Thursday, November 06, 2008

In the Coop with Marty Kelly

Sometimes authors and illustrators sneak up on us. It's not nice, really. They tend to be so big and wear pointy shoes. Little chicks like us don't stand a chance. And yet, it happens all the time. Most recently, it happened with author/illustrator Marty Kelly. Somehow, we had not noticed this funny guy sneaking up behind us with all his funny books and then BAM! He pops out his latest title, TWELVE TERRIBLE THINGS and gets us smack on our feathery heads.

We loved this funny book which relies almost entirely on illustrations to deliver its punch. Try to think of the most mortifying things you tried to avoid in your childhood and you're sure to come up with at least one of scenes from TWELVE TERRIBLE THINGS. From the terrifying great-aunt out to pinch your cheeks to the view from atop the high dive, they are all here.

Our personal favorite is the clown scene. Frequent readers of our interviews will understand why.

Like this spread, some of these jokes might zoom past very young readers (and that might be a good thing), but 2nd and 3rd graders will snort with laughter.

Tricycle Press
ISBN: 978158246229

Okay, so we invited sneaky Mr. Kelly to drop by the coop and tell us a little about himself. Here's what we learned:

When you create a book, do the pictures or story come to you first?

I usually work on the words first, but the pictures are always there, lurking in the back of my head. There have been a few books where I’ve done the words and pictures at the same time, but that’s not typical for me.

How do you know when what you write is funny?

First, it has to make me laugh. When I’m writing, I really write for myself. I know I’m on the right track if I can actually make my wife laugh, though. She’s really tough. Here is my secret testing procedure: I give my wife a glass of milk and ask her to drink it while I read my story out loud. If at any point during the reading, milk sprays out of her nose, I know I’ve got a funny story.

Do you have any tips for creating funny books?

Don’t do it. It just makes more competition for me. Go find another job. Seriously. You have millions of choices. Go be a chicken rancher. Go be a jelly doughnut filler. Go be a test subject for experimental medical procedures. You can be anything you want to be; except a writer and illustrator.

How does being a former 2nd grade teacher affect your work?

I actually prefer the term “Recovering Second Grade Teacher”. Teaching taught me that kids have highly developed senses of humor. The secret is to write about boogers or underpants exclusively. My next book is tentatively titled “Underpants with Boogers in Them”. Okay, that’s not exactly true. Kids like stories that are funny or exciting or irreverent. My trouble is not relating to kids; it’s relating to adults who have lost touch with what kids actually enjoy.

Has being funny ever gotten you into or out of trouble?

Yes. It seems that lots of people don’t share my opinion that almost everything is funny. Start laughing in the middle of a teacher staff meeting when the principal is talking seriously about the toilets in the boys’ room being unflushed and you’ll see what I mean.

Who are some of your favorite funny authors?

Oh, there are so many… For my own reading, I love Christopher Moore; PG Wodehouse; Chuck Palahniuk; David Sedaris and William Goldman. For kid’s books I love Roald Dahl, William Steig and Barbara Parks.

Do you prefer The Marx Bros or Three Stooges?

This is a deep, profound question. The Marx Brothers are very clever and witty, but watching Curly get whacked on the head with a monkey wrench is high art. And, seriously, is there anything more delightful to watch than a big ol’ pie fight? I’ll definitely have to go with The Stooges. But not with Joe or Curly Joe.

What was your best Halloween costume ever?

When I was in second grade I got this amazingly cool Star Wars Stormtrooper costume, complete with the flimsy plastic outfit and the stiff plastic mask that makes your lips all clammy and damp when you breathe in it. I loved that thing. I wore it for months. If it still fit, I would wear it every day.

What is your Dream Job for a Day?

As if what I do isn’t cool enough… I would be a drummer for Frank Zappa’s 1978 touring band, or James Brown, or AC/DC.

Clown V. Mime Deathmatch.? Pick your winner.

The way I see it, and believe me, I would give a kidney to see this, the clown will win. He will wait until the mime goes into an invisible box, then he’ll lock the door. Then he’ll get on a circus elephant’s back and make it sit on the mime.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet??

Actually, in my fairly limited experience with dead people, I’ve found that they are actually not very funny. Sure, you can dress them up in party hats or put a kick me sign on them, but they are only marginally amusing at best. Plus, they have a peculiar odor about them that is not at all funny.

Future projects?

I just finished writing a chapter book and I’m waiting to hear what the publisher thinks of it. It was a lot of fun to work on and I’d love to do more of those. I'm also working on a CD with my friend Steve Blunt, a great children's musician. I play drums and generally act ridiculous. Beyond that, I’m still working on my plans for total world domination. Stay tuned for more details (and start getting used to the expression “All Hail Marty”).


shelburns said...

I love this book! I was fortunate enough to get to review it for Jill over at The Well Read Child. See the review here

Lindsay said...

Would love to check out this book! Funny books are so fun to read with kids!

jama said...

Loved the interview. Going to have to check out this book, even if Mr. Kelly is sneaky.