Author-illustrator Zachariah OHora visits 7-Imp today to talk about his newest picture book, My Cousin Momo (Dial, June 2015). Momo is a flying squirrel, and he throws his cousins for a loop when he visits and does things his own way. You know, we all have a cousin like that (thank goodness, because normal people worry me). It’s a story about family and acceptance and embracing your inherent weirdness, and it’s very funny. OHora has a style all his own, and you can see that for yourself below in the art he shares. He also shares some preliminary images, which are always fun to see.
Let’s get right to it. …
Zachariah: In looking back in my folders, I have over 17 fully sketched-out dummies of Momo. I was working with Nancy Conescu at the time, and we just went down a writing rabbit hole—in part, because it was hard to parse what the book was all about. In the beginning, it was about Momo being such a weirdo but saving the day by becoming a human (?) kite in a contest after he ruins the cousins’ chances of winning. Ultimately, and with a lot of help from Nami Tripathi, the story became more about acceptance and lowering one’s expectations. Or maybe adjusting one’s expectation of other people and realizing they are great, even if it’s different than who you are or what you are projecting onto them.
These are a few of my favorite spreads:
The treehouse was a lot of fun to paint. It gave me a good excuse to troll for treehouse pictures on the internet, a wonderful way for me to waste an amazing amount of time. I even saved a few pictures just to stare at them once in a while and pretend I live in one. How fun would it be to live here?
I loved making this spread [below], because Momo is so dejected about having to fly on command, despite the fact that he has the whole neighbor-wood cheering him on. And since this is a semi-modern tale, there’s always that chipmunk with a video camera waiting to load it up to YouTube or sell it to TMZ.
Acorn-Pong. This game also had varying degrees of importance depending on the dummy/draft version. This one still makes me smile, especially the little sister’s frustration, which is straight out of Schulz’s Peanuts, except they’re acorns.
In all my books, I put in lots of personal jokes. And I usually do one or two that are also sly references to Frank Zappa. There’s a great Zappa/Captain Beefheart song called “Muffin Man” that I always loved. As it happens, Zappa was riffing off an old nursery rhyme from England, so it kind of comes full-circle here. The muffin theme is from a different version of the book, where Momo makes the best muffins ever. Somehow that turned into the Muffin Man. Here’s a link to the Zappa song if you are so inclined:
Here are a couple old thumbnails and sketches. This is a version pretty close to the final art.
Early on, Momo was going to win a kite contest for the cousins by flying as the kite. This is the moment when they see him win the contest and fly for the first time:
Early on, the cousins tried everything they could to trick or coerce Momo into flying.
Some early thumbs on mini Post-its:
Here are the first two drawings of Momo. On the left is a mini book cover, and on the right is the very first drawing of Momo, a Valentine for my wife Lydia.
Here is an early cover concept:
The final cover:
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MY COUSIN MOMO. Copyright © 2015 by Zachariah OHora. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin, New York. Illustrations used by permission of Zacharian OHora.
Julie Davidson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at her acclaimed blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books. The above blog was posted at 7-Imp on September 30, 2015.