Friday, August 11, 2023

Q&A with Michael Emberley



Michael Emberley is the author of the new children's early reader graphic novel Let's Go!. His other books include I Did It!. He lives in Ireland.


Q: What inspired you to create Let's Go!?


A: The idea was to work on fun ideas, any ideas, for the characters that I had already developed for an unpublished picture book, and I hated to have them go to waste. I wanted to give them something to do! Build a series of books based on characters not stories.


I often come up with unrelated ideas for books when I’m trying to actually finish off the one I’m supposed to be handing in…


The group of animal/toy friends in Let’s Go! were originally hanging around in another picture book about building a very specific block tower. It was a very directed math teaching story about blocks. During that process, I fooled around with the idea of simply doing a looser book titled I Did It! I worked out a text first, then sketched out ideas.


The idea of them folding up paper to fold into cars and boats and toboggans was one of those things that I just doodled in my sketchbooks, then liked it, then kept doodling, Again, I should have been finishing I Did It!. But my mind wanders…


The idea of folding up your world, I would have been familiar with in cartoons like Bugs Bunny which used absurd, surreal visual ideas. And films like Yellow Submarine, where things like the vacuum monster character sucks up everything in sight, finally sucking up the background, and ultimately, itself, leaving nothing but white space…


Q: Did you work on the illustrations first or the text first--or both simultaneously?


A: Unlike I Did It!, which began with a verbal idea, Let’s Go! was purely visual. It grew out of my sketchbooks. The two books are very different. And it was so visual, I originally made it wordless. I was mildly surprised the book sold to be honest, as I was literally fooling around with silly, surreal ideas, and thought it would never be published,

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Emberley is a master of balancing white space and color, and his skills are on fine display here.” What do you think of that description?


A: Well, who am I to argue when someone calls you a master? Ha. Actually, I get tired of backgrounds. I’m interested in the performance, the movement. The humor and emotion of the characters. The background can feel like a chore. So I just left it out…


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: Well, one thing was, silliness is OK. Breaking the rules is OK. Being imaginative and thinking outside what’s expected. And laughing about it… These characters face endless problems, yet they persevere, every one of them contributes. When one idea fails, someone else gets an idea.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: More ideas! Another book with the same gang. This one involving a young and older character. The stars and moon. Darkness. Stealing the light from the night sky, then rethinking it…


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I filled up many sketchbooks with this gang’s antics, so I had enough for four or five books at least, maybe more.


My favorite of these books, Bam Bam, Giddy Up!, Is a wordless idea about two ways of playing imaginatively with sticks, one half the gang pretend the sticks are hoses, the other half pretend they are swords, eventually causing conflict. It’s basically about the consequences of violence. It has not sold.


My favorite character I developed, Marigold, a funny little orange orangutan, I had to cut out. No longer allowed I was told. Any apes.


The books were not originally in a comic format and I had to adapt them to fit a specific shape, size and length. And some were wordless, so I had to add words!


The gang’s names are: Gatto, Robbie, Penny, Ali, Ellie, and Reilly.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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