January 14, 2013

Interview with Children's Author and Illustrator Bryan Langdo

I’m thrilled to begin my '2013 Author Interviews' with Children’s Author and Illustrator, Bryan Langdo.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a children's author and illustrator?

I've always wanted to draw, ever since I was two. In middle school I started taking art lessons from children's author/illustrator Robert J. Blake. He held the class in his studio, so we always got to see firsthand the process of making a picture book. Something just clicked in me when I saw all the possibilities in combining storytelling with drawing.

How did you get started?

I started sending book proposals (manuscript plus two or three illustration samples) to publishers in the fall of 1998. I had a list of about a dozen publishers that I focused on. Each time a manuscript came back rejected (which it almost always did), I would put it in a new envelope and send it to the next publisher on my list. While a proposal was making the rounds, I would pretty much forget about it and start on another book idea, always trying to stay busy. I got lots of rejection letters, but every now and then I would receive some advice or words of encouragement from the editors who'd reviewed my work.

When and where do you write and illustrate most often?

Most of my process takes place in my head, while doing everyday things like driving. Once I've got the big ideas worked out, I'll sit down at my computer and get to typing. I draw in my sketchbook pretty much wherever: the dining room table, in front of the computer (because that's where I listen to music), on the couch. I have a proper studio that I only use when it's time to do final artwork. I can't sketch in there for some reason.

Tell us about your book characters, Hippo and Gorilla. What inspired you to write about them?

Hippo lives life to the fullest and isn't afraid to make mistakes. He's a wonderful friend and always means well, but he doesn't always think things through first. In fact, he almost never does. Gorilla, on the other hand, is quiet and so careful that he sometimes misses out on fun opportunities. Each character helps the other. Hippo gets Gorilla to "live a little" and Gorilla reins Hippo in, keeping him from doing too much damage. They're based (loosely) on my two children, who have very different personalities but are extremely close. 

Rain Gear

Tell us about the concept for your children's eBooks.

My best friend and I (CJ DeGennaro--he did all the sound, music, and technical stuff with these books) wanted to make eBooks that engage young kids without too much interactivity, which, in our humble opinion, takes away from the simple act of reading/listening to a good story. We both have kids and, while we like a lot of what e-readers have to offer, we don't want reading to become like video game-playing. Our goal with "Hippo and Gorilla" is to create a series that is more like the books-on-tape that we grew up with: narration, limited music, and a few key sound effects.

What do you enjoy about the most about the process?

It's hard to say... Recording the talented Billy Bob Thompson (our narrator) was a lot of fun, but I'd have to say that my favorite part of the process is the writing. Imagining ridiculous scenarios to stick Hippo and Gorilla in is a blast.

Have there been any challenges publishing in eBook format?

I'm used to illustrating for print books, so there were a few things I had to get used to, but not much. Most of the real challenge fell to CJ. He spent a couple months learning how to program the books and navigate the e-publishing world. I had it easy; all I had to to was write and draw silly pictures.   

What advice would you give other author/illustrators?

Edit like crazy. The Hippo and Gorilla stories all started about three times longer than the finished versions. I spent most of my time just cutting words. And don't get too attached to anything. Sometimes a clever sentence that you're really proud of no longer works with the story you've written. Let it go. If you want to write, make the time. If you have two kids and a full-time job, write at night. You'll be happy you did. And if no publisher will publish you, publish yourself. You can do that these days. It's a wonderful thing!

What's are you currently working on?

I'm working on a few things. More Hippo and Gorilla, for one. We also plan to re-release my first picture book, The Dog Who Loved the Good Life, which was originally published by Henry Holt & Co. a while back. I'm working on a chapter book series too. 

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