I shop for books. A lot. I read reviews, check out the sales, pour through my daughter’s Scholastic order form, and quickly get lost in bookstores (please bring water when you look for me). With an attention span (or lack there of) like mine, it’s always about the cover first so when I came across the bold, bright and energetic artwork of Bob Shea, I was a moth to a flame.
Bob Has done work for Comedy Central, PBS Kids, (you know that PBS Kids spot where the pig runs around and eats things that start with “p”? He did that!) Nick Jr., Noggin, Playhouse Disney and Google. That kind of energy transfers directly to the pages of his picture books, so you can imagine that when I discovered Bob’s book Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, it led me down a rabbit hole of insane characters, dancing baked goods and wet pants. Sound crazy? Come take a walk with me through a mind that brought the world stunt creatures like Action Clam!
Your work has this bright, lens-flair kind of KAPOW! thing going on! As a viewer scrolls through your work on BobShea.com, each cover is another fingerprint of that same wild Shea style.. until you get to Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads which has this super cool vintage western style to it. Published in 2014 by Roaring Brook Press, Kid Sheriff is a co-created project between you and illustrator Lane Smith. How did the decision come about to have someone else illustrate and what was it like separating yourself out of that part of production?
Lane Smith is a friend and we had wanted to do a book together. At the time my son was really into dinosaurs and Lane wanted to draw old west buildings. So I wrote Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads to include both those elements. It’s very easy to separate myself from the artwork when its being created by Lane. Have you seen his work? He’s gonna go far that guy. I got to sit back and write a bunch of absurd stuff then sit back and wait for samples to drool over.
You worked on another project with Lane Smith called Big Plans, published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2008 that you describe on your web site as a “cult favorite”. Cult as in random-quirky or cult as in Lane is still tied up in your basement?
It’s my on-the-road-litmus-test. If I’m doing a signing and someone hands me a tattered copy of Big Plans and tells me it’s their favorite book, I give them a free glass of lemonade. Then we sit and talk and I ask them all kinds of questions about themselves. Really get to know them, you know? These are the special kind of smart interesting people that you want to have in your life. When you find one, you can’t let them get away. We end up best friends and take turns holding flashlights under our chins and telling spooky stories. One of the bookstore staff signs the books of the other people on line. It doesn’t matter.
It’s hugely considerate of you to have a video on how to draw Bob Shea on your web site! I know I’ve tried -and failed- at that very thing hundreds of times. If you had to estimate, just how many god-awful attempts at your portrait do you receive a week? More people should know about this! Have you tried public service announcements on PBS?
I used to talk to PBS a lot. Then PBS sent me this really cool letter on fancy paper to remind me that the judge said to stop. It was from a lawyer. Lawyers are professional. Do you get letters from professionals? Famous authors like me probably get them all the time. I like to at a big fancy oak desk under the light of an old timey lamp with a green lamp shade. I don’t have those things and I’ve sort of been disinvited from the local library so mostly I read important letters like that in my 15 year old car parked behind an abandoned strip mall. I like to pretend I’m a wealthy businessman coming to save the town by opening a new candy factory or it’s a year in the future and this is all that’s left. Either way it ends in tears.What were we talking about?Oh, draw Bob Shea. I get AWESOME drawings from kids trying to draw me. They’re fantastic.
Crash, Splash, or Moo! just came out last year and features America’s favorite stunt clam, Action Clam! Can you give us a glimpse into the mind of a man that writes a book about a stunt clam? How did this one come together from idea to page?
I actually came across the original sketches for that recently. I tried to think of the most unlikely action character that I could. I sketched out a stationary clam, lonely on the page. Then I wrote, ACTION CLAM over him with big dramatic letter and a bunch of stars around him. Then I thought, well, you can throw him and shoot him out of stuff, what about a character to compete against that would just sit there. That’s when I drew cow. It’s a really fun book to read at school visits. The kids go nuts.
The baked goods obsession – dancing cakes, giant apple pies, cupcake rain….past life pastry chef? Confection groupie?
Baked goods are my biggest weakness. Besides falling victim to some super virus or the common cold. I love bakeries. When I travel I go to the local bakeries first thing. I eye all the treats but end up getting a chocolate chip cookie. That’s the gold standard of baked goods. I like to bake a lot too, I mostly make cookies and cakes. Bread sometimes too, but it takes so long. Oh, I’m also a pretty avid runner, so that my cookie habit is somewhat under control.
A little bird told me that Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great is about to be come out with the sequel in 2019 and the working title is Unicorn; The Very Bloody Revenge. Do you confirm or deny this avian rumor? Does the goat survive?
That’s very close. The original title was, Unicorn Thinks He’s Inadequate. An insecure Unicorn is holed up in his Citizen Kane style mansion on an extended lost weekend. He’s in a filthy robe, bags under his eyed and is sporting a five o’clock shadow. Piles of half eaten cups of microwave glitter surround him as he relives the glory days of Unicorn thinks He’s Pretty Great.My editor said, “I love everything about this! Everything except for the story and the art.”So I rewrote it. It’s called, Unicorn is Maybe Not So Great After All. It’s funny and much brighter.
Any other new projects on the near horizon we can be on the watch for?
YES! I’m so excited about a book I wrote called Who Wet My Pants? Sure, I could be excited because it’s hilarious and the world will finally realize my genius, but I’m not a complete narcissist. I’m excited because it’s funny and was illustrated by the wildly talented Zach Ohora. I’ve wanted to work with Zach forever and this project was perfect. Zach is a great guy and one of the best illustrators working today so I am thrilled.
********Bob Shea is an incredibly famous author that you can learn more about at BobShea.com. You can even get him to come to your school (but you have to remember to call him “Sir”)! He’s on Instagram: @bobsheabooks and Twitter: @bobshea even though he thinks “Twitter is gross.”
********Julianne Black DiBlasi is an artist-author-graphics person that digitally lives at KrakenSky.com
One thought on “Interview: Q&A with Bob Shea!”
These books are cool. The lettering and animals take me to some childhood favorites. I just published a few books and more to come. If you’re interested please check out my page.