John Martz Interview

John Martz

Art Director - Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers & Tundra Books

How did you get into children's publishing and what have been some of your career highlights so far?

I sort of fell into publishing! But I guess I sort of fell into most chapters of my professional life, having done everything from comics to motion graphics to web design to animation to editorial cartoons to making fonts. Tundra was looking for an art director, and a friend forwarded me the job posting. I didn't come to the job with a ton of publishing experience, but I did come with an insatiable love of illustration, design, and books. Tundra publishes some of the best illustrators working today, and it's incredibly rewarding to do my part in helping shape and be a steward of their books. 

Could you give us an insight into a typical day as AD for PRH Canada Young Readers / Tundra Books?

We're all working from home now, so my typical day looks a little different in 2020 than it did in previous years. But on any given day I might be laying out type and designing the elements of a picture book, scouring the Internet for illustrators to work with, meeting with editors (on the phone or online these days, of course), or reviewing proofs and printed samples, all from my home office.

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Tundra is Canada’s oldest children’s book publisher, and is renowned across North America and throughout the world for its beautifully illustrated, award-winning books. What are some of your bestselling titles?

Some of our earliest titles like the beloved Canadian classics The Hockey Sweater and Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two are still in print. 

Some of our other titles include Ben Clanton's Narwhal & Jelly series...

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The Darkest Dark by Astronaut Chris Hadfield and illustrated by the Fan Brothers...

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Isabelle Arsenault's Mile End Kids series...

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Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Júlia Sardà...

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This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad...

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and Phoebe Wahl's Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning Sonya's Chickens....

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Select 5 recent books from your list that you are particularly proud of and explain why those projects were so rewarding.

King Mouse

I'm pretty proud of how the design of this picture book written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Dena Seiferling turned out. Dena's illustrations are so lovely and timeless. This little king needed a royal treatment, with gold foil details like a crown stamped onto the faux-cloth case, and a shiny, regal bookplate.

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I grew up listening to Sharon, Lois and Bram records, and watching them on TV, so it was a true delight to get to work on the picture book version of their signature song, even if it did take months to dislodge that particular earworm. I adore Qin Leng's work, and she was a delight to work with.

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How to Promenade with a Python

This soon-to-be-released book from Rachel Poliquin was the perfect opportunity to work with illustrator Kathryn Durst. It's the first in a hilarious non-fiction series about predators in the animal kingdom. We wanted the book to be hand-lettered, but the complexity and logistics of making the book necessitated a font. Or in this case, several fonts. This was a fun opportunity to create three different fonts based on Kathryn's diverse lettering styles, each with multiple alternating characters to help keep everything from looking too mechanical or artificial.

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Fight Like a Girl

In discussing this Sheena Kamal novel with the editor, she described wanting to see a loose, expressive illustrated figure on the cover. Sometimes the right synapses fire at the right time; I immediately thought of Lauren Tamaki's work, and didn't even have to source any other illustrators. The result is one of my favourite book covers of the last year.

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How to Give Your Cat a Bath

Is it cheating to pick a book I illustrated? I was contracted to illustrate this book (written by Nicola Winstanley) for Tundra before I began working there as art director. So, in a strange twist, once I had the job, one of the first books I was art directing and designing was my own. I was very pleased when the book was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Awards.

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What portfolio advice would you offer illustrators looking to appeal to PRH Canada Young Readers / Tundra Books?

There are some practical considerations when I look through portfolios. Typically I'm looking for images of people, kids, animals, and well-rendered backgrounds and environments. But those are just basic subjects that should be in a portfolio of anyone looking to work in children's publishing.

In terms of the style or quality of the art, every story has its own requirements for illustration, and more than anything I want a book's illustration to feel as if it is an inextricable part of the story. I think my advice to any illustrator, regardless of whether they are trying to appeal to Tundra, is to be themself and allow their portfolio to be the truest most authentic representation of the kind of art that they want to make. For the most part, it doesn't matter what their work looks like — if it's good, and it's authentic, I fully believe that the right opportunities to make more of that work will present themselves.

As well as an Art Director, you are also a cartoonist, illustrator, designer and author of several books. Could you tell us a bit more about those?

Of the books I've written, the three I am most proud of are the three books I've published with Koyama Press. It's sad to see Koyama Press no longer publishing books as of this year, but the good news is that all three of these — A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories, Burt's Way Home, and Evie and the Truth About Witches — have found a new home at Tundra. I'm grateful and excited for these books to have a second life with such a great team behind them. Tim and Evie will be published in Summer 2021, with Burt to follow.

Was your creativity encouraged from a young age?

Absolutely. My parents have always been my biggest champions. Both of them actively encouraged my artistic side, enrolling me in art camps and cartooning classes, or driving me to the library or the art store. The drawing table I use today is the same one my dad gave me when I was a kid — a vintage industrial drafting table that my dad rescued from being thrown out at the factory he worked at. I have great memories of sitting at this table for the first time, and how it made me feel like a real pro. Every little act of encouragement and reinforcement of my love of drawing pushed me further along the path of my eventual career.

Who or what inspires you?

I'm constantly absorbing art in some way. I have a pretty big library, most of which is related to picture-making in some way: illustration, comics, art, design, animation, advertising, picture books, typography, photography, etc. So, I'm never far from an endless source of images that excite me. And I'm grateful to have made many friends who are artists, all of whom inspire me constantly with the amazing work that they create.

Tell us about some of the projects you're currently working on.

I'm currently illustrating a book called Crocodile Hungry by author Eija Summer. It will be published by Tundra in Spring 2022. I think it'll be pretty fun!

What would your dream project be to art direct?

I'd love to do make book in 3D — the kind with the red and blue glasses included. As a teenager I amassed a small collection of 3D comics, and learned how to draw my own 3D images with the right coloured pencils. It's such a low-tech old school gimmick, but I couldn't get enough of it back then, and I still love it.

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