Our guest: John Martz is a Toronto-based illustrator and designer whose most recent book, A Cat Named Tim, is available from Koyamo Press. He is also the creator of Destination X (Nobrow, 2011) and the online comic strip Machine Gum.
He was the founding editor of the now defunct illustration blog Drawn.ca and is behind the new design and illustration blog Dept. of Research and Development.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
I don’t know if I can pinpoint the earliest (it’s probably Pat the Bunny), but I remember receiving a copy of a book for Christmas or a birthday called Treasury of Literature for Children. Winnie the Pooh is on the cover. I still have it. It’s an anthology of classic stories — Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Gulliver’s Travels, etc. It was like a bible, though at the time I didn’t realize much of the stories were excerpts. Imagine a version of Pinocchio that ends as soon as the puppet comes to life and then runs out the door.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Toad from the Frog and Toad stories. Especially in the wintertime. Wake me up when it’s spring.
I don’t know if I can truly pick a favourite, but as a pair, it’s hard to find a more perfect marriage of two talents than Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (left).
If it’s a potluck, I’d invite characters that would ensure a proper feast: Fantastic Mister Fox, Sam I Am, The Little Red Hen, Willy Wonka, and whoever’s giving all those cookies to that mouse.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I think a book should have respect for the intelligence of the reader. Children are smart and shouldn’t be shielded from challenging subjects or feelings. Pat morals and stories that reek of “valuable lessons” should be avoided in favour of the dark, the weird, and the emotionally complex.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s for me to say. I can definitely see various aspects of my personality in all my work, but I don’t know if I can put any of that into words. To paraphrase Elvis Costello, “If I could explain it in words other than those that are in the song, then I would’ve written a different song.”
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Ford Prefect from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gets to lead an interesting life travelling the cosmos, and manages to remain confident and pragmatic when surrounded by absurdity, which can be difficult even down here on earth.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I don’t have enough time on this earth to do half the things I’d like to do, let alone time enough to go back and redo things I’ve already done. There are plenty of things in my past work I think could be done differently, but I’d rather use past mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve my skills for whatever I work on next.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
In design school I remember being told that “good design has two things: contrast and dimension.” I don’t think of it as a firm rule, but I think of it often, and at the very least it makes me stop and consider the many qualities that an image or a character or a story might have.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Everything starts in my sketchbook. I go through a lot of sketchbooks with notes, doodles, rough drawings, character sketches, page layouts — it all goes in the sketchbook.
If I’m writing, I need to be alone, and it needs to be quiet. Once I’m drawing I can put music on, or a movie in the background, but the thinking that writing requires needs to be done in silence.
Much of my work is digital, so from the sketchbook I’ll go to Photoshop, which is the software I do most of my work in. I occasionally use other drawing and painting programs, but I’m most proficient in Photoshop, so that’s what I tend to use.
I just moved into a new house and have just settled into a new workspace that has a sunroom for my drawing table, which is paradise. I still need to hang artwork to make the place feel like home, but I love it.