Kidlit County


I’m gay. It took me a very long and sometime perilous journey to be able to say that out loud and with pride. It’s taken me a long time to say I love myself. I like who I am. These are things I couldn’t say when I was 14.

I am trying to remember the first time someone called me a faggot. It’s happened so many times that I can’t pinpoint when it started. It still hurts. The best revenge I’ve come up with is to make a book about being a faggot, and how it’s nothing to be ashamed about. How being a faggot is a beautiful thing. How being gay and colored and fat isn’t ugly. I want all the little faggots out there to know they are loved and to wear their faggotry like a crown. We are kweens after all. We are not dirty. And we are not sinners for being gay. We sin when we believe the lies that are perpetuated against us. We sin when we apologize for being here. I sinned when I didn’t want to give myself a chance because I didn’t think I was worth anything. This story is my penance and my redemption.

Today my book, FLAMER, is in the world for you. It is gay. And I am proud of it.

If I were in a more sales & marketing sort of mood, I would give you a synopsis right now and talk about the process of making this book. But there are already plenty of great interviews that can fill you in. My elevator pitch and art nerd street cred feel inconsequential in comparison to what I want to share with you here.

Children are killing themselves. Because they think they are unlovable. Because they think this world is not for them. Because they are afraid that if they don’t kill themselves, someone else will. I was a child like that. But I chose to stay. And I would like to ask my sweet, beautiful, worthy fellow flamers to stay. Stay here with me. We can see what happens. It won’t all be good. But there is more good in the world than you know. Sometimes life pulls a reveal. What gay person doesn’t love a plot twist?

FLAMER is a lot of things. Flamer is me going in deep. Deep into the pain. Snapping old broken bones into place and learning to stand up on them. I feel strong now. I want to give that strength to others.

FLAMER is fiction. But it’s also real. This is real life. This is what some people go through. Real life is violent and crass and funny and treacherous and shockingly hopeful. Flamer is me living. Flamer is me encouraging people to find a way to live. Your life doesn’t have to be lived on anyone else’s terms but your own.

You’re enough, kid. You are enough.


Join me tonight at 7:30PM EST for a launch event with Jarrett J Krosoczka (Hey, Kiddo). You will received a signed book and an art print via Brookline Booksmith


Illustration Station, Kidlit County

Art Notes: All the Way to Havana

I hand-lettered the title and added texture to the wall.

Hello dear readers. A few weeks ago, I posted about the release  of All the Way to Havana, written by Margarita Enlge. While I was waxing poetic about my experience researching the book, I neglected to talk about how I actually illustrated it. So, I’d like to clarify the process with this brief bonus post.

For my Little Elliot books, I work in pencil on paper and color digitally. It’s a tightly rendered style that showcases a nostalgic (if not a bit “polished”) Old New York. While this style works well for these books, I felt that the same treatment would not translate well to All the Way to Havana without a few adjustments.

drawing for the Malecón spread

Usually, I work to size. That means that the drawing I make is the same size as it is printed in the book. For Havana, I chose to work really large. A double page spread from this book measures about 36” wide on average. This allowed for more looseness in my pencil stroke and allowed me to capture more movement in the drawings. These drawings rely on a thick pencil stroke, so instead of using my usual fine pointed 2B graphite mechanical pencil, I mostly used a 4B ebony pencil (and sometimes switched to the finer point for some details).

detail of wall, sidewalk, and pavement textures

distressed wood and rust can be found on any street corner

Though it is unfortunate that Cuba suffers economically, which prevents everyday maintenance and development, the result is a rich patina that has formed over Cuba’s surfaces: worn wood, chipped paint, rusted metal, gravel and soil. There’s a zen beauty to it all. I felt it was imperative to represent these textures in the illustrations. However, I wanted to keep my line somewhat loose while keeping the textures tight. So, I decided to use textures from the photographs I took in Cuba, and overlay them onto my drawings in Photoshop. 


detail of The Gran Teatro de La Habana

Another choice I made, to push the mixed media style even further, was to introduce different art media in addition to the photographs. All the vegetation throughout the book is painted in acrylic. Dirt is photographic and/or paint mixed with pumice. Water is painted in watercolor. The book, like one of Cuba’s antique cars, is an amalgamation of different parts.

a watercolor sea, a pup & pumice, and a painted palm

photographic textures enhance the walls and roads

Illustration Station

How to Kill Your Babies

I’ve got bad news for you. The beautiful baby that you gave birth to, loved, and nurtured, has grown into a monster. It must be stopped, and only YOU can stop it. I am of course speaking about the picture book that you’re working on, specifically the beautiful chrome car bumper you just drew, or the building facade that took you 5 hours to ink, or the cherry blossom tree that you spent 2 days painting (how can you mess up a tree, right?). Well, you’ve been missing the big picture. Literally. Take a nice step back and look at your entire composition. You see it now, don’t you? That bumper is actually not supposed to be shaped that way. The turret that you painstakingly drew each shingle on is out of perspective! And that cherry blossom tree is somehow crooked (but it’s a TREE!). I can see you mouthing that involuntary expletive. Go ahead, let it out, because this is going to suck. You are going to have to kill your baby.


Geez man, let it GO!

I know what you’re thinking, “SCREW YOU, MAN! This is the best bumper I’ve ever drawn!” I hear you, because I just drew the best bumper I’ve ever drawn, and it was not shaped the way it is in real life (let’s blame the tricky chrome reflections in my reference!). But guess what? That crazed automobile collector who is going to buy my book because they know every minute detail about ’54 Chevys IS going to see that the bumper is inaccurate, and she WILL email me to complain about it (and maybe even give it a menacing review). AND, that’s on ME. If I’m making a book about cars, and I blatantly disregard the details that are going to make car enthusiasts swoon, then I’m not doing my job, and I’ve lost my credibility.

the bumper in question

the bumper in question–I also forgot the keyhole!!!

It’s not just about being technically accurate. You could be working in a completely abstract style that excuses you from lots of formal “art rules.” The fact remains: if there is something in your composition that is calling too much attention to itself in a way that has nothing to do with the plot, you’ve just pulled your reader out of the story! This is the LAST thing you want to happen. No bumper is that precious.


This can be applied to writing, illustrating, and all other creative endeavors.

Don’t cry yet. Do the job first, mourn later. It will be easier for both of you this way. You’ll erase the best bumper you’ve ever drawn, but you’ll save the rest of the drawing you’ve made. Plus, you just proved you can draw an amazing bumper, so why can’t you draw it again? Your drawing is going to be stronger because of this.

Whnicetryo knew erasers could look so threatening? Pick it up. Erase the bumper. Draw a better one.

Here’s a gentle reminder, friends: It’s probably not THE best drawing or painting EVER made in the HISTORY of Art, right? If you put it next to the Mona Lisa, would she turn to look at it and be all, “OH, DAYUMN!” I didn’t think so.

Take heart. Your baby will return, maybe not specifically as a car bumper, but as a really amazing overall piece that you can be proud of!

Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

BEA 2014: A TOTElly Amazing Experience

Last week I attended my first Book Expo America, and it was the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in a long while. The main purpose was to meet booksellers, librarians, and reviewers to promote Little Elliot, BIG CITY at any chance I could get. Buckle up, this is a long ride…

2014-05-30 14.28.40

BEA 2014, The Jacob Javitz Center, NYC

It all started Wednesday with a studio tour put together by the American Booksellers Association. Two groups of booksellers came to our humble abode to meet me and see how I work. I was flattered that they braved traffic and came all the way to Brooklyn! I showed them some original drawings, and they got a special sneak peek at the second book in my series, Little Elliot, BIG FAMILY (Fall 2015). It was a great way to get to know each other! I got to meet representatives from Secret Garden Books (Seattle, WA), Anderson’s Bookshops (Naperville, IL), Oblong Books and Music (Millerton & Rhinebeck, NY), Octavia Books (New Orleans, LA), Redbery Books (Cable, WI), and Bethany Beach Books (Bethany Beach, DE). Yay new friends!

left to right: Suzanne Perry, Secret Garden Books; me; Katie Anderson, Anderson's Bookshops, Dick Hermans Oblong Books and Music

left to right: Suzanne Perry, Secret Garden Books; me; Katie Anderson, Anderson’s Bookshops; Dick Hermans, Oblong Books and Music

Naturally, a Little Elliot party wouldn't be complete without a beautiful arrangement of cupcakes,

Naturally, a Little Elliot party wouldn’t be complete without a beautiful arrangement of cupcakes.

Continue reading

Illustration Station, Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

The Writing Process – Author Blog Tour – Mike Curato

Hi! I’m Mike Curato, and I am so excited to be a part of this author blog tour!

Me & my work.

Me & my work.

First off, thanks to Fred Koehler for passing the baton to me. I met Fred an an SCBWI Winter Conference several years ago. We enjoyed some yummy Chinese food together and we’ve been Facebook author-illustrator compadres ever since. If you haven’t already picked up a copy of his debut book, How to Cheer Up Dad, then you’re in luck because it will make a great Father’s Day gift!


What am I currently working on?

LittleElliot_coverWell, I am busy promoting my upcoming debut title, Little Elliot Big City, and in the process of finishing up my second book in the series, Little Elliot, Big Family. The first book comes out on August 26th, and I can hardly wait! I just received my first hardcover copy, and it’s so magical having it in my hands. I keep knocking on the cover to make sure it’s real!

Little Elliot is a polka-dotted elephant living in NYC circa 1940. It’s hard being a little guy in such a big place, and I think that makes him really relatable for kids. A new friend comes along though, and life gets a lot happier, and maybe a little easier. Little Elliot will be printed in English, German, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Korean! Elliot has been a character that I’ve been developing for many years, and I’m so excited to be able to share him with the world.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Continue reading

Illustration Station, Kidlit County

Processed Magic: the Vague Art of Picture-Book Making

processMy friends and family must wonder what I do all day. Sometimes I worry that they’re sick and tired of my only update being “I’m working on the book. The deadline is end of April.” I’m sure some of them have mental images of me waking up in the morning to a big yawn, hopping into my bunny slippers, eating a muffin (aka breakfast cupcake), brushing my teeth, then sitting at my drafting table and whistling while I work all the live long day. How cute! I wish my life could be like this. I know that I am blessed to have a career doing what I love and working from home, but I wouldn’t say it’s been that easy. Continue reading

Illustration Station, Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Little Elliot, Big City Sneak Peek!

I am so very very very excited. My friends at Henry Holt have given me the thumbs up to share some spreads from Little Elliot, Big City, which is due to hit the shelves Fall 2014! Since we have over a YEAR to wait for that, I am going to give you a periodic sneak peek every few months!

Here is today’s featured spread!!! (click to enlarge)

E Train

He was shorter than most people and had to be extra careful not to be stepped on.

This was certainly one of the most complicated spreads in the book. It took a very long time, and a lot of research! It all started with this little thumbnail:


The book has a 1930s/40s feel, so I needed to do some research to see what the New York subway used to look like then. I visited the archives of The New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn for more information. They had photographs showing what the subway has looked like throughout its 109 year old existence. It was Christmas morning for the history nerd in me, although it was actually an afternoon…in February…in a basement. STILL! Excitement all around.

We had to handle the photographs with archival gloves. I was a full-fledged researcher!

I had to handle the photographs with archival gloves. I was a full-fledged researcher!

I searched through the physical photos, while my lovely "assistant," Julia, scoured MTA's online image records.

I searched through the physical photos, while my lovely “assistant,” Julia, scoured MTA’s online image records.

So, after gathering all of my subway research and combining it with my period fashion research, I was able to make this composition:


Add shading, scan, color, and stir: e voila! One spread made to order!

Stay tuned for more sneak peeks to come.

Illustration Station, Inspiration Island, Kidlit County

Highlights from ICON7

Well, I am feeling thoroughly inspired, thanks to attending last week’s ICON7, a bi-annual illustration conference. This one took place in Providence, Rhode Island and was my second time attending (I got to go 6 years ago in San Francisco). So much happened, and I met so many awesome people, so forgive me for condensing into a few highlights (though not all of them actually happened at ICON, but everything is relative, no?):

Lynda Barry having a moment with my Elly postcard!

Lynda Barry is amazing. That is an understatement, but I’m not really sure how to expand on that. She’s that rare person that I wouldn’t mind sitting and listening to talk for hours while I don’t say a thing. You can actually see the energy bounding out of her. I took her writing workshop, which proved to be a revelation. She introduced us to a method that she’s used almost her entire life (which you can fortunately experience on YouTube, though it doesn’t do justice to her in-person presentation). Also check out her Tumblr. Again, mind=blown, me=speechless.

I took another workshop facilitated by Josh Cochran and one of my artsy heroes, Chris Silas Neal (who I have been cyber stalking for years). We all made zines in two hours. I’m pretty proud of mine! Check it out.

Jessica Hische preachin’ the “creation story”

Jessica Hische is everything I dreamed she would be and more. I’ve drooled over her work for that last year or two, but what I appreciate even more is the sincerity and frankness with which she spoke at ICON. Two mantras she shared (which I need to write on my studio wall in permanent marker): “Learn what you need to learn to make what you want to make” and “Make things you wish existed.” She also coined my new favorite word: Procrastiworking.

I ran into Murray Tinkelman, my former professor at Syracuse University. The man is ancient. When I said hello and explained that I used to be his student he replied, “Congratulations!” Classic Murray (although there was no use of the F-bomb).

Speaking of former professors, I didn’t know that Tim O’Brien was going to be speaking. He was an adjunct professor for a month during my senior year. I shared a moment with him from college, when he said that my painting was good, but did not live up to the promise of my original sketch. That haunted me for years. Often, I would look at a painting I finished and be weary that it was not as good as the drawing. Then one day something clicked, and I thought, “Why don’t I just draw?” Duh. Tim said that he’s glad he haunted me.

Matt Goening showed up as a special guest, and spoke with his old friend and my new favorite person, Lynda Barry. Lynda and Matt took turns reading some of their comics. Here’s a clip from Matt’s strip Life in Hell, which he just stopped writing last week:

I also picked up an autographed copy of The Homer Book for Dan:

The Real Deal.

Some other speakers who really got me jazzed were Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson of Idiot Books, a husband and wife team who left all their grown-up comforts to start a subscription based press, where he does the writing and she does the art. It looks like they have an awesome time.

I got to meet some amazing folks at the conference. Here are some links to a few illustrators that I got to know over food & drinks: Denise Gallagher, a sassy red head from Louisiana who has graced the pages of Communication Arts. I tagged along while she hunted down her list of art directors. Isabel Roxas, who I met via the interwebs a few months ago. I was pleasantly surprised to see her at the roadshow, and we ended up people watching together at the bar! Kyle Lindholm, who I met at the hotel bar when I had to sneak out of a talk to eat some dinner (you know me and my demanding tummy). He actually spent time in Afghanistan documenting in his sketch book. Ana Isabel Ramos, who flew all the way from Panama. We talked about client-designer relationships, working from home, and cultural differences in all the cities and countries we’ve lived in. Not bad considering we had a little over an hour for lunch.

I also got to spend some quality time representing Seattle with my pal Mark Kauffman. You’ve seen his stuff in the Stranger, Seattle Weekly, and some old rag called the New York Times. It was good to have a reliable wing man at the conference, especially when it came to 3AM food truck excursions.

Sunday, after the conference, I met up with my family at a half-way point in New Haven, CT, for some yummy Spanish/Mexican food. We haven’t all been together for Father’s Day in many moons, so it was a special treat. Another special treat was the batch of “crack brownies” that my mother made for me to bring home.

The apples and the tree.

I also need to give a shout out to my friends Sarah Jane Lapp (who I wrote a post about a few months ago) and her man Rick, who were good enough to host me, feed me, and save me a bazillion dollars in hotel bills.

And now I leave you with an awesome clip of the band What Cheer Brigade and some larger than life puppets who helped start the conference with a bang.

Illustration Station, Mikesville

Through the Years: My Evolution as an Artist–in Pictures!

Hello! I know I still owe you the rest of my 2012 US Tour, but I thought this would be a fun little post. Plus, I haven’t talked about art in a while. I’ll keep the set up brief. When I was in NY, I unearthed some old artwork I had stashed away under beds and inside sheds. Please excuse some of the image quality, as I had to take some shots with my little “travel camera” and no lighting.

I made this when I was 4. Since I totally failed at pee-wee basketball and would draw on everything in sight, my Mom thought it might be a good idea to enroll me in art lessons. Well played, Mom.

I was always into castles (and apparently bakeries). I made this with my sweet set of Design Spectracolor pencils, which we all know were the Rolls Royce of colored pencils. This is dated ’92, a very productive year for me.

Another theme in my work (and life) is ice cream and other sweets. I especially enjoy the sparklers and checkered orange creamsicle scoop. I think this was from 4th grade.

“Meow!” More colored pencil madness. I remember getting cross-eyed trying to draw fur.

Of course I was really into Disney. I copied this out of a coloring book.

By 6th grade, I learned how to make animation cels. I had enrolled in classes at Art & Design Studio of Rockland. I learned a lot of skills there from ink to pastel to paint. I took classes there until I graduated high school, and even worked as a part-time assistant for teachers in the younger classes.

In middle school, I ditched Disney and totally immersed myself in comic books, specifically X-Men. I related to their brand of outcasts with special mutant powers. My mutant power was drawing, although I was in dire need of an anatomy lesson.

In high school, my eye for photo-realism was sharpening, but a lot of what I made was just “pretty.” I hadn’t really tapped into the idea of art as expression. That changed when I took Mrs. Nicholls’ Art Appreciation class. It changed the way I looked at art. It wasn’t just about making something look good anymore, there was meaning and purpose behind everything. Mind = blown.

I started getting a little bit more conceptual with my work. This piece was for an independent study, where I was researching my ethnic heritage (my mother is Irish and my father is Filippino) and trying to find a link between two seemingly disparate cultures. This piece combined some of the myths and legends of the two island nations. I should really see a doctor about that ear leakage.

In college, we all took the same foundation freshman year in the art school. I declared my major as illustration for sophomore year, which was two whole semesters of photographing an entire composition with ektachrome, projecting it onto illustration board, tracing, and applying whatever medium we were working in at the time. It was soul-crushing, though I’m sure I got some useful crap out of it, like composition and medium technique (but I still hated tracing). This is a portrait of my little sister (not so little anymore) and her best friend “Puppy.”

Junior year we were allowed to try different styles. I was very excited to put photo-realism away for a while and just have fun with characters and color.

Then 911 happened. That’s all I’ll say about this piece.

During Spring semester of 2002, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. It changed my life. Not only was I surrounded by the most sumptuous art of the Renaissance, but I felt totally liberated as a person and an artist. I really started pushing the envelope on an artistic level. Things literally got messy, which I never allowed myself to do before. It was wonderful.

Senior year, we probably heard a million times that we needed to focus on a specific style for our portfolio, but I just wasn’t there yet. I was still busy experimenting, and I do not regret it at all. I was still trying to find myself; how could I choose a voice that I didn’t know I had? This is Paulie Platypus, in acrylic and pastel.

For an independent study, I wrote a children’s book, The Adventures of Pina and Zed. It starred my host mother and her dog and took the viewer through the city of Florence on a wild goose chase (well, actually “dog chase”, but you get the idea). I made several finished pieces (acrylic under-paintings with oil finish), mocked up the dummy and actually shopped it around to publishers. A few little places were interested (Harper Collins and Houghton Mifflin) but the project never went anywhere. When I got my first rejection letter, my professor said to frame it.


I also played around with ink and digital coloring. I had done some of this in high school when I was still into comic books, but was taking it a bit further.

I took some painting electives, where I copied a lot of masters. This was very helpful in learning more about painting. This is a copy of The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer, acrylic underpainting with oil glaze.

This is one of my favorite pieces from college. It’s called “Zipper, I’m home.” The idea of a ghost girl kinda freaked some people out, but I think she’s precious. I did a similar approach with paint as I did with the Vermeer piece, but something wasn’t translating. It was hard not having something to copy (obviously) and I didn’t want it to be photo-realistic. I was more inspired by some pieces I had seen in the Society of Illustrator’s Annual that were neither realism nor cartoon. My professor at the time said that the painting never lived up to the original comp drawing. That haunted me for years, until I started going back to drawing as my primary medium.

I won’t say much about my post-college work. You can see some of it in the archives of my website. I will share that not long out of college, I started drawing a bunch of little characters in my sketch book frequently. I was very frustrated with painting and didn’t do it much, but kept drawing a certain little elephant…

Years later, Elly would become my little hero, combining everything I’ve learned along the way. Looking forward to continuing my journey with him!

Props and thank yous to some of my teachers:

Tonya Mulligan, Laura Nicholls, Mark Mitchell, Charlene Margiotta, Carmel Nicoletti, Murray Tinkleman, John Thompson, Yvonne Buchanan, Roger DeMuth