women’s makeup. They’re applied with sponges of various sizes. Like the ink brush, it’s a relatively quick medium that keeps me from getting caught up in small details. I created the art on watercolor paper, which gives the pastels a nice texture.
As for getting stuck, I’ve learned that “artist’s block” is a euphemism for fear of failure: As long as I don’t start a project, I don’t fail. It’s neurotic and unproductive, so I have a sign over my drawing board that reads: Not Starting = Failing.
But I did get stuck on one thing that was unexpectedly difficult to draw: the penguins’ feet. Really, I spent a whole day drawing and redrawing penguin feet. What a great job.
Q: Amy, while you were writing the book did you find yourself thinking in wumbers?
AKR: Absolutely! During the creation of this book, I couldn’t help but con10pl8 the world from a “wumbers” perspective.
Q: What was your favorite book when you were a child?
TL: Without realizing it, I gravitated to William Steig’s work. When I was about 7, my parents had a little chapbook of his called The Lonely Ones. It’s a collection of bizarre characters accompanied by nonsensical captions and I found it fascinating. Then in high school, a friend introduced me to CDB and I loved it so much I memorized the whole thing.
AKR: Fortunately by Remy Charlip and Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire.
Q: What’s the funniest question anyone’s asked you at a school or bookstore event?
TL: A second grader: “How do you make your hair two colors at once?” (A reference to my increasingly gray hair, made so by hours of attempting to draw penguin feet).
AKR: ”Have you written any Star Wars books?”