Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

by Greg Pizzoli (Viking, 2015)

I’ve read lots and lots and lots of books for kids. I’ve read lots of questionable ones and I’ve read lots of spectacular ones. And then I’ve read a handful that are simultaneously spectacular and fresh and inventive and completely honor how smart kids are.

This is one of those.

You might know Greg from that burping crocodile or the hound with a need for speed, but did you know a book about an impossible con is exactly what the world of kids’ books needed? Meet this Greg.

Actually, meet Robert Miller.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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A normal kid, one who leaves home to become an artist despite his parents’ best efforts. A normal kid with a penchant for billiards, poker, and gin.

A grifter known as Count Victor Lustig.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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This liqour induced pow-wow below the Totally Legit delivery truck might be one of my favorite moments in this thing. It’s accompanied by a sidebar of Totally Legit information about the Prohibition. This blend of grit and truth and history hangs right in the suspense of Vic’s story. It feels like Saul Bass made one of those The More You Know PSAs right there on the page.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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One of the greatest tricks in this whole book is how we see the silly, unsuspecting faces of Vic’s marks, but never his. Only a thumprint. Both the clearest and fuzziest identification.

Mixed-media collage always yields great texture, just by its very nature. But Greg adds custom-made rubber stamps, actual photo texture from the floor of the Eiffel Tower, and like we’ve already seen, his very own thumbprint. This approach is as layered and grungy as Vic himself. This book can’t be slick and clean and soft–it needs depth and dirt and intrigue. That’s what it’s got.

That’s no con.

Check out these endpapers. Brick wall, posted bills, danger, and suspense.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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Why does that not look like the full width of the book, you ask?

Because then there’s this:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli In the best of places, that sneaky space under the dust jacket, where unsuspecting grownups don’t dare peek. Kids do. They know where the good stuff is. And this is the good stuff: The Ten Commandments for Con Artists by our hero.

I think 8 is my favorite. Or 5. Or 10.

And now, don’t miss Greg and Julie’s chat about this book over at Seven Impossible Things. Lots to digest. Commandment 2 will be an impossibility.

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I received a copy of Tricky Vic from Viking, but the comments are all my own. And speaking of Viking, huge kudos to the publicity team that sent the book like so:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoliby Greg Pizzoli

published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

I’m honored and thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli back to the blog this week. About a year ago we talked about Kroc and The Watermelon Seed, and in the many weeks since, that thing (and Greg!) won the Geisel Award! My kindergarteners call him ‘the BURRRRPPP man’ which I’m pretty sure is the highest praise any mere mortal can achieve.

But today! Today is the birthday of Greg’s latest and greatest, Number One Sam. This is my favorite tweet about it:Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.47.57 PM(And side note, you should follow Matt Roeser at Candlewick cause he has impeccable taste and eyeballs.)

And this (!) is the trailer:

breaker Greg chatted with me about process and art and picture books, and I’ve read these answers about a billion times and am still learning. Enjoy!

Your spot color. Wow! Can you talk about why such a stripped-down design with a limited color palette is such a powerful visual device?

Great question!

To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I think it comes down
to working from an intention, and just having a plan, or restrictions
set in place from the beginning. You can’t just grab another color
from somewhere – when it comes time to make final art, we’ve done
rounds of pantone tests and paper tests, and the limitations and
possibilities are in place, so nothing is casual. Maybe it makes you
consider things in a way that is unique to working in that way?

I know for me, if I’m doing a book that is printed in a limited color
palette, it can feel restrictive in one sense, but there is a real
freedom within the limitations, if you know what I mean. There’s not
endless guessing the way there might be with a CMYK book. Obviously we
do lots of tests and make sure we get the base colors right for the
book, but once that is done, I can start carving out the drawings and
not worry too much about the colors, because we’ve done so much work
on the front end. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

Here’s a photo of a spot color test proof. Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture
book. What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

This is a tough one, Carter. Boy, I come to your blog looking to have
a good time, maybe show a video or something, and you slam me with
this “why picture books” stuff. Sheesh. “Gotcha blogging” right here.
But that’s fine, I’ll play along.

I’m kidding, of course. But, it is a tough one. I guess it’s not all
that complicated for me. I’ve always loved picture books and I think
it’s because there are so many possible ways to solve the problem of
telling a story with text and images. It’s a cliche I think, but you
really can do anything in a picture book. But here again, I like the
restrictions. As much as I might complain to my editor that I “just
need one more spread” to tell the story, it’s actually nice to have a
structure where you have to fit a complete world, with a character, a
problem, and (maybe?) a solution to that problem in only 40 (or so)
pages.

There’s something about how deliberate every decision has to be
that is super appealing to me. I’ve been working on writing a longer
thing recently, a series, and it’s not as though I’m not deliberate
when working on it, but I’ll admit that it feels as though not as much
is hinging on each line or picture in the same way. With picture
books, you don’t have room for anything to feel arbitrary. I like
that.

Also, I thought you might want to see these. Sam started out as a
print of a weird dog (top) and then I made a print of another
(cuter) dog, and he kept coming up in my sketchbooks until he became
Number One Sam (bottom). Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

What do you think are the most important considerations when creating a book trailer?
How do you think through compressing an already spare narrative into a short
animation? Are there aspects to animation you wish you had access to in
picture book art or vice versa? (I guess mostly I’m curious about how book
trailers share storytelling space with picture books and what they can do
differently. Does that make sense?!)

Ya know, it’s a complicated thing this book trailer business. I am
really happy with the two we’ve done so far, but I definitely can’t
take all the credit. Jimmy Simpson, directed and animated both the
trailer for The Watermelon Seed and for Number One Sam, and he is
pretty incredible to work with. Both times we started working, I had
already finished the book, and I had a very basic sense of what I
wanted the trailer to be, but he figures out all of the transitions
and added all of the touches that make them work as well as I think
they do. For example, the “wink” shot from the Number One Sam trailer –
that’s all Jimmy. And of course, he does all of the animation.

I draw the stuff, which is somewhat complicated because you have to
keep everything separated, meaning draw the arm on a different layer
from the body, and the hand on a different layer than the arm, and the
ear on it’s own layer, etc. Basically everything needs to move
independently of everything else, but my characters are pretty simple,
so it’s not too big a deal.

And the music is key. My buddy Christopher Sean Powell composed the
music special for both trailers. What a talent, right? He plays in the
band Man Man, and has his solo music project called Spaceship Aloha,
and was a part of a pretty seminal band from these parts called Need
New Body. I’m thrilled we get to work together on this stuff.

But, to your actual question, I see the trailer and the book as
completely separate things. They have their own pacing, and their own
objectives. With the book, you want everything to feel complete, and
have an emotional pay off of some kind. And you have the narrative arc
to keep things together. With the trailer, it’s more of a tease. You
don’t want to give it all away. And I guess our objective is to just
make them fun and unique.

Book trailers have become more popular, and there is a sort of
template for how they are done that we have tried to stay away from.
We just want them to feel different enough to maybe stand out. It’s a
super small community in some ways, and my book trailers certainly
aren’t racking up millions of views or anything, but we enjoy making
them for their own sake, partly I think because we all just like
working together. If other people dig them, and check out the book on
top of that, that’s icing.

What types of trophies do you have lining your shelves? What kind do you
wish you had? Side note: What would a book called Number One Greg be about?

Beyond my published books, which I kind of think of as trophies in a
way, there are a couple. Last year when I finished the art for Number
One Sam, my editor Rotem sent me a trophy that I keep on my bookcase.
And recently I was looking through some old family photos and found a
first place ribbon that I had won for a school wide art contest in
the 1st grade. My family moved around a ton when I was little, so the
actual winning piece was lost. I remember it though! It was a big
piece of yellow poster board with a marker drawing of outer space.

Maybe it’s time to do a space book? Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli breaker And now for some art from Number One Sam. Thank you, Greg! (Click to make any of them larger.) Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

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The Watermelon Seed and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

TheWatermelonSeed

by Greg Pizzoli

{published 2013, by Disney Hyperion}

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, mostly because that cover is SPECTAZZLING. But also cause I follow Greg Pizzoli on Twitter, where he is clever and quippy and shares things like THE ENDPAPERS. And then this is what the publisher teased us with, so I was pretty much in love with this book right away:

With perfect comic pacing, Greg Pizzoli introduces us to one funny crocodile who has one big fear: swallowing a watermelon seed. What will he do when his greatest fear is realized? Will vines sprout out his ears? Will his skin turn pink? This crocodile has a wild imagination that kids will love.

Yeah. SO INTO THAT. The Watermelon Seed hits stores TOMORROW, May 14th, so you might want to go ahead and get in line. After you meet Greg, of course.

So I’ve also been looking forward to this post for almost as long. I’m thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli in for a visit. Welcome, Greg!

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I call him “Kroc”. Sometimes my editor calls him “K-Roc” or “The Krocster”. Boy, does he hate that. Greg2 My background is in printmaking, and I built a silkscreen shop in my studio, which is how I generate a lot of my work. I think my preference towards limited and deliberate colors comes from the printmaking. It could be laziness, but I’m going to say printmaking.

Even the first sketches of this book were in just a few colors. It just made sense to make the whole book feel like a watermelon. Plus, he’s a crocodile, so the green is already there.
Everyone at Disney*Hyperion was very supportive of my trying out different inks and paper choices to get the feel just right. We did CMYK v. Spot color tests and there was just no comparison. I think it would be tough to get that pink, and that green with CMYK. At least for me. We tried a few different paper stocks, too. I’m super picky.

Greg3 Basically you make a drawing in black and use that to make a stencil on a screen. Doesn’t matter how you make that drawing – by hand on tracing paper, with construction paper, in Photoshop – whatever you can use to get a drawing in black. Your screen, which is a frame of aluminum with a fine mesh stretched across it, is covered in photographic emulsion, and you expose the screen to light. Wherever the light hits the emulsion, it hardens and becomes water resistant.

BUT if you put your black drawing between the screen and the light source, the emulsion that is blocked by your drawing (which remember, is black, thus very light blocking-y), that emulsion stays soft. And you can wash it out with water. So everything that wasn’t blocked by your drawing is water resistant, and your drawing washes out of the screen, making a water resistant stencil in the shape of your drawing. You make one of those for each layer, or usually, color. WATERMELON was offset printed obviously, but I did a lot of screenprinting textures, etc to make it feel very printy. The spot colors definitely help there, too.

I’ve been teaching screenprinting for about 4 years at The University of the Arts in Philly. It’s where I met Brian Biggs. He took a continuing ed class I was teaching in 2009. He introduced me to my agent. I dedicated a book to him, but it hasn’t come out yet. I still owe him big time. I still teach! I love it.

Carter_006 text006 Greg4

Humor usually keeps me interested in whatever I’m doing.

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I like to work with texture for sure, too. And shapes. Shapes, yeah, shapes are good. I know this is great interview material here. Breaking news, Greg Pizzoli “like shapes”. Today on Buzzfeed, 23 shapes Greg Pizzoli likes most.

Anyway . . . I was really into shapes and texture with THE WATERMELON SEED, and the next book I’m doing with Hyperion (NUMBER ONE SAM, Summer 2014) comes from a similar place. We’re doing spot colors for that one, too. But four this time, which opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of overlapping layers and colors.
Carter_008 text008 Greg5

Like most people, I like lots of stuff. I never get tired of looking at Eduardo Munoz Bachs posters. He obviously had a lot of fun making his work. A lot of people you’d suspect probably, Sendak, Ed Emberly, Tove Jansson, Charles Schultz, etc.

Carter_007 text007 I’m really lucky to have so many talented buddies in the Philly area, too. I host occasional drink ‘n’ draws at my studio and Zach Ohora, Matt Phelan, Bob Shea, Tim Gough, Amy Ignatow, Brian Biggs, Lee Harper, Gene Baretta, Eric Wight, and several others have come by. It’s a good time. Sometimes we do this thing where we each draw for five minutes and then pass the paper to the right and draw on top of that drawing for five minutes, until we get all the way around the circle or run out of beer. You can imagine just how bad these things look. Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop, David Bowie. They’re my heroes.

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No way! I love coffee. I think I quit for a while last year and it just floated around my online profile for a bit. I did stop drinking as much. I am down to like 2-3 cups a day which feels great for me. I was drinking like 8-10. Oh yeah. I’m nicer now.

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Greg Pizzoli, people. Is he awesome or what?

Greg7

So yeah. That’s pretty much my favorite thing on the internet right now. Did you catch the part where the period at the end of the sentence becomes a spotlight for good old K-Roc?! I love that detail.

The Watermelon Seed! Greg Pizzoli! Thanks for hanging out here! We love your book. And you are top notch, too.

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