SOUP’S ON: Jackie Urbanovic in the Kitchen (Part 1)!

                     DUCK SOUP by Jackie Urbanovic 
                (HarperCollins, 2008), ages 4-8, 32 pp.

 Quello, everyone! 

 Please help me welcome Maxwell the duck and his creator, Jackie Urbanovic, to alphabet soup!

Jackie is the New York Times bestselling author/illustrator of Duck at the Door (HarperCollins, 2007), and its brand new sequel,Duck Soup, which was just released January 8th. She and Max are quacking to us live today from their home in Silver Spring, Maryland, where Jackie creates children’s books and runs her own business, Jackie Urbanovic Illustration. Yes, she’s a very busy woman, but she’s living out her childhood dreams. What could be better than that?      
Today we’re serving up Part 1 of our interview with Jackie. She’s got so many juicy tidbits to share, we thought, well shoot! Why not make it a two course meal and celebrate in style? I know you’re hungry, so let’s dig in.

Welcome to alphabet soup, Jackie! Congratulations on the release of Duck Soup, which is absolutely hilarious. I just have to ask, how did you get to be so funny?

I blame it all on my family! They love to laugh! They have always been practical jokers and storytellers. My grandfather would sit on the porch and tell stories. His stories were so compelling that no one minded that he was telling them in Lithuanian! I was a very shy and quiet child, myself. But I LOVED my family’s stories and I loved laughing and I wanted to be the one to make people laugh .  . . but I wasn’t brave enough to try — at least not out loud. So I listened and enjoyed and eventually began telling my stories on paper with my drawings. My mother also loved old movies and introduced me to the Marx Brothers, the Bowery Boys, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and other comedians of the time. We all also loved Betty Boop, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and other cartoons.

Duck Soup is the second picture book you’ve both written and illustrated. I’m so impressed with how you created the perfect comic sequence with your words and pictures. Does writing come as naturally to you as illustrating?

Thank you for the compliment on my timing. I’m sure that comes from all the animations and sitcoms I’ve watched as well as the comics I’ve read. I’ve also studied animators’ drawings and movement sequences. It’s always been important to me to get just the right expression on each character and to have a sense of motion even in a still image.

from DON’T SQUEAL UNLESS IT’S A BIG DEAL by Jeanie Franz Ransom, pictures by
Jackie Urbanovic (Magination Press, 2005).
As far as my writing goes, it wasn’t until the last few years that I would have called myself an author as well as an illustrator, but I’ve always used words with my pictures even when I was a child. About 12 years ago, I consciously decided to study writing for children with Jane Resh Thomas, and I spent 3 years in her writing group — an invaluable experience. It was after studying with her that I began to think of myself as an author as well.

While drawing comes more easily to me than the writing, it wasn’t always that way. It took me years of learning and practicing for it to become easy . . . and while I’ve used words all my life, they were always secondary to pictures until recently, so I haven’t had quite as much time to practice with them yet. There are moments when it all falls together with amazing ease and moments when I feel like I’m wrestling with an octopus — like I’m untangling and rearranging a complex puzzle. But it is always entertaining. Figuring out how the words, pictures and ideas fit together is the most exciting part of the process for me. I tinker — destroy, rearrange, revise, and recreate. I go back and forth between words and pictures until I’ve managed to weave them together so well that neither of them makes sense by themselves.

How long was the journey to publication for the first book about Max, Duck at the Door?

Duck at the Door was my first book as an author/illustrator. I started it in Jane Resh Thomas’ writing group. It went through dozens of revisions. It took me 10 years to finish that one, although I wasn’t working on it daily. Sometimes I’d put it aside for as much as a year. I also worked on other stories at the same time that eventually fell by the wayside. That entire period of time was one of intense learning. Once I felt I had taken it as far as I could, I sent it to a literary agent who I’d been in contact with for years. We began working together beginning with that book.

              DUCK AT THE DOOR by Jackie Urbanovic
                  (HarperCollins, 2007), ages 4-8, 32 pp.

You’ve said that all the animal characters are based on real rescued animals either you or your friends have lived with. Who is the model for Max? Why did you give him an interest in cooking?

The original inspiration for the story was someone I met who lived with a houseful of dogs, cats, and rabbits she had rescued. So, not only are some of the fictional animals based on her pets, but the "mom" of the house, Irene, is inspired by her. The only character that I didn’t know in real life was Max. I’d never known anyone who had lived with a duck. So, his appearance came from my imagination, his name came from my friend, Max Haynes (also a writer and illustrator), and his personality came from my dear friend, Susan Dreiband. She is one of the most playful and mischievous people I know. I borrowed her playfulness, creativity, curiosity, big heart, and her ability to befriend anyone for Max. To all that I added my love of cooking and experimenting with food. I love food — buying it, creating it, sharing it, the politics and culture of it. And I’ve always been tickled by pretentious chefs and cooking shows.

How did you come up with the storyline for Duck Soup?

The storyline came to me in bed, of all places. I was unable to fall asleep one night and I was bored. So, I started telling myself a story about Max and his cooking. This was one of those times that it all came together easily. I wrote down the first draft of the story the next day.

Tell us more about your childhood. Any other artists in your family? Who or what influenced you the most?

I grew up in the country on the shores of Lake Erie. I spent a lot of time alone reading or watching movies. I had a stack of comics and I loved visiting the bookmobile. I also drew pictures for fun from the time I was 3 or 4 years old. And, of course, I loved to swim — especially with my siblings and cousins. My family was not only humorous, they were also creative. My dad could build just about anything, and my mom was a creative and wonderful cook and gardener. My sister played guitar and enjoyed art and several of my cousins are talented artists, even though it’s not the way they chose to make a living.

Who influences me the most? Your entire life exerts an influence on what you create — the people you know best, the hardships and joys, the movies and books you prefer, etc. So, it’s hard to narrow it all down; there are so many influences to credit. Teachers, artists, friends and family have all influenced my work. My love of animals is one of the most distinct influences and that comes directly from my family.

What is the most unusual job you’ve done so far, other than children’s book illustration?

Probably the most unusual was becoming an entrepreneur! It’s been the most exciting and most daunting thing I’ve ever done. It’s been the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Next to THAT, the most unusual job I ever took was to illustrate a bus. A real life-sized city bus. I didn’t actually get to paint the bus myself, but I had a template and I had to design the space so that the art would fit over and around the windows and doors. I enjoyed the idea of my illustrations tootling back and forth on the streets of Chicago.

What inspires you? 

I’m inspired by dozens of things big and small: my friends, the idea of time travel, a funny sentence, a memory, my dogs and cat, bravery, creativity, the ability to transform difficulties into something good, novels, comic books, picture books, movies, strangers I see on the street, daydreams. Inspiration comes from everywhere.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the third Max the duck book, Duck and Cover (January 2009). This time a new animal shows up at the door seeking refuge: an alligator named Harold. He causes quite a stir, because, while they all want to help him, they’re not sure what to do with him because they don’t feel totally safe themselves!  I also just finished illustrating a hysterical picture book for Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, titled, Glamsters. It’ll be out this fall.

from DUCK AND COVER                       Coming this Fall!


Describe yourself in 5 words:

Storyteller, time traveler, playful, caring, creative.

5 highlights of your career so far:

Doing what I love to do for a living.
Becoming a published author as well as illustrator.
Finding my agent.
Making the New York Times Bestseller list.
Making my editor, librarians, and lots of kids laugh (my childhood dream).

Passions besides art and writing:

Collecting antique toys (especially Cracker Jack toys), collecting books and graphic novels, swimming, bicycling, cooking, eating locally, animal rights, art museums, talking to other artists, being with friends.

Favorite books/authors:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Stupids by James Marshall
The Children of Green Knowe (entire series) by Lucy Boston
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Emily and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell
Blind Mountain by Jane Resh Thomas
Cheaper by the Dozen by Gilbreth and Carey
Time and Again by Jack Finney
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (entire series) by Laurie King
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
The Stargazer by Jack London
Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Favorite Artists:

Ben Shahn, Alexander Calder, Julie Taymor, Quimetta Perle, Peter DeSeve, Garrison Keillor, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Linda Barry, Ohara Koson, Kawanabe Kyosai, Quentin Blake, Dave McKean, Walt Kelly, Grant Wood, Nick Park, Pixar Studios, Sylvain Chomet and many more  . . .

Tomorrow: The Quack Comes Back!  

In Part 2 of our interview, Jackie will show us how she makes her pictures, and we’ll learn more about her comic strip, Maggie, Inc. You won’t want to miss the all important food questions, either, and Jackie’s special recipe! See you then!

Jackie’s website!

**All spreads posted by permission, © 2008 Jackie Urbanovic, All Rights Reserved.