Chris Van Dusen ~ King Hugo’s Huge Ego
I recently had the opportunity to interview Chris Van Dusen, the fabulous author/illustrator of King Hugo’s Huge Ego. This is definitely one of my favorite children’s picture books of 2011, and I am so happy to get to introduce you to him! Chris was kind enough to answer some of my questions, and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. If you haven’t already checked out the book, you can see my full review here.
King Hugo’s Huge Ego is a fantastic book. My three boys and I have enjoyed it immensely and read it over and over already. Where did you come up with the idea of this particular book?
The idea for “King Hugo’s Huge Ego” came from a couple of different places. As you may know, I’m a HUGE Dr. Seuss fan and a few of his first books could be considered fairy tales in that they featured a king and were set in a kingdom. I thought, I’d like to try something like that too. The other thing that lead to HUGO came from my book “The Circus Ship”. That was the first book in which I added a villain and I had so much fun with that character (aptly named Mr. Paine!) that I decided to challenge myself. Could I write a book where the main character is a villain? I’m not sure King Hugo is technically a villian, but he starts off being not such a nice guy!
I know that drawing was something you did when you were younger with your brothers. How did your parents react to your artistic talents? Were they supportive? Did they push you to take classes, or did they just let you be and see where it took you?
When I told my parents that I wanted to study art in college, they didn’t blink an eye. My older brother (who is also a professional artist) had gone to art school and succeeded. So they were supportive, but they also let me find my own way.
We have a favorite question on BookshelfBanter.com to ask the authors we interview. If King Hugo’s Huge Ego was going to be turned into an animated film, who would you choose to play (or lend their voices for) your main characters?
Great question! If King Hugo was turned into a animated movie, I think he should have an english accent. It should also be slightly snotty. Maybe Russell Brand could do a good job. And for Tessa, I don’t know, maybe Kiera Knightly?
If someone were to write a children’s book about your childhood, what do you think the most prominent theme would be? Is there one adventure in your life you believe should be the focus of it?
I have four brothers and we were constantly outside playing and inventing games. I have to admit, we were a very clever and curious group. I sort of tapped into my childhood when I wrote “If I Built a Car”. I was kind of like Jack with an active imagination.
What has been the toughest criticism you have received as an author/illustrator? Best compliment?
How did you handle those comments?
The critics have been very kind to me in general, although Kirkus Reviews was a little harsh on HUGO. But Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, so you never know! I try not to let it get to me. Some of the kindest comments have come from individual readers tough. I just recently received an e-mail from a woman with an autistic son. She told me that her son has a hard time sitting through a book but that my stories hold his attention. He even finishes some of the rhyming lines on his own. This is a huge accomplishment for this child and she was very grateful. When I read her note, it brought a tear to my eye. That was the best compliment of all.
I know Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey played a huge role in the kind of author/illustrator you are today. Have you ever thought about writing and illustrating something other than picture books? I’m thinking specifically of Brian Selznick’s new book, Wonderstruck, which is a Middle Grade novel with two intertwining stories, told through words and pictures. Have you ever thought about tackling something like this?
I just read “Wonderstruck” and loved it! Brian Selznick is a master at what he does and has invented a unique way of telling a story. I’d love to try something different, but I don’t want to copy anything that’s already been done. Who knows, maybe something will pop into my head one day!
Many of your books are set in the 50’s and 60’s. If you could time-travel back to the past, would you revisit those years, or is there another time period that fascinates you?
Another great question! I DO love the 50s and 60s, but since I grew up in the 60s, I’ve already been there. If I could travel back in time, I might go back to the 1800s and visit the town where I live. I’ve seen old photographs and it looks fascinating. Or maybe I’d go back to the early 1700s and visit Manhattan when it was still just a handful of farms!
Your illustrations are done in gouache. Have you ever tried another type of medium? What made you settle on this form of art for your illustrations?
I’ve tried several different art mediums but I prefer gouache because it reproduces so well and can be used in a bunch of different ways. I’m always experimenting with new painting techniques trying to capture different effects. It’s a lot of fun.
Finding an agent is something many authors and illustrators struggle with. How did you meet Steven Malk and become a team? What did that process look like for you?
When I was looking for a new agent, I contacted several of my author/illustrator buddies and made a list of names to pursue. I kept hearing great things about Steven Malk and when I learned that he was Lane Smith’s agent I bit the bullet and called him directly. Even though I already had several books published, it took a little persuading for him to take me on. I think the fact that I illustrated Kate DiCamillo’s “Mercy Watson” books pushed him over the edge! We have a great working relationship and he’s an outstanding agent. The best!
Are you currently working on anything you can tell us about? Is there a chance King Hugo might make another appearance in one of your future books?
My next book is all done and is currently being printed. It’s called “Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit” and it will be published by Candlewick Press and released in February 2012. I don’t want to give anything away but I can tell you that Candlewick wants it to be out for the start of baseball season. Hint hint!
If you could choose four author/illustrators, dead or alive, to make up your dream critique group, who would you choose and why?
Yet another great question!! My dream team would of course include Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey. Then I might add Kate DiCamillo and William Joyce. That would be quite a foursome!
There are many parents out there right now with children showing a lot of promise in their writing
and artistic abilities, or teenagers saying they want to become illustrators. If you could give them any advice (the parents and the kids), what would you want them to know?
I actually just met a girl at a book signing that asked me the same question, and I told her if you’re interested in becoming an illustrator, draw, draw, draw! Draw anything and everything! The basis of any good illustration is the ability to draw. It also helps if you have something printed. Offer to illustrate a poster at no cost for a local event of draw something for your newspaper. Once you have a few printed pieces, you can create a portfolio that you can show around. Before you know it, people will be hiring you to illustrate something!
And if you want to be a writer, never be content with your first version. Write and rewrite! You’ll be surprised how much better your story becomes if you (like Jack in “If I Built a Car” says) constantly analyze tweak and refine. But probably the most important bit of advice I can offer is DON’T GIVE UP!! You’re going to face rejection at some
point. Everyone does. But if you believe in your story or your art, keep at it. Persistence pays off in the long run. Good luck!
Finally, we like to end with a few quick, or short, answer questions fired at you. Tell us the first thing that pops into your head.
a. Beach or Mountains? Beach
b. Biggest fear? Losing a loved one
c. Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
d. Favorite take-out food? Lobster rolls and onion rings. Yum!
e. Stupidest thing you’ve ever done? There are too many to list!
f. Radio or Ipod? Radio
Thank you so much, Chris, for agreeing to do this interview with me for BookshelfBanter.com. I
really appreciate it. I know you are busy, especially with King Hugo just coming out so I do appreciate you taking time out to do this!
Thanks Kelly. This was fun.