by Eric Wight
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (May 5, 2009)
Eric Wight’s soon-to-be-published book “Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom” is a rip-roaring good read! Combining the elements of a comic book with a chapter book, the author has put together a highly imaginative novel that is sure to lure even the most reluctant young readers. When Frankie’s dream of never having to clean his room again comes true (and really, who hasn’t dreamed of never having to do their chores again?) the hilarity ensues. The illustrations provide a vivid visualization of Frankie’s very active imagination and are a great mix of art and text. After reading the book, I was compelled to learn more about Eric’s writing process and the story behind the book. Eric very graciously accepted to answer a few questions, so here goes:
The Children’s Book Review: You’ve just written your first children’s book—Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom. It’s a great story and your illustrations really help the reader visualize the events in the narrative. Can you explain why you chose to incorporate comic book elements into your chapter book?
Eric: Thank you so much!
Being an artist, I’m completely a visual thinker. Pictures come to me much more naturally
than words. So no matter what the project is, I try to find ways to incorporate visual elements into my writing. With Frankie, I wanted a strong distinction between the parts that are fantasy and reality, and comics seemed like the perfect format to accomplish that with.
I also wanted to create a book that would entice even the most reluctant of readers. When I think back to how I got hooked on reading, it was Batman and the Sunday comics. The images helped me figure out the parts I had trouble with. From there I graduated to Dr. Seuss, and then novels. But I never abandoned comics. I read as much Batman as I did The Hardy Boys. And I remember when I read books like The Hardy Boys, I wasn’t as concerned about reading to the end of the chapter as I was with reading to the next illustration. So I thought if I mixed comics with straight prose, kids who needed a little more visual enticement like I did would be motivated to read the prose parts in order to get to the comic parts.
TCBR: You’ve had a long career as an illustrator. Can you explain why you chose to shift gears and become an author?
Eric: Artists have a big advantage over writers with regards to being published. Don’t get me wrong, both are tough fields to break into. But you can show your portfolio to someone and have instant feedback, where if you put a manuscript in front of that same person they have to dedicate the time to sit down and read it. I always saw myself as a storyteller, and aspired to be an author since I was a kid. But I thought if I established myself first as an artist, it would create more opportunities for me as a writer. Of course, the feast or famine lifestyle of a freelance artist made it difficult for me to find the time to write.
The crazy part to the story is that writing found me before I had a chance to really pursue it. My illustration work on the television series The O.C. had been getting a lot of press, which led to my being approached by a manga publisher to create my first graphic novel (My Dead Girlfriend). The problem was that I had plenty of ideas, but I had never written a script before. There were definitely some growing pains! But the more I wrote, the more I fell in love with the process.
Maybe it’s because drawing was my first language (literally — I started drawing before I could talk), or I feel like I haven’t paid my dues yet as a writer (again, literally — I have a bill sitting here for the Writer’s Guild), but I consider myself more of an artist who likes to write, than an author. My keyboard has become another tool next to my pencils and inks.
TCBR: Are any of your characters based on actual events or real people? If not, how did you come up with Frankie Pickle and his family?
Eric: The initial concept of Frankie is based very much on my own childhood. I was totally the kind of kid whose imagination got him into trouble. I convinced my 1st grade teacher that I was a world class tap dancer (I never even took a lesson), which would have been fine except that I had to then perform in front of the entire class. I got into trouble for wearing my Superman pajamas under my school uniform. My explanation was that I needed to be prepared in case there was an emergency. Apparently, I couldn’t even save myself. I also tricked my mom into thinking that my sister and step-sister were trapped underground in a sewer pipe, which was a whole lot funnier in my head than how it played out.
Now that I have kids of my own, Frankie has become more inspired by my son. I love watching him play, how he jumps from one idea to the next or mashes them all together. He’s very specific about the characters and brands he likes, which is where the idea for all of the fake products came from.
Frankie’s relationship with his older sister Piper is inspired by my relationship with my sister. Even though she’s younger, as kids my sister always tried to assert herself to be the older one, and in many ways she was. She was always more responsible, better at school, and was less afraid of my bullies than I was.
Frankie’s baby sister Lucy is based on my daughter, who also had just enough hair for one little ponytail on the top of her head. Mom and Dad are the kind of parents my wife and I aspire to be. What we would give for their limitless patience!
And yes, I am a proud owner of a Westie. His name is Kirby, and he is always along for my kids’ adventures — except for when they try to dress him up or ride him like a pony. He also thinks he’s a cat, but that’s a whole other story.
TCBR: Can you give us any hints as to what’s next for Frankie Pickle? Or any other books you’re working on at the moment?
Eric: The next Frankie adventure is called Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000, which is the Cub Scouts’ Pinewood Derby meets Speed Racer. Following that is Frankie Pickle and the Multiplying Menace, which combines math with medieval fantasy. I have about a dozen books planned so far. The goal is to put out at least two volumes a year until Frankie runs out of stories to tell. Given his imagination, that will hopefully not be for a long, long while.
I also have a middle grade fantasy series in the works. The first volume is called Kookleberry and the Sword of Fools, and is due in stores Fall 2010. It’s also a prose/graphic novel hybrid, although the comic parts work much differently. The story is about a boy who is a traveling minstrel on a quest to figure out his identity. Along the way he finds a medieval comic book called The Scarlet Hood, which both helps him on his adventure, and leads him further into danger.
TCBR: What’s the biggest obstacle you face when writing? That is, what gives you the most trouble?
Eric: The greatest challenge has been translating into words what I see in my head. I get so frustrated because I have a pretty clear idea of how I would approach something as a drawing, but painting that same picture with words is ridiculously more challenging. There have been a few times while writing scenes for my fantasy series that I actually drew little thumbnails to help me plot out the action. Kind of like outlining with pictures.
TCBR: Conversely, what brings you the most joy?
Eric: Getting to read that first draft to my kids. There is no better test audience. If something isn’t working, they have no problem telling you right away. Fortunately, they give the best hugs after a tough critique.
TCBR: If you could have a chat with any author, who would it be, and what would you ask?
Eric: I wish I could have had the opportunity to share a cup of coffee with Donald Westlake. I’m not sure what I’d have asked. It would have probably been more of a gushy thank you than anything. That man could open a book better than anyone.
TCBR: You’re a multi-talented author and illustrator. But aside from these, what is the one talent you wish you had?
Eric: Although I have a deep love of music, I have no skill whatsoever. If I could ever find the time, it would be awesome to learn how to play the guitar.