Some authors’ stories read as if they were giggling quietly to themselves the entire time they were writing. When I saw the cover of Trouble Gum, the image of a giant pink bubble being blown by a small piglet, I knew I found such a book. Matthew Cordell wrote and illustrated Trouble Gum. Matthew Cordell (from my estimation) has fun for a living. So being the nosy person that I am, I had to include this talented author/illustrator in our Mini Interview line up…
Please describe your career as an author-illustrator in 5 words:
Still. Figuring. It. All. Out.
Which books, that were your favorite when you were little, have had the greatest influence on your work?
I wish I could point to some really obscure and never-heard-of illustrators as my childhood inspirations, like that would make me sound cool, maybe. However, I think I’m not too different from most in that I can remember the “classics” being read during my own childhood. Specifically, I can remember being drawn to Maurice Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), Dr. Seuss (GREEN EGGS AND HAM), and Richard Scarry (WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ALL DAY?) as a child. And I still love all three of them. Maybe this still makes me sound cool?
Please share an instance in which you had an idea or experience that started out small, but took root and grew to become a book.
My first author-illustrator book, TROUBLE GUM, started out with this image I had in my head of a pig who blew a massive bubble gum bubble and it lifted him or her up into the air and took flight. I didn’t have a story to wrap around that image, but I was very much in love with the possibility of making a book that somehow used that visual. I knew very little about writing picture books at the time, so it took me many incarnations of this bubble gum pig story, over the span of several years, before it actually, you know, took flight. But eventually one of those incarnations landed into the hands of my lovely editors at Feiwel and Friends, Liz Szabla and Rebecca Davis, and they helped me officially find its way to publication.
Do you ever hide little images, names or personal details in your illustrations? Please give us a peek
I do! Occasionally, when there’s a place to hide some text or if there’s a background character or element I could use as a tip o’ the hat to someone I love, I’ll take advantage. For instance, on this page from ANOTHER BROTHER, I’ve used these letter blocks to spell out the names of my daughter, Romy, and wife, Julie. These are always fun things to point at at school visits! Kids get into the whole secret message thing.
Daily routines are important for both writers and illustrators. Could you describe your typical work day, and tell us the one little thing you absolutely cannot begin your day without (besides caffeine)?
Lately I’ve been trying to do some work before doing the actual “work.” Meaning, some kind of warm-up routine to get the creative juices pumping. I didn’t want to put a huge amount of time into thinking about subject, so I decided to start doing portraits of friends, family, co-workers. It’s been a great deal of fun and I love surprising folks with my interpretation of themselves on Facebook.
Your books are so amazingly different – do you ever talk yourself out a of good idea because it skews the mainstream industry?
There was a time that I felt like I had to be a certain way and do a certain type of book and stick to it. Like I could ONLY do funny books. Or I could ONLY do sincere books. Or I could ONLY draw this way or that. For me, it gets old fast to think that way. So I’m happy to hear that you find my books so different from one another! One of my favorite contemporary author-illustrators, David Ezra Stein, has shown me that each book can be approached completely as an individual and the means of production can flow from within. And this kind of artistic freedom and sincerity… THAT is your style. That is your moniker. Now that I’ve opened myself up to whatever comes, I feel so much more free and able to create without being put in a self-imposed box. I don’t know if it’s good or bad or whatever, but I know it makes me feel better not having to live up to just one ideal or aesthetic.
Matthew Cordell is the illustrator and author of many acclaimed books for young readers. Though he spent most of his life in small town South Carolina, at the turn of the century he migrated midwest to set up shop in Chicago. It was there that he met his soon-to-be bride, his passion for children’s books, and deep dish pizza. Matthew is the illustrator of many books including the Justin Case series by Rachel Vail, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, and Toby and the Snowflakes by Julie Halpern. He is the illustrator and author of hello! hello!, Another Brother, and Trouble Gum. Matthew now lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his talented wife, author Julie Halpern, and their two children.
Be on the look out in 2014 for ROOTING FOR YOU a picture book by Susan Hood with illustrations by Matthew. He is currently working on his third author-illustrator book, WISH, and illustrations for a picture book by Philip C. Stead titled SPECIAL DELIVERY.
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