March 14, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #240: Zoey Abbott

It feels bananas that I got a chance to talk to Zoey Abbott about her newest picture book Banana. I say bananas because in addition to this being a bananas story, the design of this book is also super on point when it comes to bananas (and cell phones). I hope you enjoy this chat as much as I did about a story many of us (even adults!) know all too well.

About the book:
My dad is the best.

We love hanging out together.

Recently, he got this banana. At first, we had a great time with the banana –– it does cool stuff and it's really fun.

But lately he's spending too much time with the banana. He's distracted, and he's not enjoying the things he used to enjoy, like hanging out with me.

I don't think this banana is good for him.

It's time to take action.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Zoey Abbott!

LTPB: The concept of Banana seems a little too close to home! Where did the idea for the book come from?

ZA: Fred was a guy who worked up the street at a bakery near my house. One day, I saw him from across the street and half a block away. He waved. I waved back. He was carrying a banana. Fred started to mime with the banana - as if it was a mustache, a guitar, a phone, a leash…I can’t remember exactly but it made me laugh and wonder.

Around the same time, I happened to be getting ready to attend an SCBWI conference and needed an 8 page wordless dummy to share for an illustrator intensive with Martha Rago. So I made up a story about a magical banana getting in the way of a parent/child relationship. From there the story went in and out of the drawer (or “the oven” as my friend Matthew Burgess calls it!) and acquired words and lost them and got new words and eventually I found the perfect editor to make the book with.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of Banana? As you got to know the characters and what was really at the heart of this story, how did your illustrations evolve?

ZA: The final characters are very close to the original ones I sketched for the SCBWI intensive. You might notice that the banana doesn’t look like a real banana - it’s stylized. A banana is a tricky thing to represent. It can easily slip into hot dog territory. I hope kids forgive me for this but it had to be done.

The first sketches I made were done in colored pencil. When the story was acquired by Tundra I did a bunch of experimentation. I tried sumi ink, various combinations of mixed media, digital drawing and eventually landed on risograph printing which turned out to be my favorite.

cover sketch ideas

My art director, Sophie, liked the risograph color but felt the pencil lines were getting lost in translation. So, in the end I followed her suggestion to combine the more delicate pencil line drawings with the bolder printed color. This is what you see in the final art. Thank you, Sophie! it really does take a village, doesn’t it?!

I also want to say, that since this was my first time using risograph for an actual book, I am so grateful to the folks at OUTLET PDX for all their help with printing! It was a real treat to get to work with expert printers: Leland Vaughn, Bailey Collins and Nia Musiba. LOVE THEM!

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

ZA: The hardest thing and most rewarding thing about making this book stem from the same thing: the struggle with the idea. Sometimes you have an idea and a metaphor and it takes awhile to get it to make sense to yourself and others. It’s easy to lose faith and sweep a battered and broken idea into the trash, but if you continue working and are able to find that one person who gets it, then a bit of magic happens. My editor, Sam Swenson, was that person for me. She saw something in this weird banana and was an amazing doula for/ co-creator of the idea and the book.

LTPB: How does your process change from book to book?

ZA: My previous books were all done a little differently from one another using combinations of color pencil, pencil, ink, gouache and watercolor. Each time I start in on the final art for a book, I feel like I have to learn how to do everything all over again.

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

ZA: I just signed a contract for my next authored book, A Kite Story It’s still in early stages but I’m planning to do the entire book with risograph printing.

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?

ZA: Well, I can tell you that I have been working on a story I’m calling The Newest Villager, and I fantasize about Catia Chien illustrating it... The story needs super abstract thinking/interpretation and she’s just a master at going deep and non-literal. I would love to see what she would do with my story. #aGirlCanDream!

A banana-sized bunch of thanks to Zoey for talking to me about this fantastic process! Banana published last week from Tundra Books!

Special thanks to Zoey and Tundra for use of these images!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my policies & disclosures page

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing these insights into the process of creating this very appeeling Banana book!🍌📚💛