Feature Friday: MARK FEARING interview

Mark Fearing is the illustrator of two of my favorite picture books THE BOOK THAT EATS PEOPLE by John Perry (BTW that book is COMPLETELY AMAZING and pretty much one of the TOP 10 READ ALOUDS EVER) and THE THREE LITTLE ALIENS AND THE BIG BAD ROBOT by Margaret McNamara (pen name of Brenda Bowen). Now Mark is making his children's book writing/illustrating debut with a completely out-of-this-world graphic novel called EARTHLING!.

I wish this book had been around when I was a kid (I would have become a reader much sooner), but am really thrilled that it is around now. The moment I got the book I read it from front to back and have already reread a couple times.

Mark was kind enough to answer some questions about the book and about some other awesomeness too:

Ben: What planet do you come from?

Mark: I've been told Earth. But often I have my doubts. Mars is a fascinating planet which I have used in quite a few stories I have written, so maybe I'm from there originally. 

Ben: How did you come up with the awesomeness that is Earthling!?

Mark: Earthling! was a story idea that was with me for many years. I wrote many versions of it before it became the graphic novel that Chronicle Books published. I wanted to write a big adventure story. I didn't want just a slapstick book. In retrospect I may have had too many divergent interests. I wanted a big story, but something that could be read by kids as young as 5. I wanted action and adventure, but I didn't want everything solved with a fight. I wanted to include some science in the fiction, but not let it overwhelm the narrative. Readers will decide if I accomplished any of those things well.

Ben: I think you did! What are some of your favorite parts of the book? Do you have some favorite drawings from the book you could share?

Mark: I like the first few chapters best. I like the scenes when Bud first gets on the bus. As with any project, once it's done I can imagine all kinds of things I'd like to do differently. The pages in the storeroom are also fun.
Ben: What was the hardest bit about making Earthling!?

Mark: Earthling is nearly 250 pages long and it goes without saying that 250 pages is a lot to write and draw. I did the final art in a little over 6 months because of the schedule. I originally wanted a year to do it. I would have liked 16 or 18 months. But you get what you get. Editing the story took much longer than expected for a host of reasons, one of which was probably my desire to hit some of the points I listed in question #2.  Drawing so much and getting the type and panel outlines set-up in Adobe Illustrator for 250 pages was enough work that I am very careful about any graphic novel plans in my future. And I will always keep them under 150 pages!

Ben: I think many of us are happy you made the 'mistake' of 250 pages, but WOW that is a lot of work. How is working on a graphic novel different than working on a picture book or a novel?

Mark: It's a lot more hours of work. And you have to draw characters in many different emotional states and from many point of views. I guess I drew the lead character, Bud, at least 1,100 times in the book. I don't especially like drawing the same character over and over. It is perhaps my least favorite aspect of doing books. Well, when you draw a 250 page graphic novel, you do that a lot. The story in my graphic novel is much more complicated than a picture book. So you end up juggling a lot of plot and character issues that picture books don't have room for. Especially these days. Graphic novels let you exercise some different writing muscles. I'm not sure how much further picture books can be reduced plot wise and structurally at this point. Writing a graphic novel certainly lets you appreciate a picture books brevity.

Ben: What does your studio look like? And could you describe a bit about your illustration process?

Mark: I draw in the attic of my house, the third floor. It's usually pretty messy. It's too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter. I work digitally, but I scan in tons of drawn marks, textures ETC. So while most of my work area is computers and hard drives, I still have two big tables for good, old fashioned drawing, painting and mess making.

Ben: What's next?

Mark: I don't want to muck around with specifics but I have several picture books I will be working on in the next 20 months for publishers. One I also wrote. I have several other picture book manuscripts in various stages of editing. Some with fully developed dummies with art. At some point a portion of these will go out for consideration by editors. I am also working on a very odd, heavily illustrated middle grade novel about a British explorer from the early19th century. I just finished a draft of that which I have sent out to some trusted friends to read. I'm not sure how close that project is to being sent out to editors. I think I still have a few months of work on it.

I also continue to write short stories that don't really fit into the Kids Lit market. Mainly science fiction. I find it refreshing to move away from deadline projects for a week or so and write a story where I don't have the limitations and expectations of the marketplace. It's not truly useful from a career perspective, but when I get time to do this my other work seems to develop more easily and I feel a greater sense of satisfaction. Of course I also have several animated shorts that I pretend to keep working on. But they are moving slow.

Ben: Thanks for sharing Mark! Looking forward to your next!

All illustrations in this post are copyright Mark Fearing.