A Glimpse of the Future

I apologize for not having posted for awhile. I was in Ohio for a week. I came back in time for Thanksgiving. Hanukkah starts this week and I’m off to Dallas. The holidays are always a dead zone for me. I get nothing done. (But I have a lot of fun!)

The highlight of my week in Ohio was being invited to take part in the Mazza Conference at the University of Findlay. I got a private tour of the Mazza Museum, one of the greatest collections of original children’s book illustration art in America. To me, this is like having a private tour of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. I was in awe the whole time. Seeing the original artwork for a book you’ve known and loved for decades is always a memorable experience. Everyone who loves children’s books should plan a trip to the Mazza whenever you’re going to be passing through Ohio.

The other terrific part of the conference was getting to hang out with some of the best children’s book artists working today. How’s this for a lineup: Kevin Hawkes, Beth Krommes, Tony DiTerlizzi, David Carter, Carin Berger. My pal Sneed Collard and I both wondered what we were doing here. No problem with Sneed. His use of photographs makes his nonfiction work outstanding. But me? I can’t draw to save my life. Frankly, I felt as if I’d snuck into the circus without a ticket. May as well enjoy the show.

And enjoy it I did! All the presentations were excellent. One, however, stuck in my mind. Tony DiTerlizzi didn’t bother to summarize all his books. Instead, he focused on his latest, just out. It’s The Search for WondLa. Click HERE to learn more about it because I’m not going to be talking about the story. You can read it on your own.

What impressed me most was Tony’s description of the concept behind the book. As both writer and artist, Tony approaches the creative process of writing and illustrating as a whole. Text and illustrations develop together. This is the exact opposite of the way someone like myself works. For me, it’s all text. I create words to go with pictures that don’t exist and which may not exist for several years. I won’t even see them until the book is almost ready for publication.

For Tony, text and illustrations are part of a whole. He gave us an example of this by showing slides of the art that W.W. Denslow created for The Wizard of Oz a century ago. The illustrations did not ornament the text. They were an integral part of it. Tony showed us how he channels that in the opening pages of each chapter right from the beginning, where we meet Eva Nine, the hero of the story. We’re in her world—and the story hasn’t even begun.

I was impressed. But that wasn’t all. Tony called our attention to a feature built into the book called “Augmented Reality.” The illustrations on three pages in the book contain keys to unlock the hidden feature. You need a computer, an internet connection, and a webcam to access it.

Well, I don’t know if the book is any good. I haven’t read it yet. I do know that I ran up to Tony after his presentation to compliment him on what he’s done. He’s breaking down the barriers between text, illustration, and media. Tony is showing us the future.

I’m sure that some will dismiss “augmented reality” and the rest as gimmicks. I don’t see it that way. The picture book may be dying, but at the same time the graphic novel is growing in popularity. What is a graphic novel but illustration and text going hand-in-hand? With the growing presence of e-books and e-book readers, an internet connection is a given. Why not make use of it?

I bought a copy of The Search for WondLa as soon as I got home. Now I have to read it. I’ll let you know what I think. In the meantime, Bravo, Tony!

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