Back in the 1990s, before digital book illustration was de rigueur, an inquisitive Jack Russell terrier who happened to be a professional bird-chaser slyly pawed his way into the picture book world, via the Mr. Lunch titles written by J.otto Seibold with Vivian Walsh and illustrated via Macintosh computer by Seibold. Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride (Viking, 1993), Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe (Viking, 1994) and Free Lunch (Viking, 1996), all now out-of-print, feature the daring exploits of the sophisticated pup (inspired by Walsh’s and Seibold’s real-life family dog at the time, Dexter Lunch) rendered with an offbeat sense of humor and a retro style. The books and their illustrator are spotlighted at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco in an exhibition called “J.otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch,” which opened on November 20 and will run through March 8, 2015.
The family-friendly exhibition offers a peek into Seibold’s creative work and techniques by displaying images from the three books in various states of completion. Though he is a self-taught illustrator, Seibold developed skills in engineering, drafting and vector design (which uses geometrical formulas to represent images) early in his career, which helped develop his computer-art style. Other original pieces in the show include new vector drawings, ink drawings, storyboards, early book jacket designs, and book dummies, as well as some 1990s ephemera selected by Seibold that he has said inspired his books.
Museum visitors can also experience Mr. Lunch’s adventures via several interactive play areas that recreate scenes from Walsh and Seibold’s stories. The “Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride” section allows children to board a plane and sort through the contents of wooden suitcases, while the “Free Lunch” area contains a replica of Mr. Lunch’s jail cell from the book. A recreation of Mr. Lunch’s office, complete with an array of desks, is a place where kids can work on activities suggested by the gallery, and where they might just meet Seibold himself and see a drawing demo, during scheduled “office hours.”
A reading nook will feature copies of the Mr. Lunch books as well as other Seibold-illustrated titles like Olive, the Other Reindeer, also written with Vivian Walsh (Chronicle, 1997), the holiday story that was made into an animated TV special, and the Halloween tale Vunce Upon a Time (Chronicle, 2008), written with Siobhan Vivian.