Like many American boys born in the wake of the Apollo missions, I decided early on I would be an astronaut. My mother was an astronomy teacher at a local college in my hometown of Baltimore. She would take us along on her nighttime fieldtrips to the observatory; its musky smell relieved with the opening of its domed roof. The vastness of the starry sky was thrilling. Below, above, to the right and left – nothing but infinite space.
At some point, I surmised that a career in actual space travel required military training, and this seemed like a lot of work. So I switched gears and started drawing pictures of outer space instead. There was palpable joy in this: creating civilizations and stories filled with a cast of characters of my own design. To be sure, these worlds were reflections of places inside of me. But more importantly, drawing was an immediate path for creating something I could manage on my own terms. These worlds were mine and mine alone. With a pad of paper and a set of markers, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted. For an eight year old confined by the limitations of his material existence, this seemed like a pretty good deal.
Years ago, after working as a designer in San Francisco’s dot-com craze, I quit my job and headed to Monterey, California for a children’s book conference. At the time, I had a vague idea of why I thought it’d be fun to write and illustrate books. After presenting some hazy ideas to a guest editor from Candlewick Press, I left the conference content to wander. I traveled. I returned to art school and earned my chops. I worked in the Bay Area with some of my heroes in film design for nearly a decade. But eventually, the children’s book bug returned. This time, I had some real drawing skills and a much greater understanding of why these books might matter. After all, I had my own child by this time, and it was becoming clear to me that there’s no purer form of story-telling for an illustrator than creating their own book full of pictures. Luckily, children seem to like this kind of stuff. And publishers will go along with it as well if the idea is up to snuff. When my agent gave me the good news that my first book had a solid offer, the name of the editor sounded eerily familiar. It was none other than the same editor I’d met in Monterey nearly fifteen years before.
I now live in Amherst, Massachusetts where every day, I return to that place of being a kid again, ready to fly into outer space with a ship of my own design. I’m fortunate to have a job that lets me keep doing this, and I would imagine that even in the darkest of my creative slumps, surely this must beat astronaut boot camp.