Matthew Holm is one multi-talented author/illustrator. His graphic novel series Babymouse is a delight. Written by his Newbery Honor winner sister, Jennifer L. Holm, the series is funny, darling and very pink! I am pleased that Matthew Holm agreed to be interviewed.
When and why did you start writing for children?
I've known since I was in middle school, if not earlier, that I wanted to either do a comic strip, comic books, or write and illustrate children's books. Or all of the above. I consumed comic strips and comic books in prodigious amounts.
My family had every collection of Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side that ever came out, not to mention more Peanuts books than I can count. (I was actually a bit disappointed when I finally started reading the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts books--I realized I had already read every single one of those strips!)
I started drawing my own comic strips for my own amusement in sixth or seventh grade, and in 12th grade, I had an excellent AP Art teacher who allowed me to create an illustrated children's book as my senior thesis. It was called The Legend of Toadspittle Hill. My friend and current business partner, Jon Follett, came up with the initial story, and he and I later expanded on it. It dealt with a medieval village full of incredibly unintelligent peasants and their hilarious exploits.
During my senior year, I was also in a mentor-mentee program, and I asked Tony Auth, the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, to be my mentor. He graciously agreed (I think he was both amused and bemused by the whole prospect), and that gave me my first real glimpse at what any of the drawing professions might entail.
I carried that on into college, where I drew weekly (and later, twice-weekly) editorial cartoons for Penn State's Daily Collegian. As I learned from Tony, being a political cartoonist mostly meant reading lots and lots of newspapers. But, while I do still read a ton of news on a daily basis, I've never been that much of a political wonk at heart, and staying on top of all of the political goings-on and finding something new at which to be outraged every day was ultimately a chore. I enjoyed it while it lasted, and the drawing experience taught me some good and tough lessons about how limited your options are when working in a tiny, black-and-white panel that has to convey a ton of information. But I knew I never wanted to do it professionally.
After college, my aforementioned friend Jon and I took a cross-country road trip and visited famous UFO sites. We eventually self-published a book on the trip called Gray Highway: An American UFO Journey. But to force ourselves to keep writing the book chapters, we decided we'd get on this wacky new thing called the World Wide Web and make a humorous online magazine called Strange Voices--ostensibly written for the benefit of space aliens who were living on earth. We had daily, weekly, and monthly features (the monthly features became the chapters of Gray Highway).
Our book was one of the fruits of this web site, but another was the daily web comic I drew for it, called Marty Gray, which told the tale of an alien chef (a chef for a species that didn't eat--poor career choice) who became stranded on earth. That experience taught me a number of things:
(1) Writing a daily comic strip comes with a grim schedule. As I've seen other professional comic strippers say, it's like you always have homework to do. So, career-wise, it had its downsides.
(2) The daily newspaper comic page is the tamest medium in existence. You can't even do the kinds of humor you see on Noggin or Nick Jr. in the pages of American newspapers. Berke Breathed now admits that Bloom County could never again appear in the newspaper. (You can see the trouble he's had with his Opus Sunday strips in recent months.) So I had zero luck when I later approached the comic syndicates with the series I had developed on the web, a strip in which a stranded space alien goes on a quest to seek help from his cousin, who is working as a pimp in New Orleans. Mind you, the humor was still PG--you could have seen it on any prime-time sitcom--but the newspaper comic page is gentler even than G.
(3) This was my first foray into all-digital illustration. I created the cartoons entirely on the computer, using Photoshop and a Wacom drawing tablet. So it taught me all the basic techniques that I later applied to Babymouse.
After all of those years of prep work, I was actually equipped to respond when my sister, Jenni, asked me to help her with a comic book for girls she was thinking about, with a character called Babymouse. She and I worked up the sketches of Babymouse, and then created a sort of non-narrative, day-in-the-life presentation of Babymouse that ran about 50 pages. She pitched it around, but no one was interested. This was after she had won the Newbery Honor for Our Only May Amelia, mind you, and after she had around five novels in print. It wasn't until about two or three years later, in January 2004, when she was leaving New York City, that anyone paid attention. Random House got the concept immediately, and the rest is history. I quit my day job (a writer/editor at Country Living magazine) that April, and started work on Babymouse.
What is the most valuable advice you can give to a newly published writer?
Don't be afraid of promoting yourself shamelessly. Jenni and I have been very fortunate to have a supportive and proactive publisher in Random House, but many authors aren't so lucky. Your success rests in large part on how good you are at self-promotion, and especially at public speaking. Make sure you work up a presentation that you can do in a number of different venues (schools, bookstores, conferences) to different audiences (kids that have read your books, kids that haven't read your books, boring grown-ups). It's a bit counterintuitive, since being an author requires you to lock yourself in a room for several hours every day, but getting out and talking to people is key.
What is one of your favorite children's books that you'd like to recommend?
It probably doesn't need any help from me (it won the Newbery), but I only read Lois Lowry's The Giver (and its sequels) this spring, and I love it. On the younger-kids side, my all-time favorite is Dr. Seuss's The Sleep Book.
What are you working on now?
Way too much. I'm finishing up sketches for Babymouse #9, which is going to be a Halloween book. (One surprise: There's NO PINK in this book!) I'm also working on a comic short story for an upcoming anthology called I Fooled You. In addition, Jenni and I are fleshing out a new Babymouse-like series for boys called Squish! The Amazing Amoeba! And, seconds ago, Jenni e-mailed me the first draft of the manuscript for Babymouse #10.
Oh, and I also have a web design firm, for which I'm working on about four different projects.
What is your favorite dessert and why?
Cheesecake. (Maybe with a drizzle of raspberry syrup.) I like it because I'm more into savory stuff than sweet stuff, generally. Although the fabulous bakery St. Cupcakes here in Portland, Oregon does have a carrot-cake cupcake that is just unreal. That's a close second.
Matthew Holm is the co-author and illustrator of the Babymouse series of graphic novels from Random House. He is also a professional graphic designer and the Consulting Creative Director for Hot Knife Design, Inc., of Boston, Mass. Prior to working on Babymouse, Matt spent eight years writing about kitchens (among other topics) for Country Living magazine. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, dog, and ferret.