Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Voice: Ben Clanton on Vote for Me!

By Ben Clanton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The idea for Vote for Me! (Kids Can, 2012) came to me on November 17, 2010 at 1:03:53 P.M. (or some time around there) when I was working on another story idea called “Don't Eat Me!” which is about a turkey who is willing to try anything and everything to convince the reader not to eat him.

I had been thinking about what other stories this turkey might have in him (counting on him to somehow escape being eaten) and one of my thoughts was that this was the sort of turkey who might run for mayor.

But on my way to work I realized that even better than having a book in which a turkey tries to get the reader to choose him as mayor would be a book in which a donkey and an elephant (the classic party characters) compete for the reader’s vote.

Well, at least I hoped it was a better idea! It certainly felt right at the time because in the few minutes after that thought had come to me the book pretty much laid itself out in my mind. I could see Donkey on the left page with a blue background and Elephant on the right with a red background. I envisioned the gutter of the book as a natural divide between the two characters and that when that line was crossed it either would mean the characters had gone too far in insulting each other or had managed to find a way to come together. Even the small surprise at the end of the book and the bulk of the jokes came about in those initial moments.



Of course, the struggle would be to get the book to look as good as it did in my mind at that point of inspiration. Unfortunately, I think that is pretty much impossible. Those moments when an idea is first planted hold so much promise and potential that the idea really becomes more of an ideal . . . something that can only be striven for but never truly reached.

I love those moments. For me, that ideal is the best bit of making a book.

Gigi

As expected, (perhaps this was self-fulfilling) trying to actually make Vote for Me! proved fairly difficult. I really struggled with the character designs. At the time, I didn’t really draw many elephants and certainly not donkeys.

For inspiration and reference, I looked at the work of such illustrators as Chris Riddell, Bob Staake, Bill Peet, and Steve Breen. You might have noticed that the majority of those I just mentioned are not only children’s book illustrators but also editorial cartoonists. I knew that I wanted the artwork to have a bit of the feel of editorial cartoons, but be fully intended for a kid audience.

Ben's creative space.

After about a month, I finally came up with character designs I was happy with and began the process of making a mock-up. The rough drawings for the book went really quickly. The one problem was it was a bit too long. Most picture books are 32 pages long. My first mock-up was around 48 pages long. I managed to cut it to 40 and decided to see if I could interest a publisher.

I had been in contact with editor Tara Walker who was working at Kids Can Press. Tara had seen a feature about me on a fantastic blog called Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and she contacted me to see if we might find a project to work on together.

I had submitted several stories and none of them were quite right for Kids Can, but when I submitted Vote for Me! we had found it . . . my first picture book.

I was thrilled (still am!). Tara had worked on some fantastic books, and I knew she could help me take the book to a new level and she did. The editing process went really smoothly.

The one big hiccup was when it came to making the final art. I usually use ink and watercolor, and I had thought that would fit for Vote for Me! but it just didn’t.



The solution ended up being drawing the characters in pencil on copy paper (something fitting about doing those characters on a cheaper material), doing watercolor on elephant poop paper, scanning, and then putting it all together in Photoshop. I had a bit over a month to do final artwork because we really wanted this book to be out for the 2012 election.


Vote for Me! children's book from Ben and Kelsey Clanton on Vimeo.

I’m really happy with it, and I hope kids will enjoy it, too.

This is Ben Clanton, and I approve this message.

6 comments:

tammi sauer said...

I met Ben at last weekend's SCBWI-WWA Conference. What a great guy! And so talented. Totally gets my vote. :)

Jeanette W. Stickel said...

I’ve fallen in love with what I’ve seen so far
and I think my students will too. I’ll be looking
for the book! Thanks for sharing
how it developed.

Kirk Kraft said...

Ben was on the local success panel at this past weekend's SCBWI Western Washington conference. Very inspiring story and such a neat guy!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Tammi and Kirk, I envy you're both meeting Ben last weekend!

Happy reading, Jeanette! I think this is a great book to share with students, especially as the election is drawing closer.

Elizabeth Rose Stanton said...

Great interview! Hooray Ben!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! Hooray indeed!

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