All Matthew Myers had to do to get the attention of Writers House agent Steven Malk was send him a link to his Web site. ("Paintings so good you'd swear he's dead," the splash page says.) In another sense, though, he'd been preparing for the introduction for years.
Myers, a former advertising art director, got Malk's name from the writer Kelly DiPucchio. He sent e-mail inquiries to 15 or 20 writers and artists whose work he admired, asking about agents. DiPucchio answered immediately. "As an art director, I used to get e-mails like the one I sent, and sometimes they'd make me roll my eyes," Myers says. "But I was pretty sure I'd need an agent. I needed someone to make phone calls and handle the contracts. Whenever I'm doing something that isn't painting, I think ‘I could be painting.' "
Myers's father ran a commercial art agency in Portland, Ore., and his mother worked there, too. "I was a studio brat during the Mad Men era," he says. "I hung around with freelance artists who were using markers and spray fix and smoking like chimneys, and it was heaven." After art school and two decades as an art director, he knew the next step was to move up to creative director. He'd earn more money, but he was pretty sure he'd be unhappy. Illustration was what he wanted to do, and for young readers. "Illustrating for adults just builds the illustrator's imagination. Illustrating for children builds the child's imagination."
Advertising had taught Myers well. Deadlines were no problem ("I think publishers have been a little surprised by how quickly I turn things around"). Challenging assignments didn't intimidate him ("Advertising is sort of like somebody throwing a puzzle into your room and saying, "Put it together!") And he was his own best editor ("Advertising makes you learn to say goodbye fast. You learn to kill your bad ideas quickly, and you learn not to make whoever you're working for kill them for you.").
Malk set up interviews for Myers with several different editors. Neal Porter at Roaring Brook and Donna Bray at HarperCollins both wanted to see test paintings. For Porter, he drew an illustration for Tyrannosaurus Dad (Roaring Brook/Porter, May) the story of a kid whose father is just like all the other fathers, except that he's 40 feet high and has teeth like steak knives. "The dinosaur I nailed from the beginning. But the kid didn't look cute; he looked weird. Working through how to draw children took me a while. Even now the children in the book don't look that real," he concedes. "I mean, they have slots for eyes."
Getting signed to do Clink (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Apr.) was easier, since Myers was no longer an unknown. He got to collaborate with DiPucchio; the two were friends by now. Bray worked closely with Myers on the character of the toaster-headed robot nobody wants to buy: "Donna took a weird-looking robot and made him cute. She skillfully maneuvered me through many, many sketches of Clink."
His debut books appeared within one month of each other this spring. The two testify to Myers's ability to tailor his work to the story—Tyrannosaurus Dad's spreads feature brawny, large-scale action, while Clink's vignettes are jewel-like. Now he's working on two more projects that call for equally different styles, and he's trying his hand at writing, too; for him, it's harder than painting. "On a good day painting, it's as if I'm not the one doing the work; I'm more like a conduit. At my house, we call it ‘the Disney brush'—you know, the one at the beginning of the old Disney specials with the sparkles coming off it. If I can get to that point with my writing, I'll be happy."