I always knew I wanted to work in books—I was an avid reader and writer from childhood, and I couldn't imagine a better career! I double majored in English and philosophy/theology in college, and attended the Columbia Publishing Course postgrad, a six-week program that introduced me to the publishing industry and some of the amazing folks in it. I landed my job at FSG BYR through a connection I made at CPC, a lovely woman and amazing editor who was kind enough to keep me in mind when a position opened at Macmillan Children's; I'd been interviewing around for various publishing roles, across all age groups and departments, but in my heart of hearts, it was always children's editorial, getting up close with writers and creators, building those relationships and bringing stories to life. And here we are today!
Picture book: Sing, Aretha, Sing!: Aretha Franklin, "Respect," and the Civil Rights Movement was my first picture book acquisition some years ago, and it will finally publish in February 2022! After Aretha Franklin's death, I pursued the incredible Hanif Abdurraqib to tell her story for young readers, and he delivered beyond my wildest dreams. I paired him with illustrator Ashley Evans after seeing the most striking artwork of Aretha on her Instagram, and again, she delivered on the vision and then some. This was a labor of love and a really deep, thorough collaboration, and it's a real honor to see it into the world.
Middle grade: I edited Sarah Allen's first two middle-grade novels, What Stars are Made Of (2020) and Breathing Underwater (2021), and those books have my whole heart. The voice in Stars is just unmissable, coming from the most lovable main character; and the difficult topics in Breathing hit really close to home for me in beautiful ways, as I imagine they will for many young readers.
YA: I can't wait for One for All by Lillie Lainoff to hit shelves! This historical adventure centers a disabled girl fighting to avenge her father's mysterious murder, and along the way falls in love with her chosen family and herself. The buzz around this one is growing steadily, and I'm so excited for this unique perspective to find just the right readers.
Graphic novel: I'm co-editing two middle-grade graphic novels by indie-pop music duo Tegan & Sara, narrativizing their story of growing up queer and in a band for kids today; it's illustrated by award-winning artist Tillie Walden. This trio of humans could not be more talented, easier to work with, or more creative in their approaches to this story, and I've learned so much from them. This one hits bookstores in 2023!
Nonfiction: Phillip Hoose is truly one of the best there is—a thorough researcher, a thoughtful creative, and a committed advocate of the truth. Working with him is always an amazing exercise in telling untold stories, and his forthcoming book Duet: Our Journey in Song with the Northern Mockingbird is no exception.
a) Variety is always good! We at FSG publish all styles of picture books, from board books to graphic novels, from the commercial to the literary, animals and humans and everything in between. The more sense you can provide of your stylistic range, the more likely we are to keep you in mind!
b) To that point, I wouldn't say there's much to avoid if you want to appeal to us. We're certainly very selective about graphic novels, so no need to over-include that style; otherwise, I would say all systems go!
What a great question, and my answer truly changes every day! Okay, let me think about what today's answer might be...
1) Northwind by Gary Paulsen (2022)—we at FSG were privileged to publish Gary's last three books before his death this past year, and this is his beautiful, stirring, adventurous swan song.
2) A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (2018)—a dark, sharp look at the complexities of womanhood and growing up.
3) Flo by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Jay Fleck (2018)—I fell in love with this goofy, spare picture book about being yourself and helping others from page 1!
That would have to be Dennis, from The Book of Rules by Brian Gehrlein and illustrated by Tom Knight. I ran all around my office showing my colleagues this character when sketches came in, and to this day I crack up to look at his goofy face and tell him, "Go wait in the margins!"
For me, it's trust and vision. I want to know I can trust this story in your hands, that you have the stylistic range and the critical eye to bring it to life; this trust comes from looking at your other projects, poring over your portfolio or social media presence, and really getting a sense of your abilities. In terms of vision, I want to know that you're a willing collaborator, and that you're able to take instruction as well as be creative and independent in executing on a story. We determine if we're on the same page here through phone calls, emails, and overall frequent communication!
Can I say last night, when I was cooking dinner and thought my dish was missing something, and I realized that air-fried chickpeas were just the thing? :)
So many! I remember The Babysitters' Club series as one of my earliest entry points into books that I sought out and devoured; I loved the various perspectives, the friendships, and the ordinary adventures depicted. The first book that made me cry was Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, the second book in the Inkheart trilogy, and I adored her standalone The Thief Lord as well. I keep Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine on my shelf to this day; I had the privilege of meeting Gail at a conference some years ago, and got to tell her myself how that book inspired the characters I fall in love with and the plots that keep me turning pages. And Patricia Reilly Giff was a family friend and an immense talent, one of the first people I ever knew who made a career out of books, so I always return to Pictures of Hollis Woods, Nory Ryan's Song, and All the Way Home.
The FSG editorial team is absolutely unmatched—the level of collaboration, healthy criticism, brainstorming, laughter, and creativity I've experienced is really beyond anything I could expect from a professional environment. I can't imagine coming up under better instruction. I'm so grateful for colleagues that encourage me to pursue stories that matter to me, push me to ask bigger questions of my creators and of myself, remind me to take breaks and care for my mental health, and crack me up over GChat on the daily. I've also been so inspired by the camaraderie I've found in my industry peers; our group chats, happy hours, and hangouts have really made me the best version of my professional—and personal—self.
I'm really excited for This Book Will Get You to Sleep by Jory John, illustrated by Olivier Tallec; Jory's voice never fails to make me laugh, and Olivier's illustrations add so much extra humor on top of that! I'm also a big fan of The Hike to Home by Jess Rinker, whose star is totally on the rise in the middle grade space—I love this adventurous, heart-filled story. And keep an eye out around the holidays for The Christmas Book Flood, a stunning picture book written by Emily Kilgore and illustrated by Kitty Moss, about an Icelandic tradition where folks give each other books on Christmas Eve and spend the night reading together. A dream!
I was introduced to the publishing world as soon as I graduated SUNY New Paltz with a double major in English and Black Studies. I didn’t know editing books was an actual career before then. What I did I know was that I wanted to pursue a book related (or adjacent) career. After a rigorous search to put my degree to good use, I landed an internship at The New Press. After that, I interned at Simon & Schuster’s Simon Spotlight imprint. Then I found my home at HarperCollins Children’s Books working as an assistant for their flagship early reader imprint.
Three things: everyone’s journey is different; be persistent and authentic; and do judge a book by its cover (books only, not people!).
The first two lessons go hand-in-hand. I’ve met many people in my career and I I’ve learned a lot, and probably taught a lot to others, just by showing up and being myself, but also by being flexible and open. That’s what I love about publishing, and specifically editing, the most. The authors, illustrators, designers, marketing and publicity teams, readers, reviewers—everyone really—come together, something like a mosaic, to produce one book.
Oh, and to the last point: publishers spend hours reviewing book covers. I’m talking, HOURS. There is so much that goes into a book’s final cover and its fascinating. Don’t let old clichés fool you.
I love seeing kids point at pages in a book and say “they look like me,” or “me too!” That visibility and validation is super important to affirm a child’s identity, as well as increase children’s empathy for others. That’s really all it is about! More kids need to see themselves.
I am particularly proud of Ashley Franklin and Ebony Glenn’s Not Quite Snow White (HarperCollins, 2019) and Better Together, Cinderella (HarperCollins, 2021). There are few mainstream fairytales featuring Black girls—especially in the world of books. Tameika is a special princess in that she’s a regular everyday girl who navigates a contemporary world, making her super relatable.
The availability of diverse and inclusive content in children’s books has increased immensely but not enough. Remember: we are publishing against a long history of erasure and minimal visibility. So, to say we’ve increased the number of books about the LGBTQI+ community by such and such percent means very little when the original percentage was little to nothing. You know what I mean? What’s 1% (making this up!) to 4% but a sad statistic when we look at the number of front list titles that stick and backlist well.
I can gift my niece books that are FUBU (for us, by us), as well as books by and about other marginalized groups. There are many to choose from. I can vouch for this because I am in the industry and in the know. But for the general population, many educators and parents are still subject to the classic canon which either left marginalized groups out…or “unintentionally” just got it wrong.
I’m glad there are people in the industry working to make diverse books, books. Normalizing them. Publishing them widely yet intelligently. That’s the level of visibility I’d be most excited to see. We have a long way to go.
I love to edit picture books: funny picture books, inspiring picture books, poignant, charming, silly, sweet, powerful, character driven, any picture book. I know this answer scares most who submit to me because it’s such a broad category, but it’s the truth. I think it’s easier sometimes for me to say what I don’t like, but even then, there’s always a special outlier.
In terms of board books, chapter books, middle grade novels, and graphic novels, I don’t tend to acquire these formats, but when I do, they are fun! Funny, silly, high stakes, etc.
No teen for me…yet!
I have to give this one to Christy Mandin, the author-illustrator of Lucky (HarperCollins, 2022). I saw a quick sketch of the main character on her social media and when I asked her about it, Christy completely leaned into it and created an entire underwater world for this charming and hilarious pearl. It was magnificent to witness.
Especially during the years of 2020 and 2021, the most creative and hardworking miracle workers of the industry had to be those who work in production and the bookstores/sellers. Production made sure there were printed books to fill the shelves of stores that faced insurmountable challenge. And once those books were placed, it was the booksellers and the stores that showed books love. Real love! Those folks are the real MVPs. Not just recently, but every year a new book is published.
We love to see scenes and a variety of facial expression, body language, and movement for your characters. These two things are key. Also, a personal favorite of mine is when an artist works well with lighting and/or vibrant colors depending on their style.
Shar Tuiasoa’s Punky Aloha (HarperCollins, 2022), much like Lucky, originated from an already-existing piece in Shar’s online portfolio. Shar had a story that she wanted to tell—one the reminded her of a kid version of herself and other kids in Hawaii—and wrapped it into the bubbly character that is Punky. We started with an illustrated character line up and a detailed plot synopsis. Then, Shar went ahead and wrote the text, we edited it a bit, and she sent colorized sketches a few months later. It was as if she had experience in illustrating picture books (this is Shar’s debut), because she went to final art soon after. The book taught me a lot (like how folks use the word ‘aloha’ and how they do not) and gives me warm memories of days at my own grandmother’s home. Good books do that do you…they are mirrors and bridges.
Bandwidth. We are publishing more books, they are becoming more expensive to produce, and the competition is fierce. So, yeah, bandwidth is our biggest challenge.
My Hair (HarperCollins, 2020) is another favorite of mine. Danielle Murrell Cox is passionate about Black representation for children and this upbeat board book is a celebration of everything Black hair. It rhymes and features kids of many different skin tones.
Lastly, I must shout out the nonfiction picture books I love. Ready to Fly by Lea Lyon, A. LaFaye, and Jessica Gibson (HarperCollins, 2020), and When the Schools Shut Down by Yolanda Gladden, Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, and Keisha Morris (HarperCollins, 2022) both shed light on unsung African American heroes.
My career in publishing began in 1992, shortly after I graduated from Smith College and then attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course (now known as the Columbia Publishing Course). I was an editorial assistant at Four Winds Press, a tiny imprint at Macmillan headed by Virginia Duncan. I had been an art major and writing minor in college, and so I was lucky to land in a job where I was allowed to assist the art director as well as the editor-in-chief. So in addition to writing reader reports and learning to edit, I was also able to help with cover type design, creating mechanicals, and creating book layouts in the early days of computer design. My love of hands-on design work has lasted and impacted every role I’ve had since then.
When Macmillan was purchased by Viacom, we were folded into Simon & Schuster, where I was an assistant and associate editor; I moved to Morrow Junior books to become an editor working for David Reuther, who eventually left to begin a new imprint at the independently-owned European company North-South Books. I joined him there as editor-in-chief, and starting a new imprint—SeaStar Books—completely from scratch was an incredible adventure!
After that company fell on hard times, I moved to Little Brown Books for Young Readers in 2003 where I’ve had numerous roles: Editorial Director of the whole imprint, to Editorial Director of James Patterson’s books for young readers, to my role now as Editorial Director of picture books. I feel like I’ve come full circle, focusing on what I love most—combining words, art, and graphic design into beautiful packages with lasting stories that can be enjoyed over and over again.
I’m tremendously proud of the fact that we recently had a stretch of winning ten Caldecott stickers (five Medals and five Honors) in ten years, creating an industry record with three gold medals three years in a row within a single imprint. What pleases me most is that there was no single artist or editor or art director driving that string of successes, but rather a team of people with similarly high standards and a collaborative way of working that we believe brings the best out of our artists. The books were all distinctive in art style; aside from the two by Sophie Blackall (Finding Winnie and Hello, Lighthouse), no two books looked alike.
We look for artists with a true signature style, who have their own visual language and personal stamp. Most of these artists are quite exacting and demanding of themselves, and many of the books took the better part of a year (and some much longer) to create. Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe took five years, as he grappled with creating three-dimensional works of assemblage. Oge Mora, the artist for Thank You Omu, was on the verge of finishing her book just in the nick of time to be published in 2017, but decided that she needed to slow down and make sure she was getting it just right while not under pressure, so we postponed the book for a full year so that she could feel 100% confident in her execution.
So while of course there is no blanket formula for award-winning books, some of the key elements most of these LBYR stars shared was a very collaborative process, artists who pushed themselves to do their very best work, and the development of an art style that’s uniquely their own.
While I don’t want to pigeonhole what I’m looking for too narrowly—because we believe strongly in diversifying our portfolio with a wide range of content, tone, topics and styles—one thing I do need to put out the call for is more genuinely funny, clever, or even absurdist-style books. We have been overwhelmed with very serious and earnest content lately, and while these books are important, we need to balance out all of the heavy content with something that will make kids—and adults!—laugh. It’s a tough world out there, and parents and caregivers are craving to share more happy moments together during storytime at the end of a long day.
As mentioned earlier, I’m personally looking for art styles that are distinctive and singular, rather than trendy or generic animation-based styles. That is not meant to demean animators, who I have a high degree of respect for (and in fact we work with plenty of former animators whom we love!), but I love seeing how brilliant former animators like Molly Idle, Dan Santat, and Rhode Montijo have taken the great skills they’ve learned from the business and gone on to develop their own signature styles that I could identify as their very own across a room. I tend to work with artists who do traditional drawing and painting (Corinna Luyken, Diana Sudyka, Audrey Helen Weber), collage (Oge Mora), and mixed media (Rafael Lopez), as well as primarily digital artists (Dan Santat, Bob Shea, Elise Parsley) who have a bold and dynamic sense of humor.
You know that’s like asking a mother to describe their favorite child, right? The most wonderful thing about this job is that so many of them are genuinely exciting, and there’s always another one right around the corner!
Since I’ve worked on so many picture books in my career, I will admit that one of my favorite books that I’ve ever worked on was something quite different: a debut poetry collection called I’m Just No Good At Rhyming And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups, which is a collection of radically inventive and wildly witty poems that could best be summarized as “Shel Silverstein meets Jon Scieszka” in flavor. Not only is the poetry mind-blowingly funny and wickedly clever, but we were so lucky to work with the great Lane Smith and his amazing wife, designer Molly Leach, on a dynamic, completely distinctive artistic package.
And how lucky am I to have worked on a dozen books with the legendary artist Jerry Pinkney? Although each of his books was truly a career highlight, I think that collaborating on the nearly wordless The Lion and the Mouse, which won him the Caldecott gold at long, long last after multiple silver honors, is an experience that will be hard to top.
We are eager to see your range—of emotions, and places, and moods, and characters (different ages, diverse body types and races, people and animals). We also often need to find illustrators who can render settings and backgrounds well, who are good at adding rich detail, who are able to bring a layer of storytelling to the art that goes above and beyond what the text literally offers. Many portfolios often overlook the importance of that and focus on character interaction only. We tend to gravitate toward styles that are unique, layered, with depth and texture. On the flip side, sometimes it’s harder than you’d think to find boldly funny-but-not-necessarily-cartoony work that has its own non-generic flair, so if you can do humor, don’t be shy about including it in your portfolio!
CHEZ BOB written and illustrated by Bob Shea (released 9/21) is a funny book that is also one of our most acclaimed picture books this year, with four starred reviews and inclusion on several best-of lists. It’s a good example of humor that’s fresh but with depth and a strong takeway. I love this spread because of its fearlessly dramatic close-up cropping which makes the reader feel just a breath away from the Alligator’s big teeth. Bob’s devious expression combined with the absurd chef’s hat makes for delightfully humorous juxtaposition.
Working with a debut illustrator is often one of my favorite things to do. I imagine an artist remembers their first book like their first love—there’s only ever going to be one, and to be a part of that key moment in someone’s career is very special and I want it to be a good memory! On the artist’s end, I think there is sometimes an extra degree of energy, both nervous energy and excited energy, that can be channeled into really great work since there’s such an eagerness to please. On my end, it’s a responsibility I cherish, to make sure that people’s first experience in publishing is a great one, at least creatively. I don’t mind explaining the industry terminology (self-ended pagination! Blues! F&Gs!) as well as other esoteric aspects of making books, like why we need the final art to be delivered a year or more before the book’s release. I feel like laying the groundwork for a collaborative and intense-yet-hopefully-rewarding creative process that will set people on a positive path forward toward their next work is really a special role to have.
The greatest challenges of being and editor are usually parts of the process that authors and artists aren’t aware of. Negotiating and reviewing contracts and dealing with the legal and financial aspects of publishing are never going to be parts of the job that I consider to be fun—not surprising to hear from an art major!—but it comes with the territory. And as an editor who is the key liaison to the author, artist, and agent, there will always be days where it’s your job to deliver some bad news (a shipping delay, books out of stock, having to say “no” something an author really wants, etc.)
Most of all, juggling priorities and staying on top of the work never gets easier, even after almost 30 years of experience and having an assistant to help me. Editors are not only responsible for wading through hundreds of submissions to figure out what we want to acquire for the future, and preparing acquisitions materials and negotiating deals for those books; we’re also working on all creative aspects of books coming out in the next three years, plus navigating sales and marketing issues for books coming out soon or now, plus playing the role of “customer service rep” for backlist authors and miscellaneous issues that always pop up. It’s an endless flow of different kinds of tasks every day; we could easily be “touching” twenty different projects in a day, so it’s very difficult to find the quiet time to sink into simply reading and editing books in a focused way. It’s like we’re directing a dozen different movies at the same time!
Ironically, I don’t actually have one when it comes to picture books, and I really mean that. I’m an equal opportunity lover of picture books, a kid in a candy store who wants to buy everything and simply cannot ever just focus on one favorite bit of candy.
But as a child, I relished in a special way the very few picture books that I owned, poring over the pictures again and again; the one I best remember is Mitsumasa Anno’s Upside Downers, a book whose art could be seen/perceived in a completely different way when turned upside down. I guess to this day, I still love books that have a smart, inventively clever or thoughtful visual conceit like that one!
I have been fortunate to have three wonderful supervisors and role models in my career: Virginia Duncan, now the head of Greenwillow, who taught me much of what I know about editing. My second boss, David Reuther, taught me much of what I know about the business of publishing and about cultivating and maintaining strong author/artist relationships. And Megan Tingley, our publisher, has taught me how to be a manager, how to navigate complicated situations, and maybe most importantly how to believe in myself. I can hardly believe I’ve been entrusted with the many roles I’ve been given at Little, Brown, and I feel very lucky to have been working with Megan and the entire wonderful team at this company these 18 years!
THE GREAT WHIPPLETHORP BUG COLLECTION illustrated by Elizabeth Bergeland (released 5/21) is a story about a boy who is learning that what it means to be “great” is a lot deeper than just manly accomplishments! This spread cleverly shows his different ancestors evolving over time via the change in the style of picture frames as well as increasing the amount of color in each photo—and the last photo makes me laugh every time.
I’LL MEET YOU IN YOUR DREAMS illustrated by Rafael López (released 3/21) is about the evolving relationship of parents and children over time. The exquisite range of palette (with both warm and cool colors) in this spread always delights me, and I admire the combination of both literal things and abstractions (like the twisting lines—indicating our complicated emotional connections to our growing children as they leave “the nest”), which creates a warm, layered, emotional response.
I had a very roundabout path to becoming an art director in Publishing. I earned a degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in Graphic Design. The school's design program was very studio-centric, learning about designers like Lester Beal, Alexy Brodovich, William Golden, Bradbury Thompson, and Massimo Vigelli. These were the designers who ran their own studios and ultimately worked in all areas of design including: branding, magazine, book, environmental, etc. We were taught what life was like for a studio designer, not the life of a designer specializing in any of those areas.
When I left RIT, I had no idea where I wanted to work, and going “freelance” or starting my own business scared the life out of me. So, I just worked as many jobs as I could, as long as there was some challenge behind it. When that challenge passed and I lost interest, I would move on. All in all, the first part of my career I worked in almost every facet of the graphic design industry except one: Book Publishing.
I am VERY fortunate (and forever grateful) that my then Creative Director Gail Doobinin and the folks at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers hired me. It literally changed the course of my life. It's how I met my wife!! As soon as I finished my first project, I knew I found my home as a book designer. For the first time in my career, I found work where every new project was just as exciting as the first. I love the process. I love the product.
Over the course of my career at Time Warner and Hachette Book Group, I was fortunate to work at a few different imprints: LBYR, Yen Press, Orbit, and Redhook. I was able to get my hands dirty doing Kid Lit, Manga/comics, Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Commercial Fiction.
The next significant step in my career was at Scholastic. I was very lucky to work under Ken Geist who made me fall in love with my career even more. Ken gave me something special by elevating the working experience to a place I didn’t think it could go, through humor, passion, and a love for a beautiful book. There was such a collaborative camaraderie in Ken’s team. We all worked through challenges together, made amazing books, and had a great time doing it!
At one point during my tenure at Hachette, I had interviewed for a Senior Designer position at First Second. I wrote Mark Siegel an impassioned email indicating how working at First Second would be a dream job. I didn’t get it, but knowing what I know now, Mark made the right decision. First Second had hired Andrew Arnold who was the perfect designer for the job. But when Andrew left to start his own imprint at Harper, Mark reached out when I was at Scholastic, and the rest is history.
This is a hard one to answer, because I don’t like to play favorites with my projects. But I will say Dragon Hoops by Gene Yang was a special project because of the hand of cards it presented and the path it ultimately took. When I started at First Second, this project was already late. I needed to pick this project up very quickly and get something designed yesterday. We had a design in the running, which we thought was a solid direction. But after some distance and great feedback, we decided to start over.
I had to dig deep and eventually came up with the current design. This was a journey and a VERY collaborative project, which is a big part of publishing. Publishing is supposed to be collaborative because it’s a collection of people who are experts in their field. It forced me to tap into ideas that I wouldn’t have on my own.
Once we settled on the cover direction of the basketball theme design, I needed to figure out how we were going to actually print it. A big part of the concept was to give the book a very tactile experience. I wanted Dragon Hoops to look AND feel like a basketball when the reader is holding it. It was a really fun challenge to construct the jacket mechanical to replicate that feeling of a basketball. I felt like a carpenter.
In the end, Dragon Hoops was not only a creative challenge but a technical challenge as well, all done in a compressed schedule. It was really hard, and very rewarding.
I’m a big fan of cheesy phrases and I like to say, “I like to see art that not only goes out on a limb, but hovers next to the tree and laughs at it.” Nothing brings me more joy than when artists experiment, play, and have fun. You can tell they are enjoying the process when looking at their portfolio and the artwork feels natural and fluid.
However, there’s a realistic side to the industry. Some art styles elicit a visceral response from the audience by being either dated or very niche. Being self-aware of your own art and knowing your style's place in the marketplace is important. Maybe your style is dated or very niche, but can you push it to make it work in some way? Can you figure out a way to elicit a new response through different character designs or color palettes? If so, that’s when artists are pushing the boundaries and creating cool stuff.
This Was Our Pact is pretty much up there as one of my favorite children’s graphic novel. This book taps into my childhood of riding bikes and exploring the woods behind our houses, new and growing friendships, and owning my own actions. The artwork in This Was Our Pact is so beautiful and whimsical…. I’ve read it about 6 or 7 times and it never gets old.
An art director does more than make a pretty design. Art Directors are overseeing projects, collaborating with artists, and often managing teams. One needs to develop skills beyond just good design. Communication is key. How do you talk with creators and try to get the best work out of them? How do you manage your team so they grow and develop their own style and voice? Organization is important too. How do you navigate all of your projects so there’s enough structure for your colleagues yet providing your creators with flexibility to work the way they need to? How do you do all of this and manage your own projects?
The art director also needs to be a resource for creators in every way imaginable. Especially in comics, because there are so many ways one can create comics these days. Between different types of traditional media, a wide range of software, and creative drives to push the comics medium. The art director really has to be available as a resource for the creator. It could be helping figure out glitches in software. It could be helping the creator push their ideas so they’re getting more impact in their book.
Nothing (and I mean nothing) feels better than when you, your team, and creators are catching a wave of working together, bouncing ideas off of each other, and pumping out great books! There’s never a straight line from start to finish, so when an art director can get everyone to enjoy the ride…. That’s when everyone enjoys the end destination the most!
Include style(s) that look and feel developed with multiple samples of each style. Please don’t include random one-off images… that doesn’t communicate to me that you can handle an entire book. Only include samples that you enjoy doing, because if I ask you to work on a book in a style, I want you, the artist, to be stoked to do an entire book that way.
Having multiple styles is great… Just curate your selection. We’re not looking for a set number of styles. We’re looking for quality. So if you can execute your work in multiple ways, all of them you do really well, and have fun doing…. Flaunt them!
To be willing to explore and play. On rare occasions, a solution presents itself right away. But many times, the best solutions require exploration. Opening up your brain to investigate and play is a skill set in of itself. Don’t lock yourself into a solution, because something extraordinary always presents itself after some searching. Remember, until we’re holding a book in our hands…. Nothing is set in stone. Use that time in the beginning to play and communicate what’s working and what’s not. Does that mean compromise? Yes, absolutely. But the best books come from artists who take the time to find that amazing solution.
The best products and books come out of collaboration. It’s important to remember that a balance needs to be had between the creator and the publisher. If a creator wants full control, they can always self publish. But if a publisher is fronting the capital to make an investment on your project, there are going to be expectations the publisher needs met. Working with the editor and designer/art director is important. Finding the best solution and communicating in an amicable/respectful way from all sides is key. Publishers need to remember that these projects are a creator's brain child and creators need to remember that publishers don’t work in a vacuum.
Easy, working at First Second. There is never a day that I don’t appreciate the incredible talent I get to work with every day. Not to mention, my colleagues are some of the most talented people in the industry who are genuine and have a heart of gold. As far as the comics industry goes, it’s filled with creators/contributors/readers who just love the medium. They love the craft of sequential art and are constantly pushing the art to new levels. Being a kid who grew up reading comics and dreaming of one day working in the industry, this job is very special to me. I’m very lucky.
As an art director, everything becomes inspiration. Everywhere I go, I’m looking at how different people use type, imagery, and what makes them tick. Depending on what kind of project it is and what that project is about, I need to understand how to best communicate that subject matter. That opens up the door for taking deep dives in different cultural worlds. It’s in those deep dives where you discover symbols and visual languages that you can use. Whether it’s New England folk art paintings to Basquiat, a film by Hayao Miyazaki to Bob’s Burgers, Blue Note album covers by Reid Miles to underground club fliers, watching The Great British Bake Off to Binging with Babish, watching a SpaceX launch to a crazy maker build with Mark Rober, listening to acapella by Pentatonix to thrash metal by Slayer. As an art director, the more culture you’re exposed to, the more you can understand what creators are communicating in their work. It's an endless pursuit, but one that never gets old!
Another project is A Map to the Sun by Sloan Leong. Sloan's artwork for this is just beautiful and perfect for the story. As soon as you experience the artwork, you're immediately transported to the hazy lifestyle of the west coast setting sun. There is this cinematic feel to her work that really plays into the tempo of the story as well. I can hear a soundtrack (haha... for me it was Ratatat and Kavinsky) with her pages as the story played out.
Sloan's colors are just bonkers. Her distinct palette sets the story perfectly in California and her use of color holds really propel the artwork into this otherworldly place. The palette changes throughout, not in a drastic way, as if you're watching a sunset. But because the colors of a sunset shift slowly, that subconscious association plays a role in the pacing of the story.
When we worked on the cover design of this project, I really wanted something that was going to echo the beauty of the interior and really convey the experience in an instant. After some back and forth to get an idea of where Sloan's head was at, we settled on the type driven cover where the type was integrated into the art. I could see the movement in this direction, as if it were opening credits to a film, and felt it was showing off the best parts of her art.
Lastly, The Well written by Jake Wyatt with art by Choo was an absolute blast to work on. I've been a fan of Choo's work whose style rides this fine line of complex with lots of information yet feeling simple and effortless. When you look at Choo's work, you notice they use gradients sparingly and color blocks to define the elements in the art. Their distinct style sucks you into the story, because you get lost in the details hoping to find easter eggs.
I worked in Sci Fi/Fantasy for many years and Choo's style is such a refreshing stylistic contribution to the genre. Their visuals are just so fluid and effortless, paired with Jake's story.... I would find myself halfway through the book in what felt like a blink of an eye.
When we got working on the cover this was another challenge where it was important to showcase Choo's distinct style along with Jake's big fantasy adventure in a blink of an eye. Taking the old ornate frame and picture window book design style, we built on that to make Lizzy, our main character, look as if she's about to jump INTO the book itself to go on her adventure, making eye contact with the reader and pulling them in too.
The colors, the pacing, character design….. It’s just a magical story! I got my son into the book too, and we both love to go on our own adventures when we go camping.
We are getting some nice jobs from your site. As far as I can tell, your site is the only one that makes any sense for us. Thanks so much and keep up the excellent work.
Ronnie Ann Herman - Herman Agency