Monday, December 22, 2008

Babymouse - An interview with her creators

Good morning all. I am here to tell you about Babymouse - just in case you have not heard about this delightful and very loveable character. Created by Jennifer L. Holm and her brother Matthew Holm, Babymouse is a graphic novel personality who loves cupcakes, who tries to survive school, and who has terrible luck keeping pets. She is persecuted by Felicia Furrypaws, a cat with a spiteful nature. Babymouse has an imagination as big as all outdoors, and this helps her to get through trying times. Because I love Babymouse I contacted the people at Random House to ask Jennfer and Matthew for an interview. Here is what they had to say

1. Where did the idea for Babymouse come from?

JENNI: When I was growing up (with four brothers!) our house was always full of comic books. (And stinky socks.)

MATT: Hey!

JENNI: But there were never any good comics for girls. Wonder Woman? Betty and Veronica? Little Lulu? Bleah. So I always hoped that, someday, I'd come across a good comic character that girls could identify with.

Then, when I was older and living in New York City, I was having a really rotten day. Late for work, pouring rain, forgot my lunch, etc. When I finally got home, I was standing in the kitchen, and the image of this irritable little mouse with crazy whiskers and a heart on her dress came into my head. So I scribbled it down on a napkin and gave it to Matt the next time I saw him.

And then he lost the napkin.

MATT: Sigh.

2. How did you decide that you wanted your character to be a mouse rather than a cat, dog or some other animal?

MATT: When we were growing up, our dad made Jenni a dollhouse. But instead of little human dolls, we had these little mouse figurines that all the local gift shops carried. They came in all sorts of outfits-lumberjack mouse, magician mouse, doctor mouse, leprechaun mouse, Betsy Ross mouse, and so on. I had some of them, too.

JENNI: I got the dollhouse. Matt got the garage.

3. Why did you decide to give Babymouse such a wonderfully active imagination?

JENNI: What kid doesn't have an imagination like that? I know I certainly did, and just about every kid I meet when I go visit schools does, too.

MATT: And, on a practical level, it allows us to do a lot of fun, crazy scenes.

4. Sometimes the stories in the Babymouse books have a sad element to them. Why did you do this?

JENNI: Frankly, a lot of stuff that happens to you when you're in elementary and middle school stinks. But it's good to know that life goes on afterward. And, maybe, it can even be funny.

5. What is it like to work together with a sibling? Do you get on each other's nerves?

MATT: You wouldn't believe how difficult she is to-OW! Quit hitting me!!

JENNI: Ahem. No, we're both pretty easy-going when it comes to the books. We worked in advertising and publishing for years, so we're used to being edited by other people. Our attitude has always been that, if someone feels strongly that something needs to be changed, it probably means that there's something wrong with the scene.

MATT: Plus, we've always lived like, six hours away from each other. That helps.
6. Obviously you both like comics. What do you think comics and graphic novels offer children besides entertainment?

MATT: Comics can teach kids how to read, the same as any other book. Maybe even better; concepts like "dialogue" and "narration" are broken out into discrete examples inside speech balloons, and the pictures show what the words mean, to help reinforce things.

JENNI: I always like to tell a story about a friend of mine, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City when he was very young. He spoke English as a second language, and had a lot of trouble learning to read. In his adulthood, he told me, "Superman taught me how to read." Superman comics made it possible for him to learn how to read.

7. Matthew, how do you create your illustrations?

MATT: It's a multi-step process. First, I create quick thumbnail sketches in pencils. These are just snippets from all the scenes of the manuscripts, sometimes from different angles, and so on, as I'm working out how things might look. Then Jenni takes these thumbnails, cuts them out, and pastes them down into rough layouts. From these layouts I draw final sketches with Sharpie markers, complete with all of the panels, speech balloons, etc. Then, I scan the final sketches into the computer and do the final "inks" digitally using Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom drawing tablet.

8. Do you both have plans for many more Babymouse books?

JENNI: You bet! Hopefully, for as long as kids keep reading them. Our next one is called, Babymouse: The Musical, in which Babymouse tries out for a school play. I drew upon a lot of my youthful Andrew Lloyd Weber soundtrack mania to create this one.

9. Do you put any of your own childhood experiences into your Babymouse stories?

JENNI: No, never.

MATT: Um, don't you mean, "All the time?"

JENNI: Oh, right. All the time, in fact. I really did have my own "Felicia Furrypaws" at school. Our family really did have some bad luck with escape-prone hamsters and goldfish. And Matt really did get mugged for his Halloween candy one year.

10. Do you, like Babymouse, have a fondness for cupcakes?

JENNI: (Munch munch)

MATT: Can't talk. Eating.

11. What kinds of books did you like to read when you were young?

MATT: When we were very young, lots of Dr. Seuss. Later, lots of comic strip collections-Peanuts, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County. When we got to the novel stage, it was mostly fantasy.

JENNI: Lloyd Alexander was my favorite author. I wrote him a fan letter, but, being a dumb kid, didn't think to include my return address. Instead, I wrote in my phone number. Craziest of all-he actually called me and thanked me for writing him!

12. In Babymouse Monster Mash - your newest book - Babymouse gets the better of some very unpleasant kids who go to her school. What were you trying to do with this story - besides giving your readers a reason to cheer that is?

JENNI: We wanted to revisit the slumber party social scenario from the first book. Babymouse sees an opportunity to get in good with Felicia and her gang, and she jumps at it, despite the hard lessons she learned in the earlier books. Why? Because that's what happens in real life! All of us really are naive enough and hopeful enough to believe that, maybe THIS time, that mean girl will really be nice, and we'll really get to be part of the "in" crowd.

And, usually, you wind up like Charlie Brown getting the football pulled away from him.

MATT: Plus, who doesn't love a good zombie gross-out scene?

You can read my reviews of the Babymouse books here. You might also like to take a look at the Babymouse website.