04 December 2008

Scarry, Lies, and the Anthropomorphic Tradition

The first author I remember writing a fan letter to was Richard Scarry. I got back a reply on onion-skin stationery. It had an ink drawing of Lowly Worm and Dr. Bones, and typewritten word balloons showing their conversation about the artwork I must have enclosed.

Decades later, I realized that the drawing must have been printed onto that stationery, with only the characters' speeches added for me. But I didn't care. I still have that piece of paper.

It was therefore heartening, though not surprising, to see this comment in author-illustrator Brian Lies's recent conversation with Seven Impossible Things:

My favorite picture books were ones with detailed illustrations I could spend hours looking at--Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, for instance...
In addition to creating images filled with visual detail for such books as Bats at the Library, Brian also follows Scarry in depicting animal characters, with more or less anthropomorphism. He's moved from scratchboard to watercolors to acrylic paints, but the animals have been a constant.

At a Foundation for Children's Books event this fall, I asked Brian if he ever felt "typecast" because he's become so well known for his animals. He's great at creating furry faces with immediately recognizable emotions and personalities, but is he secretly planning a picture book with a completely different approach?

Brian replied that he's far from tired of animal characters, and finds he can express all that he wants through them. So we can look forward to more fine books in this venerable tradition.


Sam said...

Yes, drawing animals, especially clothed animals seems to me to be the best and noblest reason to put pen to paper.

Scarry is a master, no doubt, and combining that with his fun stories, attention to detail, love of chaos and prolific output there is little choice but to but to call him the greatest kidlit author/illustrator ever.

In a quieter fashion, Alden Watson actually bests Scarry with his attention to detail and maybe even with his animal drawings in the book Where Everyday Things Come From.

His daughters Clyde and Wendy Watson's went on do great things for foxes and pigs.

J. L. Bell said...

Check out Sam's Watson Week postings for more about that family of talented illustrators.