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I love watching illustrators at work. Sketching, painting, snipping paper for collage…seeing a blank page sprout something beautiful is miraculous. Plus, isn’t it a soothing way to spend some time? We all need it these days!

So it was with pleasure I watched illustrator Larissa Marantz paint CLYDE THE HIPPO, the character from her new series with husband Keith, published by Penguin Workshop.

Larissa, your video is mesmerizing!

How did you decide on the look and style for Clyde the Hippo?

Clyde was designed to fit in with a cast of characters called The Fuzz Budz which were a group of characters in our first self-published book. Those characters came about from a simple shaped art lesson that I taught my elementary school students. The idea was to use a rectangle shape as the basis for a bunch of animal characters. Clyde is made from a shape I call a “circ-tangle” which is basically a rounded rectangle.

Our first Clyde book was a self-published title called “Clyde Likes to Hide.” The style of that book is very different from the Clyde the Hippo series with Penguin Workshop because I started working digitally and wanted to use pastel brushes. I love the texture and richness in colors that you can get from working in pastels, but the mess is unreal. Being able to duplicate that look digitally was very satisfying. Keith and I also wanted the aesthetic of the book to be bright and graphic with elements of mid-century modern design thrown in, since we are fans of that era. I used a lot of pattern reference and strong shape language to keep things simple in my background illustrations.

 

No wonder I love the Clyde style, I’m a fan of mid-century modern, too!

How did you and Keith take Clyde from self-published to traditionally-published with Penguin?

We initially wrote and self-published the first Clyde book but didn’t put very much effort into selling it. We knew that in order to succeed in self publishing it takes a lot of hustle, and we just wanted to write and illustrate stories. We had created a second story, Clyde Likes to Slide, with a completed dummy. We sent that to our agent who we had just recently connected with. She loved it and thought it had great potential.  She shopped it to different publishers, one of which thought it would make a great series so they asked us to submit a series package. Ultimately they turned it down but Penguin saw something special in it and picked up the series.

Yes, I totally understand wanting to just make stories. Marketing and promotion is tough work (and not nearly as fun)!

Let’s jump back in time a little more…when did you and Keith decide you wanted to be children’s book creators?

Well, there’s a bit of a story behind that. I had been working in animation as a character designer for the Rugrats and Rocket Power. While I was there, I started illustrating picture books for Nickelodeon. When I left the studio to become a

 stay at home mom, I illustrated more picture books for Nickelodeon. Keith had always wanted to write and actually wrote some spec scripts for the animated shows I was working on. He had been writing a screenplay as well. Our first picture book together was inspired by our oldest daughter who was 9 years old at the time. She was drawing these adorable animal characters based on the lessons she was learning in my art classes. Based on her drawings, we came up with a cast of characters and Keith wrote some fun rhyming poems about the kinds of food they’d love to eat. That was our first book together and it’s called Dream-O-Licious.

The idea for adding Clyde came about when our youngest daughter asked for a pet and my husband joked with her that we already had a hippo hiding in the backyard. After I designed Clyde, I fell in love with him and we knew we had to make stories for him. Keith loves to come up with a good title and he loves to rhyme, so we came up with Clyde Likes to Hide as our first story. He’s a very large hippo who loves to hide, but he’s not very good at it. Next came Clyde Likes to Slide and Clyde Likes to Ride. I came up with the idea for Clyde Lied and Keith wrote a really great story for that concept. Clyde Goes To School does not rhyme but we wanted to introduce Clyde and his world, so that became the first title in the series.

What a creative couple! Well, a creative family!

Did you always know you wanted to work in illustration?

I didn’t realize I wanted to until later on. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I studied fine art in college. When choosing a major, I didn’t understand that illustration was basically painting and drawing but for a different purpose. I switched from fine arts to animation and then made a pivot into illustration when I became a stay at home mom. Once I started reading all those children’s books to my kids, I realized that I wanted to illustrate my own characters, not just Nickelodeon’s characters. That’s when I started working on creating my own style and trying to get an agent . It was harder than I thought it would be. I figured that since I had already illustrated a dozen books, it’d be simple enough. But my style was very steeped in animation, and I didn’t understand that just because I could draw animated characters well that I couldn’t just draw for picture book illustration. I had to learn a little more about style and narrative illustration. I had to develop my own voice. And Keith had to develop his voice in writing, too. We both worked on it and were able to connect with a wonderful agent who saw our potential and now represents both of us as a creative team. Keith is my author and I am his illustrator.

 

I love it!

Can you tell us what’s coming next for the Marantzes?

We are hard at work on a middle grade graphic novel entitled BLAKE LASER that will be published with HarperCollins in 2022.

Set in the  24th century, the book features a 12-year old inventor who, along with her parents and annoying brother,  must stop aliens from stealing the sun’s energy. I’ve designed spaceships, aliens, and robots, which is very different from the cute stuff I’m used to drawing. One of my favorite things about this project is that we’ve written a story about a family that looks like us. Creating diverse characters for picture books is so important, along with developing heroes and heroines in stories who multiracial kids and children of color can identify with. There is no doubt that making a graphic novel is a tremendous amount of work but it’s something we both feel we’re suited for, given Keith’s love for cinema and screenplays and my experience working as an animation artist. We’re very interested in depicting epic stories with vast worlds for the remainder of our publishing career, so we are working nonstop at developing those types of stories for readers.

Thanks for chatting with me, Larissa. It’s wonderful to get to know you and CLYDE (and Keith)!

You can get to know them all better at ClydetheHippo.com.

We’re also giving away a CLYDE book: CLYDE LIKES TO SLIDE!

Slide in a comment below for a chance to win it.

A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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