Interview with Mark Fearing, Illustrator for Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot
PBR: You spent time researching the planets in our solar system to illustrate them for The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot. What exactly were you looking for and where did you go to do your research?
Mark: I was searching for the best guesses as to what the planets in our solar system would look like to a human eye. Obviously a lot of the ‘photos’ taken of the planets are best guess colorizations of more abstract data, so there is plenty of room for artistic interpretation to begin with. I keep many years of National Geographic magazines around (always come in useful!) and I used websites like Livescience and space.com for further research. That being said, the book also has a fantastical and whimsical element that I didn’t want to fight against, so I pushed the representations to fit within the world of Margret’s story.
PBR: You have an impressive background in the arts and illustration. When did you know you wanted to draw for a living?
Mark: I’ve always loved drawing, but just as important to me is the narrative portion of narrative art. I love stories. I was a comparative literature major at one point in college and that interest drives a lot of what I do. I enjoy drawing and painting so it’s a natural center to my various interests.
PBR: How did you pursue that dream?
Mark: It has certainly been an adventure. I made a lot of side trips off the main path. I look at them as running errands in my life. Making a living writing and drawing wasn’t so obvious to me. I worked as an art director and graphic designer for many years. I did illustration on the side, when I had time, and was always writing short stories. I attempted to start doing children’s books early on, but had no luck. Years later I attended a picture book class taught by Marla Frazee at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. That reignited my interest in the medium, but still didn’t provide a career path. I was accepted into UCLA’s MFA in animation program and that got me drawing regularly again and making short films. That lead to a job at Walt Disney Television Animation where I was neck deep in storytelling and realized how much I loved it. Shortly after that, I got my first book, and was later signed by an agent. It’s been a long, strange trip indeed.
PBR: What were your biggest challenges in the beginning of your career?
Mark: Which career!? I suffer from a bit of wanderlust. There are literally dozens of things I enjoy, and I love reading and learning. So focus can be an issue for me. I have had to force myself to concentrate and take one idea at a time. I am often my own worst enemy because I bounce between a dozen ideas a day and fail to make real progress on any of them. My agent helps me by reading the reams of material I write and keeping me focused on what is working best. In general, working in the arts means learning to deal with a lot of rejection. If you let self doubt grow too strong it stops you in your tracks. I’ve accepted that I will never be as good as I want to be, but I try and savor the accomplishments and find pleasure in the disciplines and craft that motivates me.
PBR: You have used your gift of cartooning and illustration for many different mediums. Which one did you enjoy doing the most?
Mark: Each medium offers a different set of difficulties and rewards. The basic activity I most enjoy is writing a story and bringing it to an expanded life using illustration. When I illustrate a picture book by another author my chores shift slightly, but the goal is the same: make the story visually compelling and expand upon the written narrative. I love making animated short films, but the work involved is almost overwhelming at this point given my responsibilities and limited time. So, that’s my ‘non-answer’ answer!
PBR: What specific projects did you enjoy the most and why?
Mark: Illustrating The Book That Eats People was great fun as it was a very wide open, no rules kind of project. It’s a story within a story, more or less. So the illustrations are from multiple POV’s, both inside and outside the narrative on the pages. Making my animated short called The Thing With No Head was exhausting and fulfilling. Nothing like hand drawing and painting 1,100 animation cells to get you engrossed in a particular story world!
PBR: Would you do anything different in your career if you could?
Mark: That’s a million dollar question! I think about it often. Of course hindsight is 50/50, blah, blah, blah…but if I could do something different, I think I wouldn’t have gone into graphic design and marketing early on, and instead kept writing and drawing, possibly attending graduate school for animation earlier. Honestly, I was sidetracked with the years of doing design, and although it propelled my career forward in some ways and introduced me to technology early on (I worked in marketing for software companies for many years) it kept me from progressing with drawing and storytelling.
PBR: What’s next for you?
Mark: I am illustrating two more picture books, one by author David LaRochelle, another by poet George Shannon. Then I will be illustrating a picture book I wrote for Candlewick Press. But in the meantime the graphic novel I wrote and drew will be released by Chronicle Books in July of 2012. It’s called Earthling! and is an all ages sci-fi adventure (8 and up). 250, full color pages. Needless to say, it’s taken a great amount of my last 3 years to get done! All that should keep me busy into 2013. After that, the adventure begins again.
Check out our review of The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot
MARK FEARING has created award-winning editorial cartoons, animated shorts that have appeared on Nickelodeon and G4, and was a production manager for Walt Disney Television Animation. He is also the illustrator of The Book that Eats People by John Perry, called “irresistible” by Publishers Weekly and a “hilariously dark story” by School Library Journal. He lives outside Portland, Oregon. Visit him at www.markfearing.com.