Saturday, November 19, 2016

Q&A with Justin Lowe

Justin Lowe is the co-creator, with Kevin Diller, of the new picture book Hello, My Name Is Octicorn. Its hero is half octopus, half unicorn. Lowe is a video director and producer.

Q: How did you and Kevin Diller come up with the idea for Octicorn?

A: Octicorn started off as a sticker I created in Portland, Oregon, over 10 years ago. I gave them out to everyone I knew, and friends and family started taking Octicorn along with them on their travels. I started getting great photos of Octicorn in France, Peru, Washington, D.C., New York. 

There was a lot of mash-up stuff happening in pop culture at the time (still is, really). The musician Danger Mouse had combined Jay Z’s The Black Album with The Beatles’ White Album to make The Gray Album bootleg, so I think my creative mind was naturally combining different things together at the time. 

Years later, Kevin came on board, and had the idea to write a children’s book about the character, so we started collaborating on what would become the Kickstarter edition of the book. 

Q: How did you decide on the best way to depict Octicorn?

A: I had drawn the sticker with a Sharpie, so I really wanted the book to be drawn by hand with a Sharpie. This actually made a lot more work for me, but I like the organic look it gave it.

Kevin had a lot of ideas about how things should look, and making the gags as funny as possible, so I did a lot of revisions. And then we had a fantastic designer on the project named Dani Guralnick who had a big influence on the art direction as well.

The team expanded when Balzer&Bray picked up the book for national release. We we’re really lucky to get to work with Alessandra Balzer - she’s got great taste and a terrific attitude, and helped us make the book sparkle. 

Q: The book jacket says the book is “for anyone who’s ever felt a little different.” What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: Well, I’m personally proud that the book is both serious and silly. Light, but with some depth. If you look at the old books that we grew up with, there’s an acknowledgement of the full range of emotions and experiences that are part of life.

I think Kevin and I liked including some imagery where Octicorn is having some challenges because he’s different. You see him on a swing alone, or tearing up when he doesn’t get invited to a party.

Even if a few kids that read this book, learn about inclusion, and accepting others who are different than them, then this project is a big win. 

Q: Who do you see as the best audience for this book, and what reactions have you received from readers?

A: The book is technically for children ages 4 - 8, but we really wanted to expand that to you know, 4 - 80. My 90-year-old grandfather really got a kick out of the book, and we’ve actually discovered that adults have been buying it for themselves.

There’s a subtle message of self-acceptance that ended up in the book and I think that is a message that is needed right now. I know a lot of folks who are hard on themselves, and overloaded at work, and trying to be great parents and…all of that is just easier if you are OK with yourself. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I recently moved to the East Coast and am establishing some new roots. I have an idea for a children’s book that I want to write, but we’ll see what happens. And I believe Kevin has another book coming out in 2017, called Chicken Chicken, that’s going to be really fun. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Be nice to each other. Share. And remember that you only live once. (I mean, maybe you get another round or two, but live full just in case!).

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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