ES: Hello! We have been given the task/privilege of interviewing one another for PW. Let’s see if we can give them something decent enough to publish. I’ve decided to have this interview take the same form as the conversations that can be found in our web project, Number Five Bus Presents. That is to say, an email back-and-forth. I am writing this on our back porch while you are working hard, napping in the hammock underneath the pine tree. We bleed for our art.
We have a book coming out pretty soon called Lenny & Lucy, which you very kindly wrote for me and I, in turn, blew straight through my deadline, restarting the book five different times over the course of two years. I’m sorry I put you through that. You wrote a very good story, and the art for it needed to show both discomfort and hope at the same time. I tried woodblock, watercolor, pencil, ink, egg tempera, charcoal – the works. There are two characters in the book that are made of pillows and blankets, and I had to figure how to make them look friendly and not terrifying. A smarter illustrator probably could have taken less time and had fewer false starts, but you, alas, married me.
I ended up making the book by using an old trick you and I both messed around with in art school – transfer printing. To make a transfer print you take a photocopy of pretty much anything and transfer the carbon onto another piece of paper. The transferred image has a ghost-like effect. The process makes for some pretty fun textures, patterns, typography – you name it. One substance that will release the carbon from the photocopy is wintergreen oil. While using it in high doses is actually very toxic, the smell did make me feel sentimental for art school. You, too? What other question should I ask you that I don’t already know the answer to?PS: Wow, that was a really nice hammock nap. Very refreshing. And yes, the smells and sounds of the Lenny & Lucy art-making process made me very nostalgic for art school. Wintergreen oil transfer printing gives off some pretty powerful odors. Wintergreen oil was so ubiquitous in art school, it would have been nice if someone had told us exactly how toxic it was. Given that it’s available at most hippie-dippie health food stores I always assumed it was safe. Apparently though, we were using about 1,000 times the recommended dosage for aromatherapy. And apparently at that dosage wintergreen oil becomes a powerful anti-coagulant. So I guess in some sense we do bleed for our art. I really love the artwork for this book. But, sadly, this’ll probably be the last time we work with wintergreen oil transfer printing.
As for what question you should ask, I think you should ask me where the inspiration for Lenny & Lucy came from.
ES: What was the inspiration for Lenny & Lucy? And do I remember the origin story for this book differently than you do?
PS: Yes, it’s very likely that we remember the origin story a little bit differently. We often remember things differently – you remembering them correctly, and me remembering them in whatever ways feel nice at the time. My way is less accurate, but more fun.
Here’s what I remember. The first draft of Lenny & Lucy showed up after reading an old favorite of mine, Frog Belly Rat Bone, by Timothy Basil Ering. Speaking of art school, Frog Belly was a really important book during my early education as a bookmaker. I pored over every page of that book and I worked very hard (and mostly unsuccessfully) to mimic Ering’s style in my assignments. I never quite got the look right, but I do think some of his expressive, carefree approach to line and color can be found in some of my books – A Home for Bird probably most of all. Anyhow, after rereading Ering’s Frog Belly Rat Bone I got the idea of a handmade protector figure into my head. Not an imaginary friend, but something (or someone) that actually exists. Like a golem. I’ve struggled to explain to people what exactly Lenny and Lucy are. But a quick Internet search of “golem” has just provided me the perfect, simple introduction to these characters. From Wikipedia: A golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, magically created entirely from inanimate matter. In Lenny’s case inanimate matter = pillows and blankets. In Lucy’s case inanimate matter = fallen leaves.
So how do you remember the Lenny origin story?
ES: Most of that is correct. It was the 10th anniversary of Frog Belly Rat Bone and we were talking about it. But we were both also in a funk those days, and I remember asking you to write me a story about a friend who could protect you from something that makes you worry. I relate it to when we leave our dog alone in the house. Our dog is a lot of things, but not always terribly brave. I always say, “Okay, pup, you’re going to stay here. Be good. Watch the house.” And she does so, valiantly, even though it’s not quite in her nature.
I’ve always seen Lenny and Lucy (the characters, not the title) as an homage to Hobbes in Calvin and Hobbes, which means, to me, that they aren’t necessarily imaginary.
Now, we have some suggested questions to ask one another. Should we have a go at it?
PS: Sure. The fine editors at Publishers Weekly were kind enough to offer a grab bag of questions for us to answer in the event that we stall out. Let’s start with the juiciest one: How do Philip and Erin handle disagreements?
So? How do we handle disagreements? And who usually wins?
ES: We handle them with blind rage and destruction of personal items. No one wins.
Actually, as you know, the true/nauseating/loving answer is that we don’t tend to disagree (in the angry, arguing definition of the word) about anything professional. If you say something looks wrong, or that I can do it better, by now, after all these years (and an average daily time spent together of 23.5 hours) I usually agree with you. Especially after an hour of reflection. And I’d say it’s about the same for you.
So, Philip Stead – author, illustrator, esteemed colleague – anything to add in conclusion? How do you think we did?
PS: Nope, nothing to add. I think this is a good place to stop. I’d give us a B, maybe a B+ on this interview. We could’ve done better, but we could’ve done worse. Like bookmaking, we learn as we go.
Many thanks to the nice folks at Publishers Weekly!