Adam Rex is an amazing illustrator and writer. His first picture book, THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, was published by FSG in 2003. His picture book FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH, a collection of stories about monsters and their problems, was a New York Times Bestseller. 2007 saw the release of his first novel, THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. His second, a book for teens and adults called FAT VAMPIRE, will be published in July 2010.
I had the pleasure of meeting Adam last month at BookExpo America in New York, and he graciously agreed to a formal interview afterward. Here I’ve got him talking about his origins as an artist, what he likes to illustrate, what some of his favorite books were in his younger years, and more. Enjoy!
Elena Nola: You have illustrated quite a number of children’s books. Did that come before you were writing them? What are some of the differences between illustrating a book of your own writing vs. someone else’s?
Adam Rex: Yes, the first two kids’ books I worked on were as illustrator only. And I illustrated a lot of books and games like Dungeons & Dragons for years before breaking into kids’ books.
I think illustrating someone else’s book can be a little harder. When you’re writing it yourself you might end up crafting scenes that will be easier or more fun to illustrate. It’s when I’m working on someone else’s story that you’ll more often hear me say “How the heck am I going to draw that?”
What drew you into art in the first place, and how did that get you into illustrating?
Well, all little kids draw (all little kids are illustrators, in fact–they all draw pictures that tell stories), and I guess I was naturally a little better at it than most. When I was five years old I overheard my brother–who was eight–complaining to my mom that I was younger but could already draw better than he could. It wasn’t fair, he thought. From that point forward I decided I was going to be the artist in the family, because my brother was better than me at everything else.
What drew you to working with material for kids?
I’ve always had a love of inventing stories, so I think it was natural I should gravitate toward kids’ books, where words and pictures often share the stage equally. That or comics, which I also love.
Do you have any favorite characters or character types that you love to write about? Or illustrate? Have you ever included a superfluous character just because you wanted to draw him/her/it?
Well, I started writing the poems that were collected in my book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich because I basically just wanted an excuse to draw pictures of monsters. I like matching up characters who are very different from one another–I like writing dialogue, and I especially like it when you can tell which character is saying what without a bunch of “he said” and “she said.”
What about favorite settings or motifs in your illustrating? Is there a time period or place you’d really like to illustrate but haven’t gotten to do yet?
I seem to like writing fantasy that’s set in our own world, rather than in some elaborate fantasy world. When I’m illustrating, however, I’m more into being able to just make everything up. But I think I’d like to write and illustrate East Coast America around the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth–Coney Island and circuses and Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla and all that.
What were some of your favorite books as a child? Were there any that really stuck with you even if they weren’t a favorite?
I read Douglas Adams’s A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books for the first time when I was in middle school. Those were favorites, and a big influence on me. Otherwise I would say that I still think The Monster at the End of This Book is one of the best kids’ books ever made.
Very big thanks to Adam for taking the time to stop by! If you want to know more about him or see more of his beautiful work, you can visit his website. You can also check out the interview we have with him over at BSC Review, regarding his new YA/Adult novel Fat Vampire.