Jon Agee is an American author and illustrator with a large portfolio of picture books and books featuring palindromes and word play. His publisher in the UK, Scallywag Press, is publishing My Rhinoceros this month. Jon is visiting the UK and we were lucky to be given the chance to ask him a few questions.
When did you begin drawing and sketching?
One of the first things my mother put in my hand, besides a spoon, was a crayon. She was an artist of a generation and background that didn’t support her pursuing art as a career. So my sister and I got lots of encouragement!
At what point did you realise this was something worth pursuing as a career?
About 6 years in, with my first popular title, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau. By this time, I was working with a loyal publisher, I had a better sense about picture books, and I had adapted to the rhythm of the publishing schedule.
What were your first inspirations?
When I was very young, I loved Edward Lear’s nonsense limericks, with illustrations of grown-ups doing outrageous things to themselves and others. Later, I was drawn to the work of Tomi Ungerer, whose picture books stood out for their dynamic sense of color, design, and his unforgettable characters.
Where do you get ideas from?
From random drawings and doodles that fill many notebooks. My impulse, when doodling, is to take an absurd or implausible concept and make sense out of it. Equally important, is that it’s funny.
You have created books featuring palindromes- do you have a favourite one? What is the appeal of palindromes for you?
My favorite palindrome: “Go hang a salami! I’m a lasagna hog!” I wrote this in 1991 (coincidentally a palindromic year), and it inspired a succession of books about wordplay. The charm of a palindrome, for me, is not only that “Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo” reads the same backwards and forwards. It’s also the delight in creating a picture that makes sense out of a goofy sounding phrase.
With books published in both the UK and US, do you find you get different reactions to the same title?
Not that I’ve noticed. But then, I’ve only seen the good UK reviews. My publisher, Scallywag, must hide the bad stuff.
Do you carry a notebook/ drawing tools with you everywhere?
Yes. Even if it’s a torn piece of paper and a dull pencil. I always like to be prepared to jot something down.
Are you working on anything new at the moment that you can share with us?
I have a book coming out next spring called My Dad is a Tree. A little girl gets her dad to join her in pretending to be a tree. Her logic: like a tree, they’ll get to stay outside all day long. To her dad’s surprise and dismay, he’s better at it than he’d hoped.
My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee, published by Scallywag Press is now available in the UK.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.