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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Mike Boldt

Wow! It's amazing to think that I just started blogging in September of 2016. It has been both an honor and great fun getting to know so many authors and illustrators. And a pleasure helping spread the news about some amazing books.

But let's get to why you're really here - Mike Boldt is in the house!

Mike Boldt is an author/Illustrator of seven books and the illustrator of fourteen. It should be no surprise, based on his illustrations (and photo) that he still enjoys cartoons. He admits to being “amazed and grateful every day this is my job.”

Welcome Mike,

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

MIKE: I love telling stories and I’ve been doing it since I was young. Professionally, I’ve been illustrating almost exclusively for children for 20 years now and I began my journey in publishing 12 years ago. It’s always a privilege to illustrate a new book, but when I read a new manuscript for the first time, and I instantly want to start drawing all the ideas that flood my imagination, those are my favorite books to illustrate.

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Well, there’s not many outside my family that know that before we had kids, I spent a year with my wife in South Korea. It was an amazing experience and highly recommend it to anyone.

That must have been quite an adventure. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

My favourite authors were Bill Peet and Bill Waterson. I lived off of their work. I don’t know that I have just one favorite, but The Story of Ferdinand is one that is always near the top of my list.

That book seems to float around the top of many people's list. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

I’d probably like to share many things with my younger self as I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But I suppose that’s part of the journey that makes me appreciate where I am now so much and the opportunities I’ve had.

Something I like to share with kids is that practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes progress. When we realize life is just progress, then we can stop measuring ourselves against perfection and have more satisfaction and attainable goals in life.

I'm adding that above my computer - it connects the dots so much better than simply saying "no one's perfect." Thank you! What was your inspiration for Bad Dog?

© Mike Boldt, 2019.

Bad Dog came from a number of different things. I love the way kids hold our cats when they visit. Cats always seem to become liquid in their arms and it looks hilarious to me. I also really find it funny when kids sort of ignore what is obviously true and make up their own reality. I believe those two things in combination with a sketching session one day is where Bad Dog came from. Thankfully, my agent Jen Rofé and then my editor Frances Gilbert, helped me iron out all the wrinkles so that it turned the way it did.

Creating their own reality is one of the greatest gifts of children (and children at heart). Having author/illustrated about as many books as you’ve illustrated, do you prefer being the author or the author/illustrator of a book? Why?

I love illustrating for other folks and I learn a lot from the amazing authors I’ve had a chance to work with. Just illustrating lets me relax a little as I also feel the pressure is off a bit more than when I write the story as well - because, in the end, the story is the most important part! It’s a completely different experience than writing and illustrating a book.

That said, there’s nothing quite like illustrating your own book. It’s very intense and difficult, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Luck for us, sounds like we're going to enjoy you doing both for a long time to come. What is the most interesting or hardest thing about illustrating another’s book?

Good question! The most difficult part of illustrating someone else’s story is wanting to make sure you don’t derail from what the author originally intended. As an illustrator in this partnership, I want to contribute and build into the story as much as I can, but at the same time, not do anything that I worry would disappoint the author or make them feel like their story was hijacked. It’s quite an enjoyable challenge actually.

Great answer! Seems both the author & illustrator have to be wary of hijacking - either all the space or the story. When you author a book, which comes first, the text or the images? What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books?

The actual story has to come first, but sometimes the idea that the story comes from is sparked by a doodle or sketch when I’m just messing around. I might flesh it out a bit as I draw to see if it warrants more attention and potential, but before I can do any actual finished artwork, I have to write it out.

The most difficult thing for me is that exact stage of turning an idea into a great book story. I have a LOT of ideas, but very few of them make it past my own (or my agents’ - or my editor’s) standards of a great book. I say great, because I can turn almost any idea into a book, but it’s only the great ones people (and publishers) are really interested in and worthwhile pursuing.

You hit the nail on the head - any idea can be a book, but that doesn't mean it'll get published. Would you say there’s a common thread among your books?

I don’t know if there’s a common thread at this time. Maybe just that I like to do funny or humorous books at this point. While there’s “messages” in most of them, there’s nothing that I’ve deliberately done to link them together (outside of them having my name on all of them).

Definitely humor! I love cats and I instantly fell in love with Rocky’s face on the cover of Bad Dog. Who/what was your inspiration for Rocky?

Thank you! I love how Rocky turned out too. I think cats and dogs are hilarious in general, so it wasn’t any specific cat who inspired my work. But I’ll also admit to regularly calling my wife or kids over to watch a ridiculous cat or dog gif on twitter. Our own cats and our dog all have such unique personalities, there’s probably parts of many of them in Rocky.

You captured a cat's studied "disbelief" perfectly. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)

I’m not sure I just look to one source all the time for inspiration. There are so many amazing people who have inspired me at different times in life, both personally who I’ve known, and those who I’ve never met and just read or heard about. Our planet is full of inspiration and I try to soak as much as I can in.

I’m also a sucker for those surprise talent reveals on reality talent shows. I love it when folks are able to shine and get recognition for their abilities when nothing was expected of them.

Like the six-year-old who can sing opera! How did the writing or illustrating of Bad Dog differ from A Tiger Tail (2016) and Attack of the 50 Foot Fluffy (2018)?

Every time I write a book it’s a little different experience. I try to learn from the things I’ve already done, and the longer it’s been finished, then it’s often easier to spot out what I’d change or revise if I did it again. A sort of self-evaluation.

Bad Dog wasn’t a very difficult story for me to write. It all happened very quick when the idea took root, where Attack of the 50 Foot Fluffy was more difficult. It came at a time when I was having trouble seeing the ending and making it work.

A Tiger Tail was again different from both of these, in that I came up with the idea quite a few years ago but couldn’t make it work and it just sat on my shelf until one day it just clicked. A week later it had a home at S&S.

Proof that sometimes you need to "shelf" an idea, until it's time. What's something you want your readers to know about Bad Dog?

That my editor, Frances Gilbert, and I sort of named the little girl in the story, “lil’ Jen” after my agent, Jennifer Rofé. She has very mixed feelings about it ha-ha.

*chuckle* I can imagine. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Bad Dog? Could you share one or more with us?

I didn’t actually do anything of my own deliberately, though I always want to inject little bits of life that I’ve observed and experienced into them. Such as the fact the little girl has no shoes or socks while just walking around, something I have seen many times with my own children or others and I think just adds to the characters personality.

Oh, the struggle to keep socks and shoes on children (of all ages) is one many parents know well. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m currently illustrating a couple other books, one for Rebecca Van Slyke about an Alligator going to bed, and about to start one for Tara Lazar about an alien. They’re both really fun and I’m looking forward to doing final artwork already. I’ve also recently wrapped up another of my own books called Find Fergus, which I can’t wait to look for in the wild next year.

Those sound exciting. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for those books. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or are glad that you did not know?

It’s slower than I thought it would be, ha-ha. But seriously, I am glad I didn’t know it would be this difficult because I might not have pursued it and gone after something else. I’m also glad I didn’t know how much I would enjoy it, because while I was pretty sure I would, the truth of the joy it brings continues to be something that grows as my journey continues.

Interesting thought. What is your favorite animal? Or maybe a current animal you are enamored with. Why?

Oh, I don’t know! I’ve loved drawing frogs since working with Dev Petty, something I never really drew before. I also love cats and dogs. And wolves and pigs and elephants. Skunks too. You know, I think I’ll just say I’m pretty enamored with animals in general. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine]

Good idea! Thank you, Mike for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Thank you, Maria, for having me and taking the time and interest to put this together. I sure appreciate the interest and support for Bad Dog and I hope you and others enjoy it.

Be sure to stop by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Bad Dog.

To find out more about Mike Boldt, or get in touch with him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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