Mark Teague is the illustrator of the bestselling How Do Dinosaurs… series by Jane Yolen, as well as the author/illustrator of the Dear Mrs. LaRue picture books. Now Teague tackles farm life in a new picture book, another Dinosaur book, and a new (for him) format. Bookshelf caught up with Teague to hear about his forthcoming projects.
This is a big year for you. You have a number of new projects coming out, including the picture book Funny Farm, which contains a new set of characters for you. What was the inspiration for Funny Farm?
The idea actually came out of a conversation I had with Ken Geist, editor-in-chief of Orchard Books. It was really just a small-talk conversation. We talked about where I live upstate, where it’s very much farm country. It’s so country that my kids go to a school that is attached to a biodynamic dairy farm.
After the conversation, I realized that I have the perfect model for the book at home—my Boston Terrier. He’s perfect for the role because he’s a funny little guy who looks out of place because of his fur pattern. When I watch him outside chasing a deer, it looks like he’s wearing a tuxedo. From there, my imagination just let me think of the hijinks that would come out of my dog in a situation like being on a farm.
The great thing about working on a book like this is that I have to look at my surroundings with fresh eyes. That was fun for me. I’ve been living [in upstate New York] for 20 years so I had to step back and look at things like a tractor with new eyes.
Is it easier to illustrate a book that you’ve written yourself, or to illustrate a book from another author?
The process is a little different. Mostly because if it’s my story, it’s within my imagination. If it’s from another author, I glob onto their imagination. Funny Farm is the first book where I’ve been both the author and illustrator where the illustrations dominate. The illustrations really tell the story and the text is almost like captions. It adds extra bits of information. It was fun working on a book like this¾actually liberating because I was working on Funny Farm simultaneously while writing a novel. On one hand, I was involved in writing this story with all words, and on the other hand, I got to work on the picture book, which was the opposite.
That novel you were working on is coming out this fall. Can you tell us what it’s about?
It’s called The Doom Machine. It’s an adventure fantasy that starts with an alien in a flying saucer that heads out into other words. It’s just kind of a wild, crazy fantasy.
Has the book been in the works for a long time?
It has. It really started several years ago. I sometimes hit these gaps between projects and so when I had a week or two between projects, I started writing down notes. It went this way for a few years. There were a lot of false starts and blind alleys. Then a couple of years ago, I spent about six months on it and got it all together.
I always wanted to try [to write] a novel. It’s always been my ambition to be a writer as well as an illustrator. My more recent picture books, the LaRue books, have a lot of text. What I enjoy about those books is creating and inhabiting different worlds. It was creating those worlds that started me on this novel partly. The other thing that was helpful is that my daughters are starting to get older and you want to stay current with your kids as they get older, and they are outgrowing picture books.
Will there be any illustrations in the novel?
Yes, I did the cover illustration for the novel and about 40 illustrations for the novel. They are black-and-white paintings made with acrylic.
As part of your big year, you have another Dinosaur picture book by Jane Yolen coming out in the fall. What do you like most about working on this series?
The new dinosaur book is called How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? When the series first started out, I never knew that I’d be illustrating dinosaurs for 10 years! But the series is a lot of fun. I was one of those kids that were really into dinosaurs. One of those things that appeals to me in illustrating the books is the variety of the creatures I get to draw. As it happens, paleontologists are still making discoveries about new dinosaurs. The fun in doing research for the books is finding the new characters.
You’ve been on tour for Funny Farm for the past few weeks. Where are you headed to next?
I’ll be at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this weekend. I enjoy going on tour because so much of my work is solitary and it’s a nice break to get out and meet the fans.
And what do you have lined up to do next?
I’ve written one more story for the LaRue series, but haven’t illustrated it yet.
Funny Farm by Mark Teague. Orchard, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-439-91499-4