April 09, 2012

An artistic battle leaps from the page

By Adam Rex & Mac Barnett
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Ever wonder how authors and illustrators work together when they make a picture book? Well, if you read Chloe and the Lion, a smart and hilarious new book by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, you’ll get an idea of what the process might be like if the author and illustrator collaborate a little too closely.

The setting for the story looks like an old-school diorama, giving it a delicious 3-D feel. The narrator is the author, Mac, and he appears to be made of plasticine clay and roughly sewn cloth. Adam, the illustrator, is drawing the story that Mac is writing. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Chloe looks for loose change, and, when she has enough money, wants to spend it on a ticket for the merry-go-round. After the ride, she is walking home dizzily when a dragon jumps out at her. This would all be well and good except that Mac’s words say a “huge lion leapt out.” At this point the author breaks the wall between reader and creator to address the illustrator directly. "Adam, could you come out here?" he asks. As in the brilliant Interrupting Chicken, the reader watches the process as author and illustrator get into an argument over the relative coolness of dragons vs. lions. Mac and Adam duke it out, with Adam drawing unflattering illustrations around Mac’s body—turning him into a package with a pink bow on top, a cowboy and, finally, a lavender gorilla. Eventually, Mac fires Adam and has to find a new illustrator, a search that doesn’t work out too well.

There are many wonderful images in the book, but my favorite might be when Mac decides to be both author and illustrator himself. At that point, he dances across the gutter, breaking a cardinal illustrating rule and showing the reader that he has no idea what he’s doing. Two pages later, the spread is all white except for a tiny bit of the bereft Mac saying, “I give up.”

This is not the first time that Barnett and Rex have created havoc and hilarity together (they have also done the Brixton Brothers mystery series and the picture books Guess Again! and Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem) and I, for one, hope they make their peace, respect each other’s gifts and make many more books together. Children find their brand of humor irresistible and will return again and again to Chloe and the Lion, looking for the small details left behind as visual gifts for the reader.

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Chloe and the Lion

Chloe and the Lion

By Adam Rex & Mac Barnett
Disney Hyperion
ISBN 9781423113348

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