For the month of August, we’re absolutely tickled to have had the opportunity to work with animator and illustrator Jared Chapman. Jared and Literati have a lot in common: both are based in Texas, both love picture books, and both can really get behind a good joke.
Jared has illustrated numerous books for children, including Wordplay, written by Adam Lehrhaupt and released just last month. He’s also responsible for writing four picture books of his own, including Vegetables in Underwear; Fruits in Suits; Pirate, Viking & Scientist; and Steve, Raised by Wolves. Jared told us a little bit about his summer plans, his influences, and what makes him laugh.
You’ve got a lively illustration style reminiscent of something that would come from a Hanna-Barbera creation, yet it’s fresh and dynamic and very much your own. What has influenced you most in finding your style?
Good eye! Cartoons from Hanna-Barbera, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., UPA, Rankin/Bass all had a huge influence on me as a kid. Artists like Tom Oreb, William Steig, Bill Watterson, Charles Shultz, Gary Larson, Lane Smith, Richard Scarry, Bill Peet, Mary Blair, Ben Shahn, Saul Steinberg all had a big impact on me too. Actually, I have no idea why I am talking in the past tense. They still have a big influence on me. I think sometimes the things that we love have a way of burrowing themselves deep inside our brains. Like some sort of exotic parasite. But, you know, beneficial.
After your time at Savannah College of Art and Design, your main focus moved from animation to illustration. What changed your trajectory?
I’ve always loved illustration, but when I was at SCAD my main focus was on animation. After school, I got a job as an animator with an educational software company in Austin, TX. That’s when I really started to get interested in becoming an illustrator. It was a reeeeeeeally loooooong, slooooooow process. My evenings and weekends were spent hanging out with my wife and drawing. I posted a lot of the things I drew online on my blog (they were very popular back then). Because of that, I would occasionally get contacted to do an odd illustration job here and there. From there my interest slowly evolved into wanting to write my own stories, and that is what lead me to picture books.
One thing the books that you’ve both written and illustrated (Steve, Raised by Wolves; Vegetables in Underwear; Pirate, Viking & Scientist; Fruits in Suits) have in common is that they’re simple concepts with hilarious execution. What’s the key to writing and drawing comedy in picture books?
I have no idea. Seriously, I am clueless. I think my sense of humor is silly and absurd but also pretty dry, so I try to write and draw things that make me laugh. I figure that if I laugh, maybe someone else will too. And that person is probably my mom because she is very sweet and kind.
Is there a project of yours you’re particularly fond of?
I really love all of my books because each one is an absolute miracle. Honestly. I think I work very slowly. If I had to pick one, then the story behind Vegetables in Underwear is kinda cool. I was working on an animation pitch about random things you’d find in a home (I know, it’s kinda boring.). In one part of the pitch, I drew this tiny piece of broccoli putting on a pair of underwear. It made me laugh so I posted the drawing to my Instagram account. A few days later, I got an email from some guy named Chad at Abrams. He said that he liked the drawing and he thought it could be a book. Chad turned out to be Chad Beckerman, the creative director at Abrams and a little while later, he, the head of Abrams Appleseed at the time, Cecily Kaiser, my agent, Rebecca Sherman and I all had a meeting to talk about what a book about Vegetables in Underwear might be like. It was a really fun book to work on.
What tips do you have for the aspiring illustrator?
Do a crazy amount of drawing. Then, draw more. Find other artists that you admire and study their work. It will teach you a lot. Enter contests. Give yourself assignments. Email other artists and ask questions. Very important scientists say that the human brain is very large and can hold a lot of information. Try to fill yours with illustration knowledge. Write down everything you learn and mail it to me. Thank you in advance.
What’s your favorite interaction you’ve had with a child about your work?
Last year I did a few school visits at some elementary schools outside of Houston. After I did my presentation at one school, I was in the library signing books. A kid walked up so I started talking to him. “What kind of things do you like to do?” I asked. The kid just shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s complicated.” We left it at that and I still quote him to this day.
We’ve always found a good picture can make a joke really fly, and you’ve enhanced some very funny books with your illustrations. What book made you laugh the most as a kid? As an adult?
Great question! I actually know the answer to this one: When I was a kid, it was The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. I remember finding it at the book fair at my school. The cover is what hooked me. Lane Smith is absurdly talented. My mom and dad bought it for me so later at home I read it and realized how funny the story was. Jon Scieszka is absurdly talented too. When I was in college, I discovered a book called Squids Will Be Squids. Want to hear something funny? It’s also by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. I read and reread and re-reread it a thousand times. At the time I was taking a public speaking class, so I even did a speech on it. I really love that book. As an adult, I’m lucky to be friends with Bob Shea who is not only a very funny author but also one of the funniest people currently walking the face of the Earth. Sometimes he sends me drafts of whatever he is working on. They always make me laugh hysterically. Just like that kid from the school visit, I quote Bob a lot too.
What’s your favorite summer activity (outside of drawing)?
Michael Jordan was the best at basketball. Black Beard was the best at pirating. Frankenstein was the best at being a monster. I am the best at doing absolutely nothing. I hate to brag, but I am very gifted at sitting and staring blankly. The only difference between me and a baked potato is that I pay taxes.
What do you have coming out next?
Last year, I got to illustrate a book that Adam Lehrhaupt wrote called Wordplay. It just came out last month. That guy sure can tell a great story. Next year I have a new book coming out with Deborah Underwood. It’s about a monster and a mouse who go camping. It’s called Monster and Mouse Go Camping. I really love the characters Deborah created in this story. I’d love to have them as friends. After that, I have a book I wrote and illustrated coming out. It’s about dinosaurs but it could almost be an autobiography.
Last question: Will you tell us a joke?
Q: What did the snail say as he rode on the back of the turtle?