Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mylisa Larsen and Anna Raff Talking About If I Were a Kangaroo and Other Picture Book Stuff


Anna Raff:
       Hi Mylisa!

Mylisa Larsen:
       Hey Anna!

Anna Raff:
       How are you?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Great. Snow day over here so everyone is out drift diving at the moment. How are things in the city?

Anna Raff:
       No snow down here, but we’ve got lots of wind! I was almost hit by a falling icicle on my way in a while ago. Not really, but thought I’d start with some drama!

Mylisa Larsen:
       Drama is always good. Life needs drama.

Anna Raff:
       May I start with a dumb question?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Please, because then I can feel comfortable asking another.

Anna Raff:
       Ha! Great! How do you pronounce your first name? 

Mylisa Larsen:
       Oh boy! We have just hit on the lifelong question. Not a dumb question at all because my darling parents made it up. Which is fine. But then they decided to pronounce it differently than they spelled it and everyone, everyone, everyone has been confused ever since. Even my own grandma. It’s pronounced to rhyme with Teresa. So Muh lee suh.

Anna Raff:
       Ah, yes! Well, I’ve lived a life of mispellings with my first and last name, so can relate. As easy as it may seem, people are easily thrown.

Mylisa Larsen:
       True. My children are named things like Tim, Kate, Matt. Not going down that road again.

Anna Raff:
       Ha! 

Mylisa Larsen:
       Ok, can I just say that my favorite character in this book we have made is your mommy spider going cross-eyed with all eight eyes?

Anna Raff:
       That’s so nice to hear! The mommy spider is the source of one of my favorite bits of art direction that I have ever gotten. Before we knew it was a wolf spider, the mommy looked more standard, with two eyes. Then the Art Director, Denise Cronin asked if I could somehow add six eyes without it looking too gross!
      
      
Mylisa Larsen:
       That makes me laugh. She does not look gross but she does look harried--which is probably about right for a mom with all those leggy little kids.

Mylisa Larsen:
What’s your favorite thing about the picture book genre?

Anna Raff:
       I can answer that two ways: As a kid, I struggled with reading—was easily distracted, or just lazy—I don’t know. Because I loved to draw, picture books were a way to read without the stress. I simply preferred books with pictures.

       As an illustrator, picture books fit my sensibility—my use of humor and the clarity in the way I draw.
       Here’s a question for you…

       What was your inspiration for writing IF I WERE A KANGAROO?

Mylisa Larsen:
       IF I WERE A KANGAROO started out as a bus stop rhyming game. My kids and I were out waiting for the school bus and it was taking a long time so we were playing this game we called rhyme out. Basically, someone picks a word and then everyone takes a turn rhyming it. But if a word is repeated or you can’t think of a rhymer then you’re out till the next round. One of the kids said kangaroo and we started rhyming. So all those rhyming words were floating in the air above the bus stop and someone said, “If I were a kangaroo” and we started playing with that. Then the bus came and they left but I went inside to play some more. Because playing with words is my job.

Anna Raff:
       That’s fascinating! It’s always amazing to me where the muse will appear. A muse with legs, that is. 

       Or eight eyes.

Mylisa Larsen:
       Right.

       So I guess this book was a collaboration before it even really became a text. Which is interesting because I feel like one of the things I love most about picture books are that they are collaborations. I feel like a picture book doesn’t even exist unless it gets all the way to having art. A novel, if it doesn’t get published, it still exists. You could still give it to someone and they could read it. But a picture book, no. It’s just a word sketch, an idea until there are pictures. Because picture books are read with the eyes. Kids read the art.

       And I kind of love that even after they become a book, the reading of a picture book is a collaboration between the two readers--the child and the parent.

Anna Raff:
       That’s a wonderful way to express it. Did you find yourself with more animal rhymes than would fit in a 32-page book?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Good question. I don’t know. I’d have to look back in the notebooks and see. I know I started more animal rhymes than I knew I would need because when you’re working in meter and rhyme it’s kind of like a war of attrition. You against the possible rhymes. And they’re not all going to work out. So you have to start out with more than you need so that when you hit those ones that you just cannot make work, you’ve got a supply to fall back on.

Anna Raff:
       Sounds a lot like sketching. 

Mylisa Larsen:
       Ok, tell me about sketching.

Anna Raff:
       Since my work is rather pared down, I draw things over and over…and over and over, until it feels right to me, has the correct energy, etc. It’s the same with my finished illustrations. Basically, I make digital collages, but they all start out in pieces—fragments of brushwork that I collage into the computer. But a single mark might be made once or ten times before I feel like I’ve got it.

Mylisa Larsen:
       See, that is intriguing to me. Because I’m thinking, “Oh yes, that’s exactly how it is.” And yet I don’t draw. But what you’re describing sounds completely familiar to me. I just do it with words and sounds. And you do it with texture and line and color.

Anna Raff:
       Yes! And here’s an added dimension—I went through the Illustration MFA at the School of Visual Arts almost ten years ago. Part of the curriculum was a creative writing class for the full first year. It was amazing how similar my fellow student’s writing styles were to their art. A complete reflection, just with words instead of pictures.

Mylisa Larsen:
       That is fascinating. It makes me wonder if you also do books that feature your own writing?

Anna Raff:
       Funny you mention that. I am working on a few things right now. Pardon me, but I must stop typing now to cross all my fingers and toes. I’ve spent the majority of my illustration career, just illustrating. But now I think I’m ready to write as well.

Mylisa Larsen:
       I will cross fingers and toes too because I would like to see those happen. There’s so much humor that comes through in the art that I’m thinking at least some of those books would be bust-a-gut funny.

Anna Raff:
       Oh wow, I hope so! And thank for the extra crossed fingers and toes, but I don’t want that to hamper you writing your next book. I have another question about KANGAROO: what was the inspiration for the information about animal sleeping habits at the end of the book?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Once I had the first verse about the kangaroo, I got kind of fascinated with the whole idea of how different animals sleep. So I started looking it up. Do fishes sleep? Ok, but grasshoppers, how do grasshoppers sleep? So that book took me about a year to write because even though most of the information doesn’t show up in the book, I was reading about how a lot of different creatures handle this whole resting thing. Then it was a matter of which of the ones that were most interesting could also be fit into the rhyme scheme I’d set myself up to follow.

So the notes at the end of the book are kind of me saying, “Ok, you know what else is really cool about whales?” without being restricted to what I could tell you in rhyme.

Anna Raff:
       That’s wonderful. It really added a fun dimension on my end too. I love doing research for books. Even though my work isn’t super realistic, it needs to be grounded in some sort of reality. All that information about their sleeping habits put imagery in my head that might not have been there 
otherwise.

Mylisa Larsen:
What’s the first art memory you have as a kid?

Anna Raff:
       My first art memory I have as a kid is of Dr. Seuss. Not sure about specifics, but it’s either Green Eggs and Ham or Yertle the Turtle.

Mylisa Larsen:
       Fill in the blank, Libraries are _______________.

Anna Raff:

      Libraries are our best hope.

      Can I turn those two back on you? But with a writing memory? And picture books are_______?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Sure. I don’t have early writing memories but I do have early memories of language being in my ears, of hearing things read out loud, often things I didn’t even understand but loved the rhythm of. And your art memory of Dr. Seuss brings up a Dr. Seuss word memory. We used to make my dad read Fox In Socks out loud to us repeatedly because he couldn’t do it and we thought it was hilarious. He’d get 3/4 of the way through and get his tongue tied up in those twisters and we would laugh and laugh.

Mylisa Larsen:
       Picture books are almost like theater to me. Because they’re often experienced in the way we experience theater. The child and the adult sit down together and have an experience. Looking at the art, hearing the sounds. Together.

Anna Raff:
       This has been so fun—I hope we get to meet in person sometime!

Mylisa Larsen: 

      Agreed. 


John Schu: 

      Thank you, Mylisa! Thank you, Anna! :) 


Look for If I Were a Kangaroo on April 4, 2017. 

1 comment:

  1. I love the questions you asked each other and hearing about your processes. Can't wait to see the book!

    ReplyDelete