by Betty Dravis
Betty Dravis: Good day, K. Michael Crawford, thanks for visiting Dames of Dialogue. It’s great having a visit from the famous, award-winning children’s book author and illustrator of a certain classic that is beloved around the world. We can’t divulge all our secrets up front, so we’ll talk about that famous book later.
You come highly recommended by a publisher friend because you are tops in your field. I know you’re in hot demand and have many projects in the works, so it’s kind of you to squeeze us in.
I’ve seen many of your illustrations and you’re the most creative illustrator I’ve seen to date, and I’ve been around a long, long time. (laughs) Just browsing through your website is like a trip to some wondrous fantasyland filled with the most colorful, charming characters… Creating such original characters must be a labor of love. I bet you have more fun than a child at Disneyland. I recommend that all our readers visit your website for a real treat. They will be awed, I’m sure. The link is: www.happilyeverart.com/
K.M., it’s a good thing God gave me a talent for writing, since I can’t draw as well as a kindergartener. I’m wondering if you have always had this amazing talent. Can you tell us a little about your childhood? Did you start then…or were you a late bloomer?
K. Michael Crawford: Well, Betty, my childhood, as well as my life, has been very quirky to say the least. You might even say enchanted. I have had the most magical things happen to me over the years and been surrounded by the most waggish people all my life. I discovered at a young age that I could put some of those quirky adventures and people down on paper and call it art. With my imagination, this job is perfect for me, full of enchantment and magic. Plus, I can sometimes go to work in my pajamas… Some of my ideas come from my imagination and some, if you can believe, come from my own life.
It also helps that I never grew up. I am just a big kid at heart and love to be silly. I find the humor in everything. At a young age, I was taught to see the magic in life. A magical life is the only way I live my life, otherwise, there is that whole messy thing called “reality,” which I avoid at all costs. Edward Gorey once wrote, “We all create our own reality.” I just prefer mine to be make-believe.
Betty Dravis: Ah-hh, K.M., I may have met my artistic soul-mate; I never grew up, either, and I love being silly… Just as quirky seems to be one of your favorite words, it’s one of mine too. That and funky… I have no idea why. I suppose because they conjure up fun images in my active imagination…
By the way, as a writer, I relate to going to work in pajamas. I often get carried away by my book characters and forget to get dressed. (laughs)
K. Michael Crawford: I love strange words, Betty, and always have. I love words such as inkling, waggish, quirky and tingling. I try to use them as much as I can in my writing and on my answering machine: “Please leave a message and when I have an inkling I will get back to you. Beep!” (childish giggle)
Betty Dravis: Oh, K.M., all the unusual words you use are casting a spell on me; I have to smile when reading your answers to my questions. You are a silly one, but that’s why children everywhere adore you and your work. I also think writers and artists must have fertile imaginations to be good at their craft. Would you believe that my Muse rides a shocking pink Harley, dresses in biker gear–complete with silver studs? She races through my mind, her long, blonde hair trailing two feet behind her as she tosses the most outrageous story ideas my way? (laughs)
But back to you…I read that your first work was with a crayon, K.M… That tells us something about your age at the time, since parents don’t usually give pencils to young children for fear of accidents. Do you remember the subject of your very first drawing and do you still have it? Did your mother post it on your refrigerator with a magnet, as parents do nowadays?
K. Michael Crawford: Ho-ho-ho, Betty. I love your Muse! She sounds quite waggish herself. What silliness is this?
But to answer your question, I don’t ever remember not drawing or using my imagination. Even at a young age, I figured out that every day I could go on a fantastic voyage or a strange adventure just by using my imagination. No batteries, buses or airline tickets required… My parents always gave me creative toys where I had to use my imagination to play with them. To this day, one of my favorite toys is “Incredible Edibles”; they are sort of like Gummy Bears you make yourself. You cook them in this contraption–which will explain my fascination with contraptions –love them–and then you peel them out to eat. They taste horrible, but you have to eat them after you make them. So I would imagine that I was creating some magical potion that could turn you into a toad or a fairy. There goes my mind again off onto something silly. (childish giggle)
I think my mom kept a few of my childhood drawings, but when I was growing up we hung our drawings in our rooms or put them away. Refrigerators were only for keeping stuff to eat and you never left the door open, even if you were just looking for something tasty to snack. You had to figure out what you wanted to eat before you opened the fridge, go in fast, grab it, and then shut the door. Now, if you left the front door open in my house, you were reminded that you didn’t live in a barn; which is funny, because if you left a barn door open, all the animals would get out. Now you know I didn’t grow up in a barn, either. Shucks! That would have been a fun adventure. (childish giggle)
I don’t remember what I liked to draw back then. I have always loved to draw animals, so it was probably animals. Imagine my delight when I realized that you could take parts of different animals to create a mystical creature. We had two family farms where I hung out a lot as a child. By the way, you should never try to ride a dairy cow and if you plan to swing by a rope from the loft and land in a pile of hay, make sure there’s no bees’ nest in the hay. That’s some of the great wisdoms I got as a kid!
My mom kept some of my art from high school and a very funny sketchbook from college, which I have now. When I need a good laugh, I pull them out. No one gets to see them until after I am gone.
Betty Dravis: Oh, making us wait to see the “good” stuff, are you, K.M.? But just where are you planning on going? (laughs) You are cracking me up here… I’ll certainly remember what farm animals not to ride and to look for bees’ nests in any haystack I run across…for sure… (laughs)
By the popularity of your books and illustrations, your fans must be very happy that you did discover using different parts of animals to create those clever characters in your work. It must be very rewarding to see so many of your characters in book form. You create everything from pirates to dragons and I, for one, am enamored with your dragons, especially the purple and pink ones on your website. I can’t help but smile when I see them and all of your charming critters. Where do you get the inspiration for such magical characters?
Before I explain how I go about creating characters, I need to thank Mr. Foley, my ninth-grade English Teacher, and writer Ray Bradbury for helping me to increase my visual creativity. Mr. Foley used to read us Ray Bradbury’s books, all of them, throughout the year. So while he was reading, I was picturing the whole scene in my head. I tried to thank Mr. Foley, but couldn’t find him. I did get the chance to thank Mr. Bradbury in person. To this day, I still picture the illustrated man and how his skin changed pictures when he told a new story.
So here are the basic steps when I create, but not totally guaranteed. Sometimes, I will see someone that needs to be made into a character.
- I see something or someone I like.
- I put an idea to what I like.
- The idea goes in my brain.
- Then I start asking the question, “What if?”
- After I mix it up in my brain blender,
- I let the idea ride my brain roller coaster. Let the idea get thrown around a bit.
- Then I brew it like a wizard’s concoction.
- Finally, after the idea has gone through all of the above and if the idea is still good, it comes spitting out on the page as a bright and multicolor image. If it’s a character, I bring it to life.
Sometimes an idea or character goes in and comes out totally backwards. A funny thing is, you can tell when I am about to go into a very creative spell. I start talking backwards. I say whole sentences backwards. It’s pretty funny to hear. It’s also a good way to find out if someone is listening to what I have to say.
Betty Dravis: Your creative process is quite fascinating, K.M. I can just picture your “waggish” face as you work your magic. You are a laugh a minute. (laughs) And I suppose that “What if?” gets the juices flowing for artists and writers. I often use that when working on my own book plots.
I read something about your work that amused me. Someone asked the question: “What do you get when you cross a purple hippo with a bear?” What’s the answer, K. Michael?
K. Michael Crawford: The answer is: K. Michael Crawford’s work! (childish giggle) By the way, I have dressed up as a blue M&M and a cow for Halloween, but I have never been a purple hippo/bear. Oh, maybe this year I will be… But I have seen one, and thank goodness for that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know how to draw one. I have also seen a bucksnort, but that’s a whole other story.
Betty Dravis: That’s a great riddle, K.M.—and the answer is so-ooo you! You have such a variety of wonderfully outrageous characters on your website that I may have seen a purple hippo/bear, but have no idea what a bucksnort is. (My younger brother’s name is Buck and he gives a pretty mean snort, but I don’t suppose you’re referring to him…) Na-aaa, you haven’t even met him… But seriously, you’ll have to share that bucksnort story with us one day; perhaps in a new book.
You certainly have a sharp sense of humor and a joy for life that comes through in your drawings. Each character is so unique; they look happy, boisterous and filled with life. How do you manage that?
K. Michael Crawford: When I create a character, I sort of feel like Dr. Frankenstein because in order to create a good character that everyone will like I have to bring that character to life. I need to give them personality and attitude –what they like and dislike. Everyone has to want to fall in love with that character and if it’s a villain, they really have to hate him. Dramatic music and a spooky laugh as the good doctor throws the switch… Presto, a new character has come to life! I have a wonderful lab in my basement just for that purpose. No visitors allowed, unless you are willing to donate a brain or something. (childish giggle)
Betty Dravis: K.M., I was going to visit you, but now I’ve changed my mind; no spare brains to donate–even if it is for a good cause: children’s laughter! (laughs)
Seriously, it’s refreshing to meet such a highly regarded artist who can call yourself “silly” and attribute your creativity to that side of your nature. In that way you remind me of Steve “The Woz” Wozniak who good-naturedly calls himself a “geek.” Being a long-time resident of Silicon Valley, I was there when he and Steve Jobs created their first Macintosh. As you might know, The Woz is the brilliant techie who actually invented the first user-friendly computer and Jobs is the charismatic super salesman behind their business success. I’ve always admired “The Woz” because none of the fame-and-fortune went to his head. That tells a lot about him, and your attitude is just as humble as his. What else can you tell us about your attitude towards your work?
K. Michael Crawford: That’s an interesting comparison, Betty. I may have met The Woz in my Frankenstein lab once… (childish giggle) But seriously, when my head gets too big and about to float away, a character will sit on me to keep me in line and grounded, somewhat. Family is also good for keeping you grounded. They remind you of all the embarrassing things you did when you were growing up. If that doesn’t keep you grounded, nothing will. My dad had a big influence on my attitude towards my work. He always told me puns and showed me that life is so much better when you are laughing. Never take yourself too serious and always be the first to remind yourself that you are still human.
My art is my art and how I create it seems normal to me. How I look at things also seems normal…until I see the funny look on someone’s face after they have looked at my art. That’s when I realize that the way I see things and the way I think is not normal.
I can look at any garden and see all kinds of magical creatures running through it. Under my bed lives a whole host of characters that will wake me up at night if I haven’t fed them. In my studio, the whimsical beasts tell me when they need to go out. So I don’t think of what I do as work; it’s just who I am. There is a fine line between my art and myself as a normal person–which has become blurred–and I believe that’s the way it should be with any artist.
Betty Dravis: Well, K.M., too much is made of being “normal,” and I agree with you.
In addition to your fabulous art, you also write children’s books. Did you discover your writing ability at about the same time you began to draw? And which do you enjoy most?
K. Michael Crawford: I have always liked to write, Betty, but I first worked on the art side of creating and then started to focus on the writing side. Here is the funny part: I have had four English teachers throw their hands up at me, saying that I would never learn grammar. Okay, I am the first to admit that grammar doesn’t click with me. I don’t think it ever will… I write like I talk; never mind that when I write I switch tense in mid-sentence. But if there is a will, there is a way! So I hired an editor, Andrew, to proof all my work before it goes anywhere. I have also read that Mark Twain had trouble with grammar and his editor worked his/her magic so his stories could be told. So at least I know I am in good company.
Betty Dravis: I would say that Mark Twain is the best company, K.M., and you’re fortunate to have found a good editor.
Where did you receive your formal art training and what age were you when you sold your first book Timbo and the Butterfly?
K. Michael Crawford: I went to the University of Maryland, College Park and got my degree in Advertising Design. As you can see, that degree worked out well. Actually, it has helped me a lot in children’s books. I only worked in the field for eight years and then went into children’s books. But while I was in college a friend of mine, Steve, suggested that we do a book together. I created Timbo as a character first and then Steve wrote the story to go with the character. Timbo will always be special to me, because he was one of my first characters I created for a children’s book.
Actually, we did three books together. They were the first three books I ever illustrated in this career. We published them to give to family and friends and sold some of them in a local bookstore. The Baltimore Sun even did an article about our books. Right then and there I knew I was hooked and wanted to write and illustrate children’s books for the rest of my life.
Another friend keeps telling me that she is going to make millions from selling one of those first books on eBay. I hope she does! (childish giggle)
I also took illustration classes at Otis-Parsons School of Design, Art Center of Design, American Animation Institute and Associates in Art to learn as much as I could about art and how it worked. I am still learning about art and plan to keep learning until I am done with what I don’t know.
Betty Dravis: That’s interesting how Timbo came to fruition; sounds like a good collaboration with Steve. And you took a lot of courses to enhance your natural talent. I admire your drive for more and more knowledge, K. M.
I recently interviewed you for a Dames of Dialogue internet blog wherein I asked the question: How do you celebrate when either finishing or selling a manuscript? Your answer was clever and humorous, capturing some of the essence of who you are. Please share it with us again, if you don’t mind.
K. Michael Crawford: This is how I answered, Betty, and I enjoyed reading other authors answers too: Once upon a time…there was a magical place with lots of magical characters and some strange folks, but not to worry, I just finished my latest book… First, there will be dancing around the drawing table and a big WAAHOO! heard from coast to coast. Maybe some chomping on some M&Ms and then a little more dancing. Then I realize in my silliness I have a new idea for another book. Well, hi-ho, back to work I go, dreaming up a whole new magical place to put between the pages of a book. So the story goes…and all the magical creatures and strange folks lived happily ever after, once their creator got back to work.
Betty Dravis: What an original and fun way to celebrate, K. M. That’s the attitude I’ve come to admire! I can picture you whistling (or perhaps even yodeling) as you dance a jig and chomp on M&Ms while drawing to your heart’s content. (laughs)
Now tell us, K. M., have you written any adult books? But the big question is: How did you get your first big career boost? I’m eager for you to tell our readers what that “career boost” was. It’s very inspiring to me.
K. Michael Crawford: Well, Betty, one night I was sitting in my lab, lost in my own imagination, when a ringing appeared in the dream. Where was it coming from? Who or what was making that ringing sound? Poof! It was the phone beckoning to be answered. It was Ideal Publishing on the line, asking me to illustrate Chicken Little.
You see, I had been sending out postcards to publishers in order to get work as an illustrator. I sent out one postcard, once a month, to two hundred and some publishers for six months before I got that phone call. Ideal Publishing got one of my postcards and gave me a call. It was so exciting! Up to that point, I had only illustrated for Educational Companies, such as World Almanac and Highsmith. Chicken Little was my first big break!
As for writing for adults, it’s a little hard for me to write for adults when I’m so young at heart. But I have been told that adults love my books. So I guess, in a way, I do write for adults, but I still think my talents and imagination are better suited for children’s books.
Betty Dravis: Well, this is one adult who adores your books, K. M., but back to Chicken Little, I know there have been many versions of it through the years. I read that the author is unknown, so what can you tell us about its history?
K. Michael Crawford: I don’t know who created the original story of Chicken Little, but I had such a great time illustrating that book. The publisher let me go “hog wild” on the illustrations and pretty much gave me free rein to do what I wanted. So when I started to draw, I decided to add my sense of humor. I made Ducky Lucky sitting in a duck blind. (You have to live on the East coast to know what a duck blind is.) Henny Penny decided to grow her own corn. Hey, a girl has got to eat! So does Goosey Loosey, who is fishing beside the lake.
Betty Dravis: You certainly have a heart for your characters, K.M. and your illustrations work for me. I chuckled at the “girls” fishing and growing corn. But we do have duck hunting in California, too… (laughs)
After that incredible, unexpected offer from Ideal Publishing, I heard that you became a hot commodity and have been illustrating “happily ever after.” I understand your works have been distributed throughout the United States and you’ve worked for many big names in the business: Special Olympics, Disney, Warner Brothers Studio, Scholastic and Hanna Barbera, to name a few. Your list of prestigious awards in the field of children’s literature is also impressive. Parents Choice is one I recall and I’m delighted to know one of your latest books–The Mystery of Journeys Crowne–has won a Biblio Best of 2009 Award. That’s another tremendous achievement.
Can you give a brief synopsis of the next book in your Bazel Lark series, The Island of Zadu? I understand it just went to press. Will it also be published by Virtualbookworm.com Publishing? And when is the release date?
K. Michael Crawford: Argh, Matey! The Island of Zadu is a high-sailing sea adventure based on the same idea as The Mystery of Journeys Crowne. The reader has to answer clues to know what to draw on the page. So get your sea legs ready to set sail soon!
Happily Ever Art Publishing is a publishing company I started to publish all of my first-of-their-kind drawing books. Virtualbookworm is handling the printing and distribution of these books. Between creating the books, promoting them and all the other things I have to do these days, I was glad to have someone else distribute and print the books.
Betty, when I lived in Los Angeles, I was very lucky, because I had a friend who did a lot of work for the studios. She hired me to help her with the illustration jobs, so I worked on Magic School Bus video covers, Winnie the Pooh ornaments and Looney Tunes books. That helped me out until I got more of my own illustration work. It also helped me define my style. When you are drawing other people’s characters, you have a chance to see what you want to put in your own work. One of the things you have to do to be a good artist is to determine your own style of art. That comes from how you want to show the world how you see stuff and is very important to defining your style. Painting tons of paintings also helps to create a style. Just as writers need to learn their voice in writing, so do artists in drawing.
Betty Dravis: Wow, K. M.! You’re a human dynamo, like so many of our Dream Reachers. I can’t believe you started your own publishing company too.
As for your Bazel Lark series, there’s a story behind why you wrote them. Please clue us in.
K. Michael Crawford: At the time I came up with the idea, I was teaching kids Comic Book Art. When I first started teaching kids, in a class of fifteen students I would only have to help jump-start the imagination of about three kids. As the years went on, it got to be more and more kids who needed help. I decided to create special books to help kids learn to use their imagination all their lives. Kids who use their imagination have an easier time making the right choices for themselves and can see all the possibilities that life has to offer. If anything, using your imagination teaches you to believe in yourself, because it teaches you to believe.
Once I had a student who didn’t believe in all those make-believe things: dragons, tooth fairies, aliens and such. I made a deal with him; I told him that by the end of the classes I would get him to believe. I didn’t say what I was going to get him to believe, but if he didn’t believe by the last class I would owe him a treat. So the last day of class, he came up to me and said, “Well, you owe me a treat because I still don’t believe.” I looked at him and said, “Oh yes, I did get you to believe.” He gave me a quizzical look. “What did you get me to believe?” With a smile on my face, I replied, “In yourself…” His mouth dropped open and he then said, “Yes, you did!”
Betty Dravis: Well, K.M., if there’s anyone who can make kids believe, it’s you with your magical pen and writings. That must be a wonderful feeling.
Now that we’ve talked about your series, tell us about another recent work, Batty Malgoony’s Mystic Carnivale. That’s a clever name, by the way… Since my name is Betty, I’ve been called Batty a few times, as you might imagine. (laughs) So I can relate to Batty. Please tell us a little bit about this appealing character.
K. Michael Crawford: Ray Bradbury’s book, Something Wicked This Way Comes, has always stuck with me from the first time I read it as a child. Besides, I love carnivals, fairs and circuses. So what better way to use the quirky side of my character than to create a book; like instead of a cow catcher on the train, I put a cow.
Batty lives in Wicked Springs, Wyoming when he is not traveling with his Carnivale. I would tell you to stop by for a visit, but he might make you into one of his acts. He’s very good at recruiting new people. He is still trying to get me to walk the high-wire, while being an all-person band. He is just your basic quirky and waggish character that I hope kids will like.
Betty Dravis: A cow on a train instead of a cowcatcher! You’re too much, K.M.! (laughs) And thanks for the information about Batty.
Speaking of children, you must receive a lot of input from them about your works. K.M., can you think of any funny things kids or their parents have asked you? And what advice do you give people who want to be artists?
K. Michael Crawford: Yes, Betty, when I do presentations, the kids do say the funniest things to me. I ask them to help me create the character we are drawing and they start telling me that their mother was sick all night and slept on the bathroom floor. I think they are supposed to tell me those things so that I can use pieces of their tales in my art. There’s always been something about my personality where kids feel it’s okay to tell me all kinds of things about their lives and families. I have yet to meet a normal family or person, so that shows that the quirky art I create is not so out there.
As for advice, Betty, when I’m talking to a future artist or writer, I always tell them one thing: Eat your vegetables! No, really, I tell them to always follow your heart, because it will never steer you wrong. Do what you love, love what you do and never give up on reaching for your dream. You can be anything you want. Sometimes it takes a little hard work and elbow grease, but you will get there. Funny thing is, sometimes we get there and don’t realize it.
Betty Dravis: Great advice, K.M., and I, too, know many people who have “arrived” and don’t realize it. Life is strange…
I know you’ve created dozens of awesome characters, but do you have a very favorite? Do children seem to favor one over all others?
K. Michael Crawford: I love them all or I would not have created them. The ones I don’t like end up in the round file next to my drawing table. Once I learned that I not only need to create the characters, but I also need to bring them to life, I learned to create the kinds of characters that fit with my art and style. I gave them personalities, likes and dislikes… Most of the time, I already have them created in my head before I even put pencil to paper. Kids are the first to tell me whether they like a character or not. They don’t hold back on me.
Betty Dravis: From your vast menagerie of fanciful critters, K.M., I would have a hard time selecting a favorite, also.
When, in an earlier communication, I asked what the initial K stands for in your name, you said you liked keeping your private life separate from your art. I respect your privacy, but can you tell us a little about your home state and what you like to do in your spare time. I understand that Maurice Noble, a Disney animator, once told you that if you want your work to be 3-D then you need to have a 3-D life. What did he mean by that and what have you done to follow his advice?
K. Michael Crawford: The “K” stands for Kalamazoo or Kentucky. It could be Kakapo or Kangaroo. I prefer Karakul. It just depends on what mood I am in on that day. That’s the nice thing about an Initial; it can be anything you want.
I live in Maryland at the present time, but that can change at any time. I have been known to pack up and move somewhere else at a moment’s notice. There are too many wonderful places to live in the world. Why just live in one? I am hoping that the Queen asks me to come and visit with her for a bit. I drink tea, so I would fit right in. I would be more than willing to bring the crumpets. (childish giggle)
Maryland is known as “Little USA” because it has a little bit of everything; there are mountains, oceans and a bay. There are cows, deer and creatures of the forests. There are tall people and some of them are short. We had Edgar Allan Poe for a short bit, so should I say more?
When I am not doing my art, I am usually off on an adventure to get more stuff to use in my art. I have the most unusual adventures–par for my life–and I see the most wonderful things just by taking the road less traveled. (Sidebar: If I see a road I have never been on, I will turn and go down that road just to see what is there. It drives the people riding in my car crazy, but they wind up having the most fun). I try to see all kinds of things and have all kinds of experiences, so that I have a broad perspective. I visit museums, parks, gardens, and the strangest attractions. Yes, if I drove by the largest ball of yarn I would stop in and see it. That was what Maurice Noble was talking about. The more experiences you have, the more you can put in your art.
I have been known to spread a little wackiness in kids’ lives by teaching them how to draw. I think that they mostly teach me… Do you know that every time a fly lands it throws up? That puts a whole new meaning on a picnic. I don’t know if I have been on one since I learned that tidbit.
I also enjoy sailing and have had a few adventures on the high seas as well. I would like to recommend that it’s best not to sail during thunderstorms or snowstorms. Been there! Frosted eyelashes are not fun. Wait–I think I hear a new adventure calling me now. Off I go!
Betty Dravis: Karakul Michael! That’s not too catchy, so I think I’ll stick with K.M. (laughs)
Hang with me a little longer before you go dashing off… I’m almost finished and am curious to know if you have had any mentors and what children’s writers and illustrators you admire most.
Another illustrator who awes me, though, is Sarah Davis of Australia. Sarah began illustrating for children in 2007 and was awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2009 Crichton Award for her first picture book, Mending Lucille, by J.R. Poulter (Lothian/Hachette Livre) which was released in 2008. In 2009 she illustrated several other books (Harper Collins/Random House/Scholastic). And another book that Sarah illustrated, Fearless by well-known English/Australian children’s book author Colin Thompson, has been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year award. I must say that’s very impressive for such a short time in your business. She’s the daughter-in-law of my closest friend, Linda Bulger of New York, and I’m wondering if you’ve heard of Sarah yet.
K. Michael Crawford: I am sorry to say that I haven’t heard of Sarah Davis, but lately I have been really bad about keeping up with all the wonderful authors and illustrators out there. It’s amazing to me all the talent I’m part of as a children’s book author and illustrator. It’s just incredible.
And did you know that only five percent of the world’s population is in the arts? That’s a lot of entertaining, dancing, acting, singing, designing, writing and creating we have to do for the rest of the world. I guess I better get back to work, so that I contribute my share.
As for mentors, there are so many people that have left their mark on me and what I create that it would take days to list them all. Two of the major ones are L. Frank Baum and Ray Bradbury. For artists, I would say a lot of the masters and illustrators whose work I have enjoyed. The illustrators I like the most have found a way to create energy in the lines they put on paper. That’s not an easy thing to do.
My inspiration comes from lots of different things. It can come from people I see out and about, or it can come from something someone does. You do have to be careful around me; I don’t miss a trick and lots of things I see out in the world go into my work.
I was once asked if you could mirror the career of any other author, who would it be and why? I answered that I was having too much fun writing my own life story to want to mirror someone else’s life. But there are a few authors I would want to have their royalties sent to me.
Betty Dravis: Oh, yeah, K.M., I wouldn’t mind having just one percent of Stephen King’s royalties. (laughs) As for being careful around you, I’m not a very cautious person, but thanks for the warning… On second thought, though, I’d enjoy being the subject of one of your projects.
This seems like a good place to toss this question into the mix: If you could spend the day with anyone (living or dead) who would you choose and why?
K. Michael Crawford: There are three people I would like to spend a few days with and I would like to create one book with them. Those three would be Leonardo de Vinci, Walt Disney (although I heard that he could be a little cranky sometimes) and Dr. Seuss. I could see it now! The Lorax would learn to fly up in the sky and the Butter Battle Bunch would ride a wooden bike or maybe take a hike with Bazel and Batty in the happiest place on earth. Dr. Seuss taught me to read, Walt Disney got me to see the magic and Leonardo de Vinci taught me to dream.
Betty Dravis: K.M., it blows my mind to think what you four brainiacs could concoct together! What a mind-boggling thought! (laughs) But what are you currently working on and what do you hope for your writing career in the next few years? Any goals that you have yet to reach?
K. Michael Crawford: I just finished my latest book called The Island of Zadu. It just went to the printer. It’s the next book in the Bazel Lark series. The Mystery of Journeys Crowne is the first one. Thanks for mentioning those above.
I am also planning to get back on a funny book I started last fall: Professor Horton Hogwash’s Museum of Ridiculous. Believe me when I say it will be ridiculous. I called it that so I could learn how to spell the word ridiculous. I am still learning that one; thank goodness for spell check. One of the rules in the book is, “Never, ever pick your nose’s friends” just to give you an idea. The reader/artist is asked to fill in all of the museum’s collection and treasures in the book and each room has a theme the reader must follow. The sillier things they draw on each page, the better.
I have ideas for at least six more books after Horton’s book, but my big dream is to build a magical place/park where kids can come to use their imagination in real life. I haven’t worked out the details yet, but I have a whole notebook of ideas.
I think if I stop dreaming, you might as well put me in the ground, feet pointing up. I hear the strangest things sometimes: If a person is buried with their feet pointing down it means they weren’t a good person in life. I was in the middle of a cemetery when I heard that one, so it was okay if I heard it. Somehow, someday, that bit of information will show itself in one of my paintings. It always does…
Betty Dravis: From viewing what you’ve already created, K.M., I’m certainly happy to know that we can expect much more from you. That theme park is a grand idea. Please let us know when it happens.
And congratulations on the start of production on your Island book… I hope the series becomes a best-seller like most of your books. I bet you had another celebratory dance, didn’t you, K.M.? But before leaving, let’s repeat your website link, and add your Facebook link: www.happilyeverart.com/
K. Michael Crawford: Thank you, Betty, for adding those links. This has been fun and I hope silly to read… But while we are at it, let’s everyone get up and do that good celebratory dance together. It’s always good to dance your way through life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Betty Dravis: It’s our pleasure, K. M. You’re a lot of fun…
Your website is pretty comprehensive, but if you have other links, feel free to add them. This is also the place to mention anything you would like to add to this interview; anything important to you. Oops, I forgot to mention that you also sell some of your art on your website. I would love to have one of your drawings on my office wall, so I’ll be in touch on that. Details are found under PRINTS on your website. I’m wondering if you also sell any of your colored drawings, like the pink dragon.
K. Michael Crawford: Hold the presses, Betty! Batty just sent a Carnivale clown over with another bit of great, waggish news: Nancy Allen’s book that I illustrated, Trouble in Troublesome Creek, was selected to represent the state of Kentucky at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. this fall 2010.
Betty Dravis: Another honor, K. M.—that’s awesome! Congratulations, but I’m too tired for another dance. I fear you would keep me dancing till the cows come home. (laughs)
That makes us all want your art work even more, so tell us whether that’s possible?
K. Michael Crawford: I’m still floating in nether space about that honor, Betty, so I’ll dance later…in private. (childish giggle)
It’s funny that you wondered about buying my art, because recently I decided to send more of my children (paintings and artwork) out into the world because I’m running out of room to keep them. I am always interested in finding good homes for my art and there is no application to fill out or waiting period to get some. I even do commission work… If anyone is interested in buying from the gallery section of my website, they can contact me there. I don’t even charge an arm or a leg.
I am a little less willing to sell the original art from a book that I have illustrated because someday the publisher or printer might need the art again. It would be funny to me if someone hung an illustration from Bazel’s or Batty’s book. It would look like an incomplete painting, but who knows? I have seen incomplete paintings in museums.
I also have videos on youtube.com for my books. They are silly videos I created to promote my work. One person told me they were going to have trouble sleeping after they watched Batty’s video. (childish giggle) I have a new video that I will be adding soon that will promote only my art.
I think I might do what James Patterson does when he advertises one of his new books. He clearly states that he is going to kill off one of his characters if you don’t buy his book. Well, I am going to start saying that I am going to send one of my monsters to live with you if you don’t buy one of my books. They will eat you out of house and home, while making a mess in every room. They don’t smell too good, either. Just imagine trying to sleep while one of my monsters is under your bed, belching the alphabet song. You are also going to pay for postage when I send you the monster. Imagine the cost of postage for a two hundred pound monster? It would be so much easier just to buy my books.
Betty Dravis: You are baaaaaaaaaad, K. M. That is too funny. (laughs)
I hate to leave the fun and games, but thanks for becoming a part of our growing list of Dream Reachers. You are in good company and my co-author Chase Von and I are happy to have you in our rather exclusive “club.” Like the subjects of our other interviews, you dream big and have stretched to reach your dreams. I really enjoyed getting to know more about you and wish you best of luck with all your future projects. Your journey through life is an inspiring adventure.
K. Michael Crawford: Thank you for all your wonderful comments about my work. It’s always nice to hear that someone else is enjoying my silly art and quirky books. I don’t even want to think about not being able to pick my nose’s friends or sail to mysterious islands. Those who like my art and books allow me to keep creating those adventures.
I want to also thank you for letting me be a part of Dream Reachers and perhaps, you’ll invite me to visit again when you are ready for some more silliness. I will put out the tea and crumpets and we can sit a spell chewing the art. My art comes in flavors… (childish giggle)