There’s a moment in Dan Santat’s new graphic memoir, A First Time for Everything (First Second, Feb.), when young Dan is shown literally walking on air, having just had the adventure of his brief lifetime. After escorting his crush back to her homestay during a school trip to Salzburg, Austria, he suddenly realizes it’s late and he’s utterly lost—and the city is essentially shut down for the night. He grabs an unlocked bike, and when that summons forth a gang of punks from the shadows, he zooms away in a state of pure exhilaration.

“Salzburg. 1:30 a.m.,” the adult Santat narrates. “I am 13. I am invincible.”

It’s hard not to see at least a hint of that same unstoppable juggernaut in the 2015 Caldecott Medalist’s professional life right now. Along with the publication of the 320-page memoir, February will also see the launch of Misfit Mysteries from Random House, the first in a middle grade series with Santat’s Bobby vs. Girls collaborator Lisa Yee. And in March, Little, Brown will publish Because I’m Your Mom, Santat and Ahmet Zappa’s follow-up to 2013’s Because I’m Your Dad.

“Out of the blue Ahmet called me and said, ‘Let’s do a sequel,’ ” Santat recalls with a laugh. “It had been years since I’d last spoken to him, and my first thought was, ‘I’m sorry, who’s this?’ ”

Santat chalks all of his projects in the pipeline up to the relentless and therapeutic nature of his work ethic. The pandemic gave him more room to complete his memoir (“I’d work on a project knowing I wouldn’t hear from someone for six weeks”), but, he adds, “I don’t think my work ethic ever really waned. If I’m alone with my thoughts, my mind goes to dark places—the horrible insecurity that you have.”

There’s also another, even more existential pressure at work. “After I won the Caldecott I blinked and 11 years of my life had gone by,” Santat says. “I know I have a finite amount of time to make books. I’m going to be 48 in October, and I have more ideas than I know how to make.”

Santat has always been an avid collaborator, but he’s calling 2023 his “celebrity year.” After two opportunities to work with actor and author Henry Winkler fell through for one reason or another, this fall Santat launches Detective Duck, a series with Winkler and coauthor Lin Oliver, coming from Abrams. The series centers on a duck who solves eco-crimes from the home base of his New Hampshire pond. Santat says it was a collaboration worth waiting for, adding that Winkler is “like the sweet grandfather who would give you Werther’s butterscotch and then pull a quarter out of your ear.”

Another one of Santat’s fall 2023 books is a picture book collaboration with Jake Gyllenhaal, who, proving that Hollywood is a small town, happens to have been friends with Winkler since boyhood. Santat says he found himself “in this crazy world” where he’d be Zooming with Gyllenhaal while the actor was on location in Spain or the Dominican Republic, “and he’s telling me stories about Henry. Everybody knows each other—that’s how Hollywood works.”

The Secret Society of Aunts and Uncles (Feiwel and Friends), which Gyllenhaal coauthored with Greta Caruso, was also an opportunity for Santat to play the role of mentor. The original was “very fun, very goofy—a rare case where I get a manuscript that I can clearly spot all the spreads in my mind as to how it’s going to be illustrated,” Santat says. But it also clocked in at about 63 pages, and he had to break the news that “that’s not gonna work.” He helped Gyllenhaal whittle it down to 44 pages, then 40, and was impressed with the actor’s openness to treat the cuts as teachable moments.

“Typically, when you work with an author, they’re very precious with their words—it’s very hard to let go of that kind of control and understand that the illustrator has to carry half the burden,” Santat says, adding that the issue can be even more complicated when the collaborator is a bold-faced name. “Jake took to the process like a fish to water.” (Santat adds that having his name paired with Gyllenhaal resulted in a burst of social media tagging by people he knew in junior high and high school.)

Meanwhile, collaborations with fellow children’s lit veterans have also given Santat plenty of opportunity to stretch. A reunion with Mo Willems (the two had previously joined forces for Harold & Hog Pretend for Real!, part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series) is opening up some new aesthetic avenues. “We just had a meeting and I’m going to be doing it as photography and paintings in different eras,” Santat says. “Some of my best work is when I don’t know what the end result is going to be.”

Amid this flurry of collaborations, Santat is working on a second graphic novel memoir. It marks a return of sorts to the story that originally motivated him to consider autobiography: his mother’s bout with breast cancer. But when his editor, Connie Hsu at Macmillan, heard about his trip to Europe, she urged him to start there instead. “She said, ‘This will teach you how to write memoir,’ ” he recalls.

Drawing on what Santat describes as the “clarity” he achieved from that process, the new memoir uses his mother’s illness, which occurred after he had returned from his Europe trip, as a portal to his parents’ own origin stories. He wanted a deeper understanding of how their experiences growing up shaped their parenting. The Santat family was “tight,” he adds, but that didn’t mitigate a lot of “butting heads” with his traditional-minded father.

“I feel like a lot of parents aren’t open with their kids about their pasts—they always have to act like they’re in control, and that’s a disservice to our kids,” Santat says. “My relationship with my kids is I tell them everything, all the mistakes I’ve made, and it gives them a perspective that you’re not infallible and it’s okay to make mistakes.”

Santat has also been thinking about what it means to be giving voice to the Asian American experience at a time of growing violence. The recent mass shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., took place three miles from his home, and the second dance studio the gunman targeted “is literally a few blocks from me,” he notes.

Citing American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang’s 2008 graphic novel, as a work that “changed my life,” Santat says he feels a need for more Asian American stories to move beyond the didactic and “evolve into something more for the conversation of diversity in literature to continue to grow.”

Santat has another, albeit far less weighty, issue on his mind: the subject of his third tattoo, which would join a tattoo of Beekle (celebrating his Caldecott-winning book, The Adventures of Beekle) and one of a feather (a tribute to his wife and the book she inspired, After the Fall).

“My father had a very antiquated view of what the tattooing world was like, and one of his dying wishes was, ‘Don’t get any more tattoos, I don’t want you getting hepatitis,’ ” Santat says. Nonetheless, he thinks he’ll pay tribute to his heritage with a Thai dragon for his left drawing arm. “Once you get one tattoo, the rest of your body feels empty.”

Libby Morse is a writer and longtime contributor to Publishers Weekly.

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