Jen: It’s always so fascinating to hear about the “before publication” story of an author because it gives the reader some insight as to the driving force that led him to where he is today. Please tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background. And, in what way did it prepare you for a career in publishing?
Dan: Looking back, I realize that the one thing I really enjoyed doing was telling stories. I made comic books, wrote short stories and scripts, made super 8 movies, etc. I majored in illustration at Parsons School of Design and very soon after graduating I began illustrating for magazines. After a few years, I showed a children’s book editor my portfolio thinking I’d get a manuscript to illustrate, but he instead asked if I had any picture book manuscripts I’d written, which I didn’t, so I said yes and went home and wrote my first book, Big Brother Mike. Through that experience, I learned how to put together a children’s book and I really enjoyed it!
Jen: I think your story is unique in its own right because you wear more than one hat. You’re an author and an illustrator. Let’s start by talking about your artwork. First of all, you have worked with many prestigious authors such as Kevin Henkes and Margaret Wise Brown. How did that facet of your career evolve?
Dan: Like I said, I illustrated for magazines, which meant that I was visually depicting someone else’s ideas, but in my own way. Illustrating a book is just a more elaborate version of that. I love to work with other author’s stories and enjoy the challenge. I’ve illustrated books written by Jack Perlutsky and Naomi Shabib Nye as well.
Jen: Not only have you collaborated on many books, but also you are the creator and producer of the animated series Oswald. In addition, you designed the characters for The Backyardigans on Nickelodeon and created Willa’s Wild Life. Approximately how much of your time is spent working in television? And specifically, what aspect of your involvement in TV is most fulfilling from an artist’s perspective?
Dan: The most important thing I learned from working freelance was how to organize my time. I’m able to balance books, TV, and film work because I know how and when I work best. I usually write in the morning, my afternoons are spent working on TV projects, making phone calls, having meetings and a variety of other things and in the evening I paint.
During the early stages of a TV series, I tend to spend the majority of my workday on it in order to get everyone on board with a singular vision. Once that’s established and I’ve assembled the right team, then my role becomes more of an overseer to make sure the show stays true to the creative vision, which requires less of my time.
I look at a TV series as a different way to tell stories. It’s remarkably fulfilling, but in a different way from books. With books, it’s mostly just myself, the editor and designer putting it together, but with a series, it’ll take dozens of people, each responsible for a small aspect of the whole, to put it together. I think of it as the difference between playing a musical instrument solo and conducting an orchestra. I really enjoy doing both.
You can catch the whole interview over at Fresh Fiction’s website and, of course, you can see more of Dan’s work at his website and pick up his latest book, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, here.
Thanks for keeping us updated, Dan!
[illustration by Dan Yaccarino]