FLR: On the Egmont USA website, Christopher says that Egmont has a global consciousness as well as a global presence. What does this mean to the reader?
Christopher: Every child is in the end a collection of lots of children mashed together to make one singular kid. I was at an event recently in which a bunch of New York City preteens premiered their original comic books. The comics ranged in subject matter from love to 'emo' music, 'cosplay' (a phenomenon in which people dress up as their favorite video game characters) to the compositions of Eric Satie. These children, like all children, are interested in and influenced by a plethora of media, cultures, styles and art-forms. When a company like Egmont makes work that reflects this diversified and global consciousness, these children feel recognized in all of their complex, mashed-up identities. That recognition feels good, freeing even.
FLR: Walter has mentioned in previous interviews that he places a collage of cut-out pictures of his characters above his desk to get familiar with them and Christopher’s illustrations in Looking Like Me include collages with the wonderfully rhythmic words. How have you influenced each other in your endeavors? Which tends to come first, the visual work or the story? Do you think it is easier or more difficult to work together when the author and illustrator are father and son?
Walter: Christopher and I constantly share ideas, books, and techniques. I’m very much influenced by his working methods and his way of viewing the world. Even when I don’t agree with how he’s doing something I’m tempted to try it. I think all artists do this.
Christopher: I wouldn't say that the collaboration is at all more difficult, but I would say that it is a richer experience. We can play off not only the depth of each others’ artistic production, but the depth of our knowledge of each other. When we talk in Looking Like Me about the layers of every person’s identity, we mirror the layers of identity that we embody ourselves. That’s where the richness appears. We are making work as father and son, as people who care passionately about children, as people who care about the way people think of and care for themselves.
FLR: Egmont’s promotional material includes the line, “We bring stories to life.” Does this approach help authors and illustrators? Which comes first, the story or the illustration?
Christopher: In this case the illustration came first but it is important to remember that illustration is a form of storytelling too. If the illustration is good, that is, it doesn't simply echo the text, it enriches, adds texture and complexity. Pop and I are both storytellers, we just tell stories in different ways.
Hopefully this book breaks down the traditional dichotomy between text and image somewhat, and leans more toward the creation of a many-layered whole. When people ask what I do, I like to say I make books, which is the whole thing, more like taking a whole trip than just buying the plane ticket. No travel experience can be recorded in the hotel receipt and the boarding passes, similarly no picture book could exist without all the elements, design, text, image, editorial vision.
FLR: Walter writes for many levels of readers. Does the story dictate what age it is written for, or do you adapt the story to the age group? Does the collaboration of the illustrator affect that decision? How do the editor and publishing team affect these decisions?
Walter: The editorial decisions are crucial here. A good story touches young people across a wide age spectrum. Good editorial decisions focus the story to make it particularly accessible to a particular age group. I am currently using the basic idea of Looking Like Meto write an adult short story.
Christopher: Ideally we make books that grow with the readers. I spend a lot of time in used bookstores, trawling through the aisles. I sort of pride myself in never finding any of my books there. I'd like to think that it’s because the books are growing along with their readers, that kids are discovering new things about the books as they discover new things about themselves. It’s awful to think that a book I would have produced was useful to a child at 6 yrs old but at 7 the kid tossed it aside.
FLR: Was there a particular reason the 1863 draft riots in New York City are the topic for Walter’s newest novel Riot? How does he research when the topic is historical or nonfiction? Whether fiction or nonfiction, does the topic of the book influence the materials Christopher uses when constructing his illustrations?
Walter: I’m afraid my answer here will be a bit boring. Simply put, I write what I know. Whatever goes on in my personal life will appear, somehow, in a book. I was raised in New York and have lived in the area where the riots took place. I am completely in love with the use of source materials such as newspapers, eyewitness accounts, letters, etc, and these are readily available for the Draft Riots. Finally, the impact of racial conflict on interracial families mirrors my personal history. Simply put, I write what I know.
Christopher: Increasingly we live in a society informed by and constructed in different types of media. In Looking Like Me I was very conscious of trying to mimic the way that media layers images. Television and print nowadays packs as many images as it can into the smallest spaces, on TV screens a 30-second take is considered almost unbearable. Books are brilliant because you can pack all that information and material in, but still allow a viewer the time to take it all in. That's one way I am trying to deal with the historically specific moment of today’s media format.
FLR: Do Christopher and Walter have any specific plans or ideas for more upcoming works?
Walter: We’re currently working on a book on Louis Armstrong. It’ll be a challenge to come up with something extraordinary, but we think we can pull it off if we follow our hearts.
Christopher: Yes. Always too many ideas. That’s why we're glad there are two of us.
FLR: What would you most like an educator to know about your books?
Christopher: Our books are tools, journeys that can be taken again and again, and upon which one will discover new things each time. Explore the book with a child or with yourself the way you imagine you would explore a rich land you haven't visited before; eat the food, haggle at the market, then write home and tell people what you see.
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