When a giant robot and genetically altered frog do battle and destroy an entire city, there are going to be eyewitnesses. That’s the concept behind Eyewitness Reports, a charity artwork auction to benefit 826LA, part of Dave Eggers’s 826 nonprofit organization, which runs writing programs, after-school tutoring, and other activities for kids across the country. Eyewitness Reports was envisioned and organized by Dan Santat, inspired by his recent collaboration with Mac Barnett on the picture book Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) (Disney-Hyperion, June), about a schoolgirl’s science fair experiment gone very awry.
“With a bunch of people witnessing the same incident, you’re going to get a wide variety of stories,” says Santat, who rounded up more than 30 illustrators—including Tony DiTerlizzi, Mo Willems, Megan McCarthy, and Brian Floca—who volunteered to illustrate a scene from the book based on Barnett’s original manuscript. Santat chose to send manuscripts, rather than copies of the book, so his artwork wouldn’t affect their takes on the story (in Sean Qualls’s contribution, the girl is African-American; in Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s, the robot resembles a demented version of Rosie from The Jetsons). “I love it because I get to see what’s in someone else’s mind from the same manuscript,” says Santat. “It’s a fantastic experiment.”
Santat, who has been working on the auction for the past five months, was moved to put together an event to benefit schoolchildren because of proposed education budget cuts in his home state of California, and a desire to give back to the community. Knowing that Barnett was heavily involved with 826LA (Barnett was the executive director of 826LA, helped create one of its two Los Angeles locations, and serves on its board of directors), Santat approached him about having the auction benefit the organization.
In addition to enlisting the artists, managing their deadlines, and setting up the gallery viewing and auctions that will take place later this month, Santat created a video trailer for the auction, in which both he and Barnett make appearances, along with clips from a public domain film starring giant turtle and Godzilla competitor Gamera; Santat calls Japanese monster movies “one of my favorite things” (something that’s evident in his artwork for Oh No!).
For his part, Barnett is thrilled with the artwork that has come in from the participating illustrators. “The most exciting part of writing picture books,” he says, “especially as someone who can’t draw, is to see someone take the time to bring this world to life. And to have 25 or 30 amazing illustrators on that list coming together, and not even getting paid for it, was even more of an honor.”
The artwork, which can be seen on the Web site Santat created for the auction, will be on view at the Nucleus gallery in Alhambra, Calif., following an opening reception on August 14. There will be two eBay auctions later this month, with the proceeds benefitting 826LA. In addition to receiving the original artwork, auction winners will also receive “police reports” the artists created to accompany their work, as well as limited edition prints of Santat’s artwork from Oh No!
“Most of the friends I talk to in children’s publishing talk about sitting at a desk all day,” Santat says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome for all of us to get together and do something like this?’ For those who did participate, I’m totally grateful."