The Cross & the Pen: HumbleBee
- Friday, September 26, 2003
I would tell you about the first time I met children's author/illustrator Matt Whitlock (HumbleBee Cook/FaithKidz)...but he's beat me to the punch in this interview...so let me just whet your appetite. If you love anything that speaks to the child's heart...you'll adore the work of Matt Whitlock! (As a little aside here, Matt and I have car-pooled and flown out of Central Florida together and without fail...we get lost! So, if you ever see us together, watch out and don't follow!) This week Matt and I got together for a little chat. Wanna listen in?
Eva: Matt, before we get started...tell my readers a bit about your background.
Matt: Well, I grew up on a farm in Michigan. I came from a long line of farmers, though I received absolutely no farming DNA from any of them. I hated living in the country. I am allergic to just about everything. I stayed in the house as much as possible and entertained myself: I used an old tape recorder to record my own radio shows, I ran around in costumes and disguises. I was a weird kid. Mostly, I would draw pictures. I would practice drawing Snoopy and Charlie Brown religiously. When I later became interested in animation, I would go to the store and buy up their supply of little notepads and use them as flipbooks. When I ran out of notepads, I'd animate little stick people in the corners of my textbooks. Since I was old enough to hold a pencil I decided I was going to be an animator for Disney.
I attended Asbury College and then transferred to The Columbus College of Art and Deign. CCAD had a good reputation for preparing students for Disney animation and was one of the few schools that Disney used to actively recruit from. I was so driven to get into Disney, I became a workaholic- a hermit, actually- and missed out on most of the typical college craziness. I had read somewhere once that the odds were better to get into Harvard than to get hired at Disney Feature Animation. When I was hired at Disney in 1997, I think I was one of 17 people to be chosen from 1000 applicants. I worked as an artist on Mulan, Tarzan, The Emperor's New Groove, Lilo & Stitch, the upcoming Brother Bear, as well as some TV shows and theme park rides. I left the Disney Studio last December to do children's writing and illustrating full time, and am having a great time doing it.
Eva: I know you love cartoons. What are some of your favorites?
Matt: I was raised on classic Looney Tunes and Disney Cartoons. Lilo & Stitch was probably my favorite film that I got to actually work on. I love Uncle Scrooge comic books by Don Rosa and the late great Carl Barks. I love newspaper comic strips. I absolutely love Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Mutts, old Pogo and Krazy Kat strips, and of course, Peanuts, which I still love as much as I did when I was 5 years old. I got to meet Charles Schulz about six months before he passed away. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Eva: What happened exactly that caused you to begin writing and illustrating children's books?
Matt: I've had problems with my back ever since middle school, and choosing a career that requires being hunched over a drawing table for 10 hours a day certainly didn't help matters any. I had been working for Disney for a year and had just finished work on the movie, Mulan, when I started experiencing the worst pain I had ever felt in my lower back. The pain continued to increase over a period of about two weeks, to the point that I became completely immobile. After an exceptionally horrible evening of writhing on the floor of my apartment, I finally called my mom and asked her, "Could you fly down here? I'm having a bit of a crisis."
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