August 15, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #257: Andy Harkness

The illustration process behind Wolfboy Is Scared by Andy Harkness is truly one-of-a-kind, and the last thing I want to do is spoil it here before you can read about it below. But I will say this: Holy cow, this is a cool book! It was a delight getting a chance to talk to Andy about the second book in his fun-loving Wolfboy series, and I hope you enjoy our conversation!

About the book:
The only way for Wolfboy to get home before moonset is by sneaking through the Grumble Monster's lair.

This is no problem for Wolfboy, who's super brave and totally not afraid of anything! But . . . the rabbits should walk ahead. Wolfboy needs to watch their backs after all!

Wait, are those monster claws? Are those monster eyes? Maybe Wolfboy IS scared!

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Andy Harkness!

LTPB: Tell us where the Wolfboy series came from! What inspired you to take on the second book, Wolfboy Is Scared, and where did the idea come from?

AH: I have always loved scary movies. The first one I ever watched was “The Howling” when I was way too young to see a movie like that, hahaha. I’ve always liked the idea of doing a scary-ish children’s book. Just enough creepy to be fun, but not really too scary. But the real inspiration came from having my own kids. Watching how my little angels could go from sweet to monstrous in a matter of minutes when they were hungry. I thought that would be a fun idea to develop with a main character who was a Wolfboy.

LTPB: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how your animation background led to you creating children’s books? If you think of them as a Venn Diagram, where do you see your expertise in animation overlapping with children’s book illustration and how are they different?

AH: My very first dream was to be a children’s book illustrator. Sparked from reading Where the Wild Things Are in my second grade library. I went to the Columbus College art design with an intention. But one day Disney came to town and showed us a work in progress sequence from Pocahontas and the lion king. It was immediately intrigued, and a few years later I was working at Disney on Pocahontas. The book dream was on hold. 13 years later there was an internal competition to do a children’s book and I submitted an idea for a book called Bug Zoo. That book was part of the artist showcase Series at Walt Disney Animation. Shortly thereafter followed the idea for Wolfboy. The process of creating a film and creating a book are actually very similar. The only real difference being a much smaller crew and a much shorter time to produce it. But the goal is to make a story impactful enough that it will live well beyond the finishing of the book or movie.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in developing the character of Wolfboy? What about the story in Wolfboy Is Scared? What did you find most rewarding?

AH: I have always been a visual artist, but I’ve always wanted very much to be a writer as well. The writing part was a struggle from the start. The most challenging part was finding the right voice for Wolfboy. Who is he and what does he want? After many pages going to the trash pile, Wolfboy emerged as simply a very emotional child. He wears his heart on his sleeve. I just had to go back a few years, and really remember what it was like to be a little kid growing more frustrated the longer it took to get my way. And then the character began to fall into place. The first book is about Wolfboy being scary. The second book is about Wolfboy being scared. As I get older, I’ve found that scary people are probably the ones who are the most scared themselves. And also more than likely have the hardest time admitting it. That is Wolfboy to a “T”.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

AH: The first book was created entirely with clay. Photographed, then colored in photoshop. It’s a fourth of mine that I grew up, bored of doing the same thing, the same way twice. So I was searching for a different technique. Then, I came across VR. There is sculpting software in VR called Adobe Medium. I sculpted the book entirely in VR, rendered it in Adobe Stager, then painted it in Photoshop. In all honesty it took twice as long, but I just love the process.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

AH: I recently finished a collaboration, with two incredible people that I will be able to share about very soon. Also, I am developing several other books, but it’s a bit too early to share :-). Soon!

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

AH: Most definitely, Edward Gorey. I just love his macabre, slightly humorous illustrations. They fascinate me.

A million thanks to Andy for taking time to answer questions about a totally NOT scary book! Wolfboy Is Scared published last month from Bloomsbury Publishing!

Special thanks to Andy and Bloomsbury for use of these images!

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