Local Author Profile: Adam Rex

[img_assist|nid=863|title=Adam Rex|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=150|height=189][img_assist|nid=864|title=The True Meaning of Smekday|desc=|link=url|url=http://www.amazon.com/True-Meaning-Smekday-Adam-Rex/dp/B00196PD9M/ref|align=right|width=150|height=224]profiled by Aimee LaBrie

Adam Rex understands children. As both a writer and illustrator of children’s books, his work captures the imaginative world children love to inhabit. His characters are heroic kids in cowboy boots who face the world fearlessly, taking on aliens and rambunctious zoo animals. His characters also include a lumbering, strangely human Frankenstein and assorted other monsters who somehow don’t seem so scary in the pages of his books.

Kirkus heartily praises one of his books, saying, “As if more proof were needed that Adam Rex has a strange and goofy mind, here’s a visit to a meta-fictional zoo with some uncommonly crafty residents…Rex gives the whole episode a surreal, expect-anything feel…[A] gleefully postmodern romp” and Publisher’s Weekly classifies his illustrations as “oil paintings [that] hearken to 19 th Century Barnum ads—or 1960’s counterculture poster art—in Rex’s offbeat tale.” Most recently, his novel, The True Meaning of Smekday was nominated alongside Harry Potter for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Despite his success in the highly competitive market of children’s book, Rex’s feet remain firmly planted on planet Earth.

Are you more invested in writing or drawing?
They’re both just different aspects of storytelling to me, so they’re somewhat intertwined. Of course, I illustrate books that I haven’t written from time to time, and I like the idea of writing something that I don’t go on to illustrate.

How did you get connected with Cricket Magazine, Spider Magazine, and Amazing Stories?
I really just did illustration work for these magazines.  I never submitted any writing to them, apart from one poem that was published in Cricket.  That was the first of a number of monster poems I’ve written, and I didn’t submit any more after deciding that I was more interested in seeing them collected in a book.  That book became Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.  

What were your favorite books as a kid and did they influence your approach to writing and illustrating?

One of my favorites was certainly The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and I think its influence is pretty obvious in my own The True Meaning of Smekday.  I’m beginning to think one of the greatest influences on the illustration work I do now is actually Chuck Jones.  When I began to concentrate more on humorous illustration, I found that, in my mind, humor and illustration intersected squarely in the center of animated shorts like The Rabbit of Seville and What’s Opera, Doc?

What advice do you have in terms of the creative process for those of us struggling to get something on the page or canvas?
I think I’m always trying to trick myself into thinking I’ve started already, so that I feel more comfortable making marks. In both illustrating and writing, that seems to be a matter of making a lot of careless messes at first, and giving myself permission to do badly, or to create something that may never develop or see the light of day.

Do you draw and paint on a regular basis or just when you’re inspired (or have a deadline?
I suppose I only draw and paint when I’m inspired or have a deadline, but that covers pretty much every hour of every day.  I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a serious deadline.  I do miss drawing and painting for the sheer pleasure of it–just sitting in cafes, sketching people, exploring ideas–I haven’t been able to do that in years.

What are the differences between children’s illustration and fantasy art?
I’m tempted to say there aren’t any, though I’m not sure anybody would believe me. Mostly it’s just a matter of content–most fantasy art is aimed at an early teen to adult audience.  Fantasy lends itself to complex compositions, while art for younger audiences tends to work better when the images are a little more straightforward.  Fantasy art also tends toward hyper-detailed minutiae and, ironically, fairly traditional realism–anything to help sell the authenticity of the imagined world.  It’s the difference between an anatomically plausible dragon designed from the study of bats and snakes and lizards with hundreds of finely rendered, battle-scarred scales on the one side, and, on the other, Puff the Magic Dragon.

What are you reading right now?
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and an issue of McSweeney’s.

How is it that you are able to relate to kids so well?
I don’t think it’s too difficult to relate to kids.  I just try to be honest and open, and actually talk TO them.  Not at them, not to their parents through them.  I see a lot of people talk to kids in a way that shows that they’re really talking to the kids’ parents–they’re not actually interested in the kid as a person, they’re more interested in sending some message to the world about what a kid-friendly, young-at-heart sort of person they are.  Most kids can tell the difference.

Where do you come up with your story ideas?

I never know how to answer this question, because I don’t think I’ve ever gotten ideas in the same way twice, and after the fact I often forget what my thought processes were in the first place.  I couldn’t tell you how I came to think of whatever I was thinking of, but now, hey, this idea is living in my head.  It’s almost similar to the way dreams fade on you–I can no longer relate all the details of what or how I was thinking right before waking this morning, but, regardless, I’m going to be thinking about losing my teeth for the rest of the day.

What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing the illustrations for a book in which a boy is given a pet blue whale as a punishment.  I didn’t write that one, so I can honestly say it’s hilarious. And I’m supposedly writing my second novel.

You mention on your website that you have two huge, gigantic cats. What are their names and occupations?

The youngest is Dr. Simon Dicker.  He’s not a medical doctor, obviously–he’s an astrophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania .  Little Nemo is our oldest.  She’s a stay-at-home-cat.

To view Rex’s work, visit adamrex.com

Aimee LaBrie’s stories have been published in many literary journals. She recently received the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction, which will publish her short story collection in December. Aimee serves on the Philadelphia Stories Planning & Development Board.

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