I discovered Chris's work last year, when I received a review copy of her picture book, Monkey with a Tool Belt from Lerner.
I loved it, and so did my kids-- especially my youngest, who's obsessed with tools. (this is the kid who, at two, snitched a screwdriver after watching me repair a CD player and quietly started taking apart the furniture)
The visuals are hilarious, and I suspect there are many kids who wish they had a tool belt as well stocked as Chico's. (banana hammer, anyone?)
I thought it might be interesting to interview her about her work ... and then I got busy, and never got the review up! The good news is that since then, Lerner has published a sequel to Chico's first story, called Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem.
Our family thought this one was even more fun than the first. I won't tell you the whole story and spoil the suspense, but my tool-happy son was tickled that Chico made his visitor a toolbelt of his own at the end!
This week, I finally got a chance to ask Chris about her work:
Can you tell us a little about the creation of Chico Bon Bon and his stories?
Chico Bon Bon was an idea my son, Mickey and I came up with. We talked about what kind of character we personally liked in comics and stories, and instantly agreed that a McGuyver-like monkey was right up there. I think we brainstormed the rough outline of the first story instantly, particularily the escape scene. I think it was several months after we talked about it, that I finally wrote something down on paper, which incidentally was on the back of my paystub, while I was driving on Interstate 35. Not very safe.
How did you come to be an writer and illustrator?
I think I, like most kids, started out writing and drawing stories in elementary school. I did a lot of cartoons then. I always loved art and wanted to be an artist. I didn't actually set out to become a cartoonist. I really wanted to be an illustrator, but the cartoon basically kept growing on its own. Now, I have been doing a comic strip for almost 18 years. I think the children's books have evolved out of the comic. I definitely followed a similar system of story-telling when I started writing the book.
Were you like Chico as a kid-- always building and creating?
Yes, and No. I was constantly crafting things out of paper. I built 3D dollhouses out of file cards, manila paper, and cardboard. I really never worked with tools and wood, and things of that nature. I also made miniature cakes for dollhouses and tiny monopoly boards that I tried to sell at a local craft store. I was not as handy as Chico.
I would love to see those dollhouses!
What were the biggest influences on your illustration style?
That's a wonderful collection... I esp. love Garth Williams, though I suspect his name isn't as familiar to many readers as others on your list.
What kind of themes do you try to address in your work?
I think the theme is usually one of self-reliance. Beyond that, I just want it to be fun.
What is your favorite published project?
My favorite published project is maybe my comic collection "Ultra Violet, Ten Years Of Violet Days." I like it because it's a culmination of so many years. It's cool to see it all together, and realize how many I have done. I need to put out a new collection, since that one is now 5 years old.
I am working on a new book for Lerner, a different story than Chico's. It's been really fun so far. I will be doing another Chico Bon Bon story though, there's more of his story to be told.
That's great news for all the Chico fans out there! I wonder what he'll do next...
What's your favorite medium?
I love several mediums- oil pastel, gouache,watercolor, pen and ink. I guess if I had to choose one I'd say ink. It's cleaner and way easier to control than gouache and watercolor. I do love the things gouache decides to do on it's own though, it's just that harnessing that fluidity can be scary at times.
Anything you'd like to tell your readers?
Sounds like good advice to me! I strongly encourage anyone with young children to make Chico part of that fun!