Thursday, October 13, 2011
Interview #13: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Z-Kids are excited to bring you another Interview this week! Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author/illustrator of 10 picture books. He also has 6 volumes (so far) in the "Lunch Lady" graphic novel series. (You may remember we Bookie Woogie'd the first couple of Lunch Lady books here.) After focusing on his graphic novels for a few years, Jarrett is back with a new picture book called "Ollie the Purple Elephant," which hits stores this week. The kids and I recently had a great time chatting over Skype with Jarrett about his work. Thanks Jarrett! (Portrait by Gracie)
Dad: Okay Z-Kids, tell us about "Ollie"
Isaac (age 13): Ollie is about an elephant who sits in a park alone because he's lost and doesn't have a home. The McLaughlin family finds him.
Lily (age 8): Their dad said, "If you ever come across a purple elephant, you may have it." And there sat a purple elephant. So they took him home.
Gracie (age 11): Daddy, will you make us a strange promise?
Dad: If you ever... come across... a cheese-eating gorilla...
Isaac: I'm going to feed a gorilla some cheese tomorrow!
Dad: ...then you may ...give him a kiss on the lips.
Gracie: Oh no. I mean, can we HAVE something?
Dad: If you ever find a cuddly griffin, you may bring it home.
Dad: Now, back to Ollie....
Isaac: Every day the family has dance parties.
Gracie: But the downstairs neighbor and this evil cat don't like it when Ollie dances. He is very, very, very loud.
Isaac: So the cat and the neighbor get rid of Ollie by tricking him and sending him to the circus. But he comes back for a happy ending.
Gracie: I wonder why the cat never got caught? Ollie could have tattled. I guess Ollie is so nice and lovey that he thought, "I'll let it slide."
Dad: How would you describe the illustrations in this book?
Gracie: The illustrations in this one are painted sharp and shapey. His other books are painted looser and more carefree. My favorite picture is of Ollie in a tutu. Because -- a giant purple elephant in a tutu? That just makes everybody smile.
Dad: How else is this book a little different than Jarrett's other picture books?
Lily: The story is longer. It has more words.
Gracie: Plus it has villains and schemes, that sort of stuff.
Dad: Anything else to say?
Gracie: I'm wondering why Jarrett J. Krosoczka -- I love that last name! Krosoczzzzzzkaaaaaa! I'm wondering why he didn't make the lion and the monkey strange colors. Ollie is the only one that is a strange color.
Lily: Maybe Ollie fell into a giant bucket of toxic purple waste.
Dad: How would you sum up the book?
Gracie: It is an ele-fantasy.
And now for the interview!
Jarrett Krosoczka: Hi, guys -- it's nice to see you!
Dad: Jarrett and I have sent notes back and forth over the years. But it's nice to finally be able to chat face to face!
Jarrett Krosoczka: For sure, man, for sure.
Dad: Who has a question to start us off?
Isaac: I've got one. What's your middle name? You always put it as "J."
Gracie: Yeah! Jarret J. Krosoczka.
Jarrett Krosoczka: My middle name is Joseph. It's a family name. It goes back to my great-grandfather, and I'm sure beyond that as well.
Dad: Is there a reason you always include the J on your books?
Jarrett Krosoczka: My grandfather was Joseph D. Krosocska. He always went by "JDK," and he would always call me "JJK." So it's a tribute to him more than anything else.
Gracie: You dedicated your first book to your grandparents, the best parents you ever had. I was wondering about that.
Jarrett Krosoczka: My grandparents raised me. They adopted me when I was about 3 years old. So they WERE my parents. It was only fair to dedicate the first book to them, because they worked really hard on raising me.
Gracie: We were looking through your books -- and we couldn't find any books dedicated to your wife! At all! I was like, What?
Jarrett Krosoczka: Didn't you read the first 2 Lunch Lady books?
Gracie: We didn't check those. We were just looking at your picture books.
Jarrett Krosoczka: I didn't know her back when I made the other picture books.
Jarrett Krosoczka: But did you read "Punk Farm on Tour"?
Isaac: We did. Yep.
Jarrett Krosoczka: You can see my wife in the scene where Farmer Joe is flying home on an airplane. I started painting that book when we started dating. And by the time I was finishing up the art for that book it was pretty clear she was going to end up being my wife, so I painted her on the airplane.
Isaac: Which person is she?
Dad: I'm assuming she's not the one with the fuzzy goatee.
Jarrett Krosoczka: No, ha ha... She's the one listening to the ipod.
Gracie: Cool! Your Ollie book is dedicated to your little girl Zoe. And in the book there's a monkey named Zoe.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Yes, but I came up with the idea for Ollie before my daughter was born. I named the monkey that before I even knew I would end up with a Zoe.
Lily: Is Zoe old enough to like Ollie yet? Did she help you? Or watch you work?
Jarrett Krosoczka: Yes to all of the above. I came up with the idea for Ollie when my wife and I were on the flight home from our honeymoon. I started writing the book shortly after. I was designing the characters when Zoe was in her mother's belly. And just as my wife was about to give birth, my publisher picked up the story. So Zoe has known these characters her entire life. She's seen me painting the characters for the book in my studio. And I painted the baby room with Ollie and all the other characters from the story, so she's woken up every day to see them in her room. She doesn't really understand that it's a new story. She thinks Ollie was always here!
Gracie: We watched the painting demonstration video on your website. I was wondering why you go to all the trouble of painting the background a solid color when you are just going to paint over it?
Jarrett Krosoczka: I like to paint off of a color instead of the white of the page. It's a technique I learned in art school. We had to copy famous paintings, and I copied one by Greco and one by John Singer Sargent. They would put down a ground color before they put down the colors for the painting. So I do that too because that will improve all the colors I put on top. It will make them stronger.
Gracie: Did you paint that way in Ollie?
Jarrett Krosoczka: I did. I put down burnt sienna before I painted the purples and other colors in the Ollie book.
Isaac: The paintings are really good. They are a lot sharper than some of your other books, and the paint is not as thick. I think it looks nice like that.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Thank-you. Ollie is a little different. It's not as painterly as my other books. The colors are flatter -- I was more focused on shapes and designs.
Dad: Was there a reason for that?
Jarrett Krosoczka: Going back to picture books after a short break from them, I wanted to push myself with something different. I wanted to challenge myself.
Gracie: When you paint, do you have to wait for all those colors to dry? Because you do layers and layers and layers over and over on top of each other.
Dad: We didn't know if you edited out the time in between each color in that demo.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Sometimes I paint wet on wet. But more often than not, I'll make sure the paint is dry first. I keep a hairdryer next to my desk. I can blow the hot air onto the paint and that will make it dry more quickly.
Isaac: Which takes longer? Making a picture book like Ollie or making a Lunch Lady graphic novel?
Dad: We were trying to guess over here, but everyone had different ideas.
Jarrett Krosoczka: The answer is both. Lunch Lady poses a challenge because the stories are longer. But, I know the art is going to be black and white line drawings, colored in with yellow on the computer. Sometimes the most difficult decision for an artist is what colors you are going to use. So with Ollie, I would just sit there and look at the page, going back and forth on what color to use. The scene where the characters are dancing in the kitchen - I painted that same picture over again and again and again. That can take a long time.
Gracie: It's easier with just yellow.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Exactly. You already know what it's going to be.
Gracie: Do you ever get sick of the color yellow?
Jarrett Krosoczka: I don't get sick of it. Now that I'm doing picture books again, it IS really fun to go back to a full palette and chose any color I want. But then again, after the challenge of trying to figure out what colors to use, it is also pretty exciting to go back to just the yellow too.
Dad: (to the kids) Do you guys ever have trouble with worrying about colors while making pictures?
Dad: Because I do. Is that more of an adult problem?
Gracie: I don't have that problem with my pictures.
Isaac: I don't either.
Jarrett Krosoczka: They haven't grown up to be cripplingly insecure like we have yet.
Dad: Any last questions about Ollie?
Isaac: How did that elephant fit through the apartment door?
Jarrett Krosoczka: That's a good question! You know what's awesome about making books? You can get away with not explaining those things.
Gracie: He ha ha hah HA!
Jarrett Krosoczka: If this were a movie set, there would be 20 people having a discussion about how he could fit through the door, and they'd have to answer that question. But with books, you just make things up and you can get away it.
Dad: Of course Isaac has no problems with the talking cat or the dancing elephant... No, it's... "I can't believe he'd fit through the door!"
Jarrett Krosoczka: Ha ha ha ha... I love it. I imagine they would just get shoehorns on either side of him to squeeze him in.
Dad: I know Gracie has one other question for you - It's not Ollie related, but it ties into one of our obsessions right now...
Gracie: Oh yeah. A couple months ago, we watched Exit Through the Gift Shop...
Jarrett Krosoczka: Cool -- I love that movie...
Gracie: And I got totally obsessed with street art. And we saw in Punk Farm that you had some Shepherd Fairey art. In the animal's dressing room you had an "obey" thingie, and one of the characters wore an "obey" hat. Do you like Shepherd Fairey or something?
Jarrett Krosoczka: I've always been a fan of Shepherd Fairey's work. I was able to reference his Obey Giant campaign in Punk Farm. I also made these stickers to pass out at book signings -- but instead of saying "obey," it said "oink." I did that before I ever got to meet Shepherd...
Jarrett Krosoczka: ... I've since gotten to meet him and befriend him. I gave him a bunch of those stickers, and it was really cool.
Gracie: YOU GOT TO MEET HIM?!
Jarrett Krosoczka: I did.
Gracie: Does he know Banksy?!
Jarrett Krosoczka: I believe they do know each other.
(Gracie sits with giant eyes and gaping mouth)
Dad: Ha ha ha ha.... I think the kids' level of admiration for you has skyrocketed now.
Jarrett Krosoczka: I've also been to his art studio in Los Angeles. It's really, really cool.
Dad: We're odd. What other 11 year old in the world knows who Shepherd Fairey is?
Jarrett Krosoczka: That's pretty awesome. You guys get huge cool-points for that. And also for that really cool project you guys did! I saw that project where you made happy little rocks and put them all over your town. That's super cool.
Lily: We're going to do that again soon - this time with sticks!
(Side note: as Jarrett talks, more and more siblings begin wandering into our room...)
Jarrett Krosoczka: I think you guys are doing the coolest things out there. And you guys have the best dad to help foster your creativity. I love logging on to your website and seeing the art that you guys make - it's just the best. -- How many kids---?!? Do you have more kids over there than when we started???
(Laughter by all)
Lily: Six! There are six of us!
Gracie: We've been multiplying during the conversation.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Now there's another kid crawling on the couch... Now there's a baby on Aaron's head...!
Lily: Hee hee hee heeee!
Dad: At last count there were six of them.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Someone has to keep all that content on your blog going. You guys have to get more kids.
Dad: We are building up our backup.
(By this point the girls are bouncing all over the place)
Jarrett Krosoczka: Ha ha! I like how Isaac stays perfectly still... There's a storm swirling all around him, and he just stays still. He just sits there and waits it out.
Dad: Ha ha ha... That's what our life looks like most of the time! Isaac is our solid rock. Everything else is a whirlwind around us.
Kids: Thank-you for the interview!
Dad: Yes! We had a lot of fun!
Jarrett Krosoczka: Thank-you guys! See you soon!
Author/Illustrator: Jarret J. Krosoczka
Published, 2011: Knopf
Like it? Here it is