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FIVE ON FRIDAY with Michael Rex

This week our FIVE ON FRIDAY guest Is Michael Rex, author and illustrator of best-selling Goodnight Goon. Michael is the author/illustrator of over twenty books and can be visited at his website.

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When did you know that you first wanted to be a writer/illustrator?

Like many illustrators, I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. And, to me, the next logical step was to make up stories about what I was drawing. I didn’t write in High School. I was a terrible student, and felt that a writer should have good grades. I barely graduated. I went to The School of Visual Arts, and studied film. There, I started to write again. Mainly I was doing goofy little comics, and getting really positive reactions to them. I took a cartooning class with Harvey Kurtzman, (creator of Mad Magazine) and he said I was a good “story man.” From that day on, I felt like a writer.

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What book or writer/artist do you feel influenced you the most?

H.A. Rey had a huge influence on my picture book work. His art, in my opinion, is “children’s books.” His economy of line is just masterful. I also looked at lots of Richard Scarey and Syd Hoff as a kid. I find Hoff’s simple stories very appealing, and honest. As an adult, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at William Steig’s work.

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What book or books are you currently reading or have recently read that you’d recommend to others?

I’ve been really enjoying Sendak’s illustrations in Sesyle Joslin’s What Do You Do, Dear and What Do You Say, Dear? They’re really funny and we’ve been reading them with our boys. I’ve also really fond of Simms Taback’s I Miss You Every Day. Again, it’s funny and very sweet. As a kid I had a best friend move to California, so I really relate to it.

As far as adult writing, I’ve been reading Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon. It’s a very intense, and very adult modern cyberpunk novel. His work is funny, fast and inventive. This summer, I also read Buddha, an 8 volume, 3000 page manga by Osamu Tezuka about the life of Siddhartha. Spiritual, funny, exciting and emotional, all wrapped up in a comic. If you’ve never read Japanese Manga, this is an excellent place to start.

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If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers (or illustrators), what would it be?

Don’t just write what you know. Write who you are. Be honest about to about yourself.  For years, I tried very hard to make picture books that I thought others would like, and while the books reflected my kinder, kid friendly side, I think that I watered them down a bit. When I was working on “Goodnight Goon,” I started to really enjoy the more gruesome elements and the snarky humor. I think it was a bit more “me.”

Goon took off, and became a big hit, and that really encouraged me to not hold back in my current work. I’ve done close to 20 books, but I feel like I’m just figuring out who I am as a creator.

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Can you share with us your next project or any information about the next book you’re working on?

The Runaway Mummy is just hitting stores now, and I’m completing the third, and final, parody title; Furious George Goes Bananas, due in 2010. As I said earlier, I love H.A. Rey, but the way that everyone treats George in those books is awful. That man yanks him from the jungle, ties a rope around his neck, makes him work for no money and then puts him in a “documentary” they shoot on a stage! They even send him up in a test rocket and he blacks out. Not only that, but they keep calling him a monkey, and he’s an ape! He has no tail! And what about George’s parents?  Don’t they miss him? It’s just getting me furious thinking about it…

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