January is nearly gone and February is fast approaching. Members of the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI are jumping for joy because we know what that means…
The annual Springmingle Conference in Atlanta, GA is nearly upon us! Yay!
As she did with the WiK ’12 conference in Birmingham this past October, Dori Kleber has again organized a conference blog tour spotlighting our amazing conference faculty members.
I was lucky enough to interview the fabulous (and funny) Chad Beckerman, Creative Director at Abrams. Before we dive into the interview, here’s a bit about Chad:
If cover designers are superhero alter-egos, then Chad W. Beckerman (Creative director and cover designer for Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, as well as Mishaps and Adventures blogger) would have to be Clark Kent. Friendly and hard working by day, yet designing covers that have been known to burst onto shelves, leaping tall buildings (or at least generating lots of interest) in a single bound. He has designed such series as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, NERDS and The Sisters Grimm. In addition to a vast amount of picture books, such as I Had a Favorite Dress, Iggy Peck, Architect and Huff and Puff. He has worked with many fantastic illustrators, Nikki McClure, Brett Helquist, Dan Santat, Sophie Blackall, Yuko Shimizu, Jen Corace, Marcellus Hall and Amy June Bates.
Welcome, Chad! Would you mind describing what your job as Creative Director at Abrams (for the Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers, and Amulet Books imprints) entails?
As Creative Director I oversee and manage the design department, a staff of four, and direct the design of approximately one hundred titles per year amongst the Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Amulet Books, and Abrams ComicArts imprints, known collectively as ABRAMS Kids (@abramskids on twitter and Instagram). In addition, I also design numerous books for each imprint. For example, on the Spring 2013 list, I designed How to Be a Cat for Appleseed, The Museum, Barbed Wire Baseball and a few others for Abrams Books for Young Readers, and Art2-D2 for Amulet Books.
I also lend my aesthetic to design as well as finding illustrators along with a group of fantastic editors: Susan Van Metre, Tamar Brazis, Maggie Lehrman, Cecliy Kaiser, and Charles Kochman, all in the hopes of working with the best illustrators and creative talent that we can. Here is a selection of recent books that reflect this aesthetic:
Abrams Books For Young Readers
We make sure every book—from each page, to the cover, case, and even the endpapers—is a fully thought-out product as with I Had a Favorite Dress, illustrated by Julia Denos:
What gorgeous covers! Your most well-known work is likely the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. Like the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, also published by Amulet/Abrams, the books are filled with wonderful illustrations. Did the use of so many illustrations pose any special challenges in the design and layout of the books?
Even though each of these books is heavily illustrated, they are vastly different books to approach from a design perspective. Wimpy Kid is lead by Jeff Kinney who views each page as a piece of art. Every line break is carefully thought-out to make each page a stand-alone work of art.
With Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books, we took a much different approach. The illustrations in this book do not lead the narrative but enhance it. Unlike Wimpy Kid, which is written from the perspective of one character, Tom’s books are written from many perspectives. The design is informed from the idea that the entire book is a case file. To illustrate this we came up with many different fonts in order to give each ?character their own voice and identity. The goal for each of these books was to create a unique visual and reading experience—one that would bring you into the world of the text.
When designing a book, do you consult directly with the author, with the book’s editor, or solely with members of the art department?
My first step is to consult with the editor. I’ll ask them to talk out their ideas. In most cases they offer them up freely so I can gain an understanding of each book from their perspective. From this I get an idea of what they are hoping to see, but it is my job to expand upon their ideas in order to elevate the project to something they might not have thought about.
During my conversation with the editor we decide whether the book should have an illustrated or photographic approach. The book’s intended audience determines the answer. Illustrations are used for a younger/middle grade audience, while photography is usually used on covers that lean toward an older audience.
Then there are books that fall in the middle—the tween market—like My Life in Pink and Green. With this book some felt that a photographic approach might miss our target demographic. Luckily, we were able to come up with a cover design that worked great for the intended market without putting any one out.
Other books would simply look horrible if they weren’t illustrated. For example, here is the cover of Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies:
Now lets see what this cover would look like using photography…
Now you see how important the illustration vs. photography question can be.
Haha! Oh, yes, I see.
The next step is to work with the illustrator to create the best possible cover. My policy is that even if I have an idea for a cover, I try not to forward that exact idea too early so I don’t kill any creativity the illustrator might have. Two heads are usually better than one. That is unless you are wearing a scary bunny suit.
I very rarely consult with the author on covers. That is left up to the editor of each book. But of course, there are exceptions.
If you had to pick one book that you’ve worked on that you feel best displays your creative prowess, which would it be? *rubs hands together and laughs menacingly*
This is an extremely hard question since I work on many different types of books, each highlighting a different ability. But I see you are going to force an answer out of me, so if you can loosen the head-lock you have me in, I’ll do my best to answer.
Okay, okay. *loosens grip on Chad’s head*
Two books that come to mind are Michael Buckley’s NERDS series and a novel called Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron.
I chose NERDS since it is the book I always wanted to read in middle school.
NERDS combines all the excitement of international espionage with all the awkwardness of elementary school. NERDS, featuring a group of unpopular students who run a spy network from inside their school, hits the mark. With the help of cutting-edge science, their nerdy qualities are enhanced and transformed into incredible abilities! They battle the Hyena, a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin, and an array of James Bond–style villains, each with an evil plan more diabolical and more ridiculous than the last.
A book like this lets my imagination run wild. With Ethen Beavers at the helm of the illustrations, we worked tirelessly together to make this book look as visually entertaining as the text. Through Michael Buckley’s words we were able to create a book that was one step away from being interactive. I wanted the pages to seem like live computer screens, and with the help of Ethen Beavers I think we made this happen. Here is a blog post I wrote on the process we went through to create the cover:
Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron is a vastly different book. It is the only book I have worked on where I designed and illustrated the cover, designed the interior, and illustrated the 10-15 interior spot illustrations. This was a huge project that I somehow managed to tackle while simultaneously working a full time job art directing. I don’t recommend it, but I am proud of the work that was done.
Wow! The samples of Frannie in Pieces are breathtaking. That book is going on my must-purchase list. I suppose I’ll stop staring at your drawings long enough to ask the next questions: What is the most fun part of your job? The least?
Without a doubt, the moment when you get the chance to just work on a book without the daily distraction of email, management responsibilities, and meetings. The moment when an idea comes together and you can leave at the end of the day feeling a sense of accomplishment. For example, today I signed up a new illustrator that I am crazy about to illustrate a picture book. The least fun part? Having to wait till Spring 14 to share this picture book with you.
When you seek out new illustrators, what is it that you’re looking for in their samples?
I am looking for confidence! Confidence in the illustrator’s own techniques and a confidence in the artist’s own vision. I can tell that from looking at one postcard.
Being on the faculty for the SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle is a testament to your belief that the SCBWI is a worthy organization. Why do you feel membership in the SCBWI is important for illustrators?
There are very few places that illustrators of any kind can go to socialize with each other. It’s a rare place where one can talk about their work and have others listen in the hopes that it will make them better at what they do. SCBWI gives us that place to come together, if only for a long weekend, to talk about our ideas and leave feeling inspired to go back out into the wild and create wild things.
What can attendees of Illustrators’ Day and your sessions at Springmingle most look forward to?
I hope they come away with a new understanding of how a book is made, as well as a feeling of inspiration through hearing about the struggles and triumphs of other illustrators—myself included.
Thank you, Chad, for this fabulous interview! You were so kind to participate and share all this lovely artwork. I’m sure the talented illustrators attending Springmingle and Illustrators’ Day are itching to garner some inspiration from your sessions and get to work. Heck, I’m not even an illustrator and I want to attend.
For all those who are blessed with artistic talents, don’t miss Chad’s presentations at the 2013 Springmingle Conference in Atlanta, GA this February. To find out more about the conference, and to register, go to the Southern Breeze website and make yourself at home. We all hope to see you in Atlanta!
Know who else will be at Springmingle ’13? Check out this list, follow the blog tour to meet them, then register online to see them in person!
Jan. 21: Will Terry, illustrator, at Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s blog
Jan. 22: Beck McDowell, author, at Bonnie Herold’s “Tenacious Teller of Tales”
Jan. 23: Nikki Grimes, author, at Gail Handler’s “Write From the Soul”
Jan. 24: Jill Corcoran, agent, at Donny Seagraves’ blog
Jan. 28: Katherine Jacobs, editor, at Cathy C. Hall’s blog
Jan. 29: Mark Braught, illustrator, at Vicky Alvear Shecter’s “History with a Twist”
Jan. 30: Carmen Agra Deedy, author, at Ramey Channell’s “The Moonlight Ridge Series”