Our guest: Sara Varon is a printmaker, illustrator, and children’s book author living in Brooklyn, New York. Her works include the graphic novels for children Sweater Weather (published by First Second, first in 2004 and reissued this week) and Robot Dreams (originally published in 2007 by First Second, reissued this week by Square Fish) and the picture book President Squid, written by Aaron Reynolds (coming from Chronicle in March 2016).
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.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I remember my mom reading these books with me:
- Lyle Lyle Crocodile
- Harry the Dirty Dog
- A Bargain for Frances
- Richard Scarry books
- Peter’s Chair (Ezra Jack Keats)
As a kid I did not identify with people-shaped characters, so Peter’s Chair was my least favorite, but I loved the books featuring anthropomorphic animals, and still do.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Gosh, I’m not sure. Can I say Ernie from Sesame Street? If he is off-limits (because he’s from TV and not literature) I’d say Frances from A Bargain for Francis. However, I think she is a little smarter than me because she outsmarted Thelma, who tricked her into giving away the tea set. I am not very tricky. (Editor: We’ll give you Ernie!)
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
William Steig!!! William Steig!!! (Right)
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Oh, this is so hard! On one hand it would be interesting to meet some of my favorite children’s book makers, like William Steig and Richard Scarry, but since you brought it up, I’d way rather meet my favorite characters!!! So, on that note, here’s my guest list:
- Anna & Froga (created by Anouk Ricard)… Can I count them as one because they are a pair? (Editor: Sure…)
- Someone from a Richard Scarry book, but I’m not sure if anyone had a name. A favorite character was a gorilla who drove a banana-shaped car… I could invite him.
- Frances the Badger, from A Bargain for Frances.
- Gawain the Goose, from The Real Thief, by William Steig.
If anyone canceled at the last minute, my backup plan would be to invite the Lorax. Or Frog and Toad.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
A great character and a good story. (Sorry, that’s two, but I can’t decide which is more important.) (Editor: Have you no respect for rules!?!!)
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
A common theme of mine seems to be friendship. Also, characters who are very simple.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Oh, gosh, maybe Snoopy? He seems to have a good outlook on life. He is very industrious, gets to go on adventures, and has a nice companion (Woodstock). Unlike Charlie Brown, nothing particularly terrible ever happens to him, and he isn’t terribly moody..
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Well, I couldn’t exactly redo it, but I wish I had better drawing skills. Like, I wish I could draw from life and have the thing I am drawing look like it actually does. For instance, I would like to be able to draw a car that looks like a car and not a Kleenex box with some circles at the bottom. And while I am wishing, I would like for these fabulous drawings of mine to be loose and look effortless.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Make what you want to make and not what you think you should make.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Hmm. You mean on a daily basis or a long term basis?
If you mean “What’s my work process on a daily basis?” I can tell you that I got a studio space about a year ago. (I used to work at home.) It’s been amazing!!! I am a zillion more times productive! It’s too easy to procrastinate at home; there’s always housework to do. Plus you can eat lunch all day. At my studio, there’re way less things to do besides work. I mean, I still waste my time on the internet, but that’s about it.
If you mean: “How do I make a book?” Well, that’s different. It’s very long-term. I usually come up with a character first. And then I think about what I want to draw. And I figure out a story that will enable me to draw those things. It’s not a fast process. Coming up with stories is the hardest part for me. Usually I make a book proposal with a vague plot and some characters, but I don’t actually know what’s going to happen or sometimes even how it will end. I’m usually (but not always) able to sell it. Filling in the details is hard. I’m always working on a lot of projects, so I have to let the story and characters really stew. It could take months or years to figure it out, but meanwhile I’m working on something else. A good time to come up with story ideas is when I am running.
Once I have a story, then I do thumbnails. Thumbnails are pretty hard too. When the thumbnails get ok’d by the editor, then I can do the draw and color the final art. That’s my favorite part, because you can put on the radio or some music and be on auto-pilot.
11. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
Well, I’m not sure how popular or unpopular it is, but a recent series of books I really love are the Anna & Froga books by Anouk Ricard. They are published in English by Drawn & Quarterly. Anna and her friends are (to me) the perfect combination of unbelievably adorable and total jerks. I don’t know how much kids would like them, but I think they are hilarious. I wish I could hang out with Anna & Froga and friends.