Thursday, December 1, 2011

TRUCK DUCK in TIME



Here’s an unexpected one. A wonderful former editor of mine sent me a scan of an article in TIME magazine that shows Jonah Hill reading a copy of my board book Truck Duck!

The article is a promo piece about Hill’s new movie, “The Sitter.” It’s written by Joel Stein and features Hill babysitting for the author’s son. The coolest part is that not only does is say that Hill read the boy Truck Duck, but that he also read The Cat in the Hat, and Knuffle Bunny. That’s pretty good company if you ask me.

The article was published in the November 28, 2011 issue.


The online version is here, but requires a membership

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not Attractive?



I just got my first “industry” review for “Fangbone.” It’s an odd one. They seem to say many nice things about the book, but lead it off with some really negative comments. Dealing with reviews can be tough sometimes, but at this point in my career I don’t let them get to me. My book was reviewed on the “Kids Comics” page where every other book reviewed was full color. Perhaps the anonymous reviewer had certain expectations that “Fangbone” did not meet.

“Flat, primitive art in yellow and gray brings to mind “what if the Wimpy Kid was instead Conan’s kid?” The book’s not attractive, but it is easy to read and very expressive. It looks like something a classmate might have scribbled on notebook paper and passed around, providing a sense of “I could do this!” The familiar plot sends the young Fangbone, normally picked on by the bigger warriors, on a mystical quest that, if successful, will reward the clan with victory against the enemy army. The young fighter is surprised to find that his mission involves blending in at an elementary school, which leads to much culture-clash humor. It’s cute, funny, and will win over most readers with its commitment to its premise. It’s even heartwarming, as Bill (Fangbone’s friend, previously thought to be a loser) learns confidence, and Fangbone gains an appreciation for teamwork during a dodgeball-like game. The modern touches—such as hot wings and Bill’s ADD medicine—ground the book, while jabs at school philosophy through the character of the goofy principal will entertain adult readers. Ages 7–9. (Jan.)”

---Publisher’s Weekly

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Best Question Ever



In October, I spent a week in the Norristown area of Pennsylvania doing five days of school visits. On the last day, during my last presentation, I had the single best question ever from a student. Now, I’m not talking about a cute, “out of the mouth of babes” type question, such as, “When did you go bald?” I’m talking about a smart, thoughtful question that made me pause, and took me out of my “performer” mode and really made the day memorable.

During my presentation, I talk about how my boys, Declan and Gavin, give me lots of ideas. I explain that they are responsible for some of the more crazy and disgusting scenarios in an upcoming series I am working on. In short, I let the children know that my two boys are my biggest inspiration.

During the Q&A part of my presentation, I let the kids ask anything they want. Usually, they want to know how many books I’ve done, or which book is my favorite. But this one, wonderful, thoughtful and insightful fourth grade girl raised her hand, and calmly asked…wait for it…

“Before you had kids, what was your muse?”

Wow. Best question ever. Not only did she know, and understood, what a muse was, but figured out that I’d been making books long before my kids were born. I actually paused for a moment with a huge grin on my face. She completely made my day, and my week. It seems that the teachers were equally shocked and impressed.

My answer was, “My niece, nephews, and other kids that I have known,” had all inspired me in some way or another. Then I looked right at her, and said, “I also get very, very inspired by the kids I meet at school visits!”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween 2011




My boys were zombies for Halloween this year. However, Halloween almost didn't happen. Half the town had no power (no doorbells or lights to see who's home), there were trees all over the streets and we had to navigate piles of snow and slush. We've only been in our new house in Leonia, NJ, for a week. For four of those days, we have had no power. The blackout ended this morning around 6:30 and we were happy to have heat and light again.

Fangbone Book #3


The last two months have been very unproductive, yet I've been very busy. I'm not sure how that happens. Fangbone Book #1 and #2 come out in a few months. Right now, I'm working book #3. It will hit late summer/early fall. Here's the cover sketch done on an ipad.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

School Visit Programs



Hello, and I hope you've all had a wonderful summer. Here's some updated information on the different programs I do when visiting schools. Each of my presentations can be tailored to fit a specific age group and the needs of a curriculum. If you are interested in having me visit your school, and if you have any questions about adapting any of these programs, please feel free to ask.

Contact me at mikerexbooks@gmail.com

Beginning, Middle, End: How Does a Book Get Made?
This is a very nuts and bolts presentation about the long, involved process of how a book is made. From the initial idea, to the printed book, I show the students all the steps in between. Notes, sketches, final art, revised art, and story revisions will be explored and analyzed. I will draw for the students, and, if time allows, have the children draw along. This is my "basic" program and is best for large assembly groups.

Story Cards!
Using a few random index cards with carefully selected words written on them, I show students how a story can quickly be created. The students can join in, create their own cards, and generate their own wild and unpredictable stories.

Parody This!
Drawing from my experience learning under Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, I discuss my parody work (Goodnight Goon, Runaway Mummy, Furious George Goes Bananas) and lead the students through their own parody of a poplar song, TV show, book, or movie. Sticking to a theme, being satiric without being rude, and most of all, keeping it funny will be covered.

What Makes it Funny?
Using picture books, comic strips and gag panels, I work alongside the students to investigate why something is funny. Through discussions about timing, simplicity, expectations and opposite outcomes, students will learn how to inject more humor into their writing and drawing. Laughter guaranteed.

Listmania!
Writer's Block got you down? Try making a list. Students will be asked to generate a list of subjects, people, places, and activities that peak their interest and that are important to them. This list will then be used as a blueprint for their own original stories.

Parent's Night: Meet the Family!
In this evening presentation, I cover the basics of creating a well-rounded character. Using list-making techniques and interviews, students and their parents will learn more about each other, and then pick and choose the most interesting answers to build a new, fictional, member of their family.

Grades
K-5 is best. However, I have started to do Middle Schools, and have talked to an occasional High School group. With the older students, the process, not the content, of my writing is the main focus.

Length of Programs
All programs are about 45-50 minutes long. Shorter, 25 minute long presentations can be made for Kindergarten students if needed.

Audience Size
I'm comfortable with audiences of all sizes, and I will work to meet the needs of each individual school.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gathering Ideas



I’m back. I met my deadline and I’m on to the next one. Right now, I have to write the manuscript for my next “Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian!” graphic novel. This will be book #3 and is the last one I am contracted for. I hope to have the opportunity to do more. Books #1 and #2 will come out in January, with book three coming out in the Fall of 2012.

We decided for this project to write a script for the entire book before any drawing is done. That way the plot, character arcs, the jokes and the structure can all be worked out first. It’s very much like writing a screenplay for a film. The manuscript will run about 28 pages, and the completed book will be 128 pages of comics.

I’ve been thinking about this book for a while, and even did a rough draft back in March, but I’ve scrapped much of that. While it was very funny, it had way too many ideas and threads, so right now my job is to simplify and streamline. I’ve had to take out a character that I love, but it’s best for the story.

As I set out to write book #3 I have to get all of my notes and ideas in order. Above is a picture of all of my idea sources.

1. My Acer Netbook. I bought this a few years ago for Grad school, and it worked fine for what it was. The rough draft I mentioned above was written on this. That’s a printout in front of it. I’m going to go through that and grab the parts I like. My initial pitch of this project was also written on this, as well as summaries of the three books.

2. An early copy of “Fangbone!” #1 for reference. We recently changed the cover of Book #1 and as we completed book #2. I will be showing both of them very soon.

3. Sketchbooks. These have written ideas and drawings, usually all on the same page. I keep a few sketchbooks going at all times. One might be in my bedroom, one in the car, one in the living room. I want to have them available wherever I am. Some of these go back a few years to when I was first working on this concept. There are ideas that emerged during those initial brainstorming sessions that I still want to use.

4. Notebooks. These are the small sketchbooks I sometimes carry with me, or keep in my car. Again, notes and images sit side by side.

5. Index cards. This is the stack of index cards used for that first draft mentioned above. There’s stuff in there that might prove useful.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Deadline of Despair



I am currently under the most insane deadline for art that I have ever been on in my entire career. I am either driving the kids to or from school, eating, sleeping or drawing. Nothing else. I didn't even shower the other day. The good news is that I love this project and that I think it should meet with some success. That being said, here's the art for the cover of the book I'm working on---"Fangbone! The Egg of Misery!"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on dinosaurs...



I had this one sitting around from a few years ago. His name is Pajamatops, of course.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dino update



I went back in to see if I could improve the dino. It's a little stronger. I think that a different color as the base would have really helped.

More Cavemen



Here's two more caveman sketches. I'm liking them more, but they just seem a bit stiff. And while I don't want to beat up on myself because they are only sketches, the hands are really amatuer hour. Jeez. I like the dino, but the colors are a bit flat. He can be much richer.



On the other hand, I think they are solid enough that I may use them to pitch the idea I have.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"You no eat me..."



I had an idea for a picture book blast into my head the other day and I instantly wanted to see one of the characters. I am not going to say what the book is about, because I have yet to even pitch it to an editor, but it stars a few cavemen. Here's a first shot at one of these brutes. I like the line, but feel he's a bit stiff, and his hand gesture is not reading well. I drew this at the dinner table while my first grade son did his homework, so I was a bit distratcted.

I really want to push the cartoony elements of my drawing with this book, because it has potential to be a very, very funny, and a good read-aloud as well. It was drawn with marker, colored pencil and a sharpie. No computer at all. If this book goes forward, I plan to make it my first non-digital book.

My Dog Jack is Reviewed



Here's a decent little review of my latest illustration project.

From Publishers Weekly---"When Carson takes his dog, Jack, to the vet, she informs them that Jack is too fat: "He needs less food and no snacks!" as well as a lot more exercise. Jack expresses his skepticism via thought bubble ("Fat chance"), though Carson dutifully starts Jack on a diet and exercise regimen. But Carson isn't practicing what he preaches: while Jack plays fetch, runs up stairs, and visits the gym, Carson is wolfing down junk food and lazing around. Throughout, readers are privy to Jack's snarky retorts: "You've got spaghetti sauce all over your face, pal," he tells Carson, who won't share his enormous dinner. A return visit to the vet means kudos for Jack--but not for Carson, who now needs help from Jack in the weight-loss department. Rex has a lot of fun with the details in his cartoon illustrations (Carson sits in the grass eating fried chicken and drinking soda while "playing" fetch with Jack), and the dog's-eye-view perspective (and Jack's evident sense of humor) help make a potentially heavy-handed message about child obesity easier to swallow. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meeting and Greeting



I recently spent some time at the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association's Annual Conference. I had my own table all weekend and was able to really talk and interact with many fantastic people.



The enthusiasm and energy these educators had was wonderful and very inspiring. I was selling and signing books, but my main goal was talking about my school visits. It was much more fun than simply mailing out a pile of flyers. I will be attending similar shows in NJ and CT in the Fall.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sketchbook boys

Here are two more watercolor sketches that I think are pretty successful. The first one is from a story I’d still like to sell. Without giving away too much, one of the characters has an explosive sneeze during a show-and-tell type moment in front of his whole class. The story is really about how the kids react to this event, and how embarrassed and foolish he feels. The story is not like my other work, and is not “high-concept” at all. It’s just about kids and getting along in school.



The second one is from a book that never quite clicked. It’s about this one mean kid endlessly calling the other boy names until…well, until something happens that I want to hold in my folder of ideas. I kind of like this one, but there are some skin tone issues. Both of these were done a few years ago, and looking back on them I was getting close to something…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Little Creatures



As an children's illustrator, I've never really set out to draw cute animals. I feel that there are many people out there who do that really well, and seem to enjoy it. However, I just found these sketches from a few years ago and think that they are really... um...cute. They are drawn with india ink/quill and colored with inks.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Happens in Vegas...



During the week of April 11 I had the wonderful opportunity to visit five excellent schools in Las Vegas. It was Nevada Reading Week, and the theme was “Reading Rocks!” I spoke to over 3,000 children and I had a wonderful time. Each school was friendly and prepared, and the kids were well behaved and very involved.

I have spoken to, and worked with, elementary students for years, and I taught High School for almost 4 years, but I don’t have much experience with Middle Schools. But I must say, my presentations at Sawyer Middle School were some of the best of the week. The kids seemed to enjoy and learn from my talk, and just like the little kids, they were very impressed by the drawing part of the show. And even when the one student asked, “Do you steal all of your ideas from other books?” he had a smile on his face!

I’d just like to thank the teachers, students and organizers at…

Lucille S. Bruner Elementary
Richard Bryan Elementary
J. M. Ullom Elementary
John F. Mendoza Elementary
Grant Sawyer Middle School

for a great week, and I hope to go back next year!

---Mike

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Nice Things...



Another nice note about my school visits...

"Michael was great!! He talked about the writing process in a way that kids (and teachers) could understand and appreciate. He held their interest all the way through. I would recommend him for any school function."

-Tiffani Stewart, Librarian/Media Specialist @ J.M. Ullom Elementary, Las Vegas NV

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another Dude!



Why aren't there more children's books about rock? My boys, who are five, and six-and-a-half, love to jump around shirtless like little Iggy Pops swinging their Paper Jamz guitars. They like the music loud and fast. They love The Beatles, Weezer and The Ramones. Since no one else is doing it, I have decided that I am going to make it my business to write some books about rock.

This started as a joke, but as I think about it, picture books are like good rock singles. They're short, to the point, vivid, full of catchy hooks, memorable lines, have some sort of emotional resonance, and when they're over you want to experience them again.

"He is SO awesome!"



This nice e-mail came in the other day...

"Michael Rex's presentation was perfect for our kindergarten and first grade students. He described the creative processes of writing and illustrating in a clear and entertaining fashion. The children had fun learning how to draw their own Furious Georges. Michael received rave reviews from teachers, the librarian, and the students. One child was overheard saying, "He is SO awesome!" We agree, and we highly recommend his school visits!"

--Melissa Azarian, Co-chair of PTO Visiting Authors Committee, Long Hill Township

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ta-Da!



Here's a shot from a very fun school visit at The Gillette School in New Jersey. I don't post many photos from school visits because they usually have kids in them, and I want to respect everyone's privacy.

That being said, I have no idea what I'm doing in this photo. I'm sure it has something to do with adding motion and excitement to a drawing. Or maybe I was wrapping up the dance part of my presentation...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Astronaut #12



My soon-to-be-five year old son came home from daycare with these great round watercolor paintings. I thought they were beautiful, and, naturally, I thought that they looked like planets. This one was my favorite.

Astronaut #11



I haven't had the chance to get back to my astronauts for a while, but managed to squeeze this out the other night. It was done with marker and the polka-dot pattern was added digitally. Fun, but stiff.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Monster Drawing Rally at DAC

Last Sunday I took part in the "Monster Drawing Rally" for the Dumbo Arts Center down in Brooklyn. It was a fun event with dozens of artists drawing in hour-long shifts. The works were offered for sale, with the money going to the Arts Center.

I didn't have to draw monsters, but I'd had this idea of a class picture floating around in my head for a while, and I wanted to get it down on paper.

The hour wasn't really long enough, and I could have gone another hour and added more details and richer values. But I like it, and it sold, so someone else must have liked it too.

If you click the drawing it will take you to the flickr stream with all of the other drawings made that day. Some are still for sale.

michael_rex_01

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Time in the Tower



There are certain things that I agreed to not talk about in my contract concerning my appearance on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” but there are some things I can talk about, so here it goes.

When I showed up, I didn’t know which team I was working with until about 15 minutes before I met them, and I didn’t know how far into the season my episode was. As of this writing, I do not know which team won the challenge.

When I arrived for the shoot I brought a bunch of supplies with me, (such as swatch books, markers, and tracing paper) but I was not allowed to use any of them. They wanted the teams to have the exact same supplies, and since the other illustrator didn’t bring anything, I couldn’t use what I had brought. That was kind of odd to me because this is considered “reality TV” and in real life your chances at winning are better if you are prepared.

One of the things that surprised me was how little prep time we had the day of the shoot. We arrived early and checked out the computers and scanners to make sure they had everything working right. Soon we had mics put on us, and in a few minutes they said, “You’re on,” and sent us through the doors to meet the celebs on camera. Oddly, I wasn’t nervous about being in front of the cameras. I walked into the room, met the team, and was briefed on the task. If there’s one part of my life where I feel like a stone cold professional, it’s my illustration. I know what I’m doing, and I can work fast. I was able to tell them what I needed, and we got to work right away.

Yes, the Celebrities really did write the story by themselves. I was not allowed to help, or even guide them. In fact, they didn’t know that I was a writer. I desperately wanted them to make the story shorter, but I didn’t have a say in the matter. And, yes, I drew an entire 24-page book, in color, in about six hours. I did have help with scanning the images, and setting them up. In fact, I could not have completed the project if it weren’t for the amazing designer I worked with. He did most of the scanning, set the type, and prepared everything for the printer.

We had a hard deadline, and once it hit we had to stop no matter what. We finished with minutes to spare.

Most people really want me to dish on the celebrities, but there’s really nothing to say. Everyone was professional towards my work, everyone was very nice and they all seemed to respect what I was doing for them. In fact, at the end of the day, they all gathered around me and thanked me and shook my hand and made me feel quite appreciated.

While having Marlee Matlin buy me lunch ranks high on the day’s stand-out events, the real highlight was having a big long talk with LaToya about “bling,” and how she liked a lot of “bling,” and how much “bling” our character in the book should have. I have to say, while everyone was very friendly, LaToya was a real sweetheart.

Sadly I did not get to meet Gary Busey or Meatloaf.

I’m sitting down to watch the episode in 30 minutes. I think I’m more nervous now than I was on the day of the shoot. I know it’s kind of goofy, but I really hope my team wins!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Michael Rex on "The Celebrity Apprentice"



From my official Press Release...

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR MICHAEL REX TO APPEAR ON
NBC’S “THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE”

MARCH 9, 2011 #1 Bestselling Author/Illustrator Michael Rex will be appearing in an episode of NBC's series, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” airing March 13th (9/10 PM ET/PT).

In the episode, the star-studded cast featuring celebrities such as Gary Busey and LaToya Jackson will split into two teams and engage themselves in one of the most prominent niches in the book publishing industry - children’s literature. Both teams will author an original children’s picture book to help raise money for charity. Their works will be evaluated by actress Robin Holly and by Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books publisher Margery Cuyler.

The winning celebrity team will present their charity with a check. Last season, “The Celebrity Apprentice” raised over $1.25 million dollars for charity.

Michael Rex, who has created over 20 books for children, joins one of the teams to provide illustrations for their book.

"The Celebrity Apprentice" is produced by Mark Burnett Productions in association with Trump Productions LLC. Mark Burnett, Donald Trump, Eden Gaha and Page Feldman are executive producers. Nancy Gunn is the co-executive producer.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Dog Jack is Fat



I also just received a copy of my other new title, “My Dog Jack is Fat.” It’s out right now from Marshall Cavendish. The mighty Eve Bunting, who has authored over 250 books, wrote this quirky little story. It’s the first title that I have illustrated for another author since 2006. Oddly, that book was called “Jack the Builder.” However, they are not the same Jacks.

“My Dog Jack is Fat” shows what happens when we neglect the health of our pets, and, eventually, our own health. It’s a laugh riot. Honest.

I’m not providing purchasing links to my books from this site because I feel that everyone has their own favorite place to shop, and I don’t want to favor any one retailer. I hope you get the chance to check it out, and share it with friends and family. Oh! Ask for it at your local public library too!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

FANGBONE!



Wow. It’s here. It’s finally here in my hands. My first graphic novel for kids. “Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian,” will be published in April of 2012 by Putnam, the publishers of my last six picture books. It’s a 128 page full-on comic about a young barbarian who ends up in our world, and has to figure out how deal with school, hot-wings, and indoor plumbing, all while protecting a magic evil toe. Of course.

I started this about a while back, and it’s been a huge project. Today I received a copy of the bound galleys. Galleys are cheap, quick print runs that are sent out for reviews and used by the sales and marketing teams. While the cover is full color, the interior is black and white. The book will be in two colors, orange and black, when it goes to its first proper printing.

I’m currently working on book #2 and #3, and all will be out during 2012. I am so excited by this. I feel that it’s the funniest, warmest, goofiest and most appealing thing I’ve ever done. If I were in third grade, I’d go goofy over this book! I will be posting much, much more about Fangbone.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Crash City

Here's a goofy little film I made with my boys. Gavin will be five in May, and Declan turned six in October. We were trying out a new video camera, and getting used to iMovie. As someone who went to film school, and actually shot and edited celluloid, a program like iMovie just amazes me. And what really blows my mind is that it was edited while sitting on a couch!

This video was shot in "Lego-Motion."

video

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dude Sketches!



Lately, I’ve been really interested in trying to change the way I draw the characters for my books. It’s not so much about the media in which I finish them, but more about the actual style of the drawings. While I do like my drawings, I feel that they sometimes fall into an area that’s a little undefined; they’re not quite real enough, and not quite cartoony enough. Since I don’t really have the interest in drawing more realistically, I’m trying to push the cartoon side of the equation.



I’ve been looking at Amid Amidi’s excellent “Cartoon Modern” as inspiration. It’s a history of animation from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that documents the influences of modern art on the animation industry. I’ve always been attracted to images that are simple and graphic, but feel that during some crucial parts of my artistic development, I thought that being an artist meant that you should be able to make things look “real.” I’ve had a hard time shaking that.



The shapes and proportions on few of these guys are copied straight from the book, with changes only made to the faces and clothes. On occasion, making a copy of a drawing is fine for learning purposes. However, if I’m getting paid for a piece of art, it’s a no-no.



I’m posting a few pages from my sketchbook showing my attempts at drawing simple, more graphic characters. The pages are unedited, because I think it’s important to see the work developing on the page. I could just show the good ones, and pretend the cruddy ones don’t exist, but that’s no fun.

Monday, January 31, 2011

International Primate Protection League, Pt. 2

Back in December, I published the following post

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The International Primate Protection League is a “grassroots wildlife protection organization” that promotes “the conservation and protection of all nonhuman primates, great and small, around the world.” In other words, they’re good people.
Please, take a few moments to stop by their site and find out more about the IPPL and the great work that they do.

Their September 2010 issue of "IPPL News" features an entire page dedicated to “Furious George Goes Bananas!” There’s even a contest for children to draw George, and they can win a book signed by me! When it's announced, I'll make sure to post the winning entry.



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A few days ago I received the December 2010 issue with the results. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Happy New Year!



Here's a piece that I drew a while ago and I really liked. The story, "The Teeny-Tiny Firefighter" never really came together, but I liked this image. I recently read that a film is being made about a Leprechaun fireman, and it made me think of my wee firefighter.

I wish I could tie the image into something meaningful about the New Year, and say that it's some sort of clever metaphor, but I can't, and it's not. Maybe that's my New Year's Resolution..."Stop looking for meaning and just enjoy!"

Here's to a great year!---Mike