In two weeks, Peter Jackson will release his highly anticipated prequel to his “The Lord of the Rings” series with his live-action re-telling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy tale, The Hobbit. The Hobbit was first published in 1937, as a children’s story. One ten-year-old (the targeted age for the novel) reviewed it favorably, writing “the book…does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between 5 and 9″:

the hobbit letter

Even before it was published, in 1936, Tolkien completed one of his first illustrations for the book, a lovingly detailed dustjacket that would, ultimately, stay unused due to its over-abundance of colors.

Although a publishing contract was executed in 1936, there was still considerable work done on the book before it was finally published. In particular, Tolkien tried his hand at illiustrations and designed a marvellous dustjacket. Unfortunately, his first design had too many colors and was revised.


An unsuccessful design by Foyles booksellers, eventually discontinued
adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’
never-used illustrations for ‘The Hobbit’

Eventually, when Tolkien began discussions for the publication of the first American edition of his work, Houghton-Mifflin suggested that the book include color illustrations. While they wanted a professional, others suggested that Tolkien himself take on the task. Though he was skeptical of his skill, he eventually painted pictures of Bilbo, Rivendell, Hobbiton, Smaug the Dragon, and other settings and characters. Many of these drawings, both used and unused, are collected in The Art of the Hobbit.

An unused illustration done by Tolkien of The Lonely Mountain

But Tolkien’s classic has been drawn or re-imagined many, many times since its publication. In 1966, a 12-minute film composed of comic stills would be the first adaptation. Eleven years later, in 1977, another animated adaptation, this time with music, would debut on US television.

Bilbo, in the 1977 adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’

Even more surprising than the idea that a Hobbit musical exists, is the revelation that Maurice Sendak was originally commissioned to produce illustrations for a never-completed 30th anniversary edition of the book. But when the publisher mislabeled Sendak’s pictures of wood-elves as Hobbits, Tolkien took offense at what he perceived as Sendak’s lack of research into his story and rejected the pictures. The two were scheduled to meet and discuss the project, but shortly before, Sendak suffered a major heart attack and the deal fell through.

One of Maurice Sendak’s never-used illustrations for ‘The Hobbit’

Another artist better known for her own work, Tove Jansson of the Moomin series, actually did complete a series of illustrations for The Hobbit’s release in her native Sweden. Just as Sendak’s pictures give us a glimpse of Tolkien’s world through another artists eyes, so too do Jansson’s drawings which mix equal parts adorable and eerie to show us the world of the novel.

hobbit move december 14 peter jackson release date

A Tove Jansson drawing for ‘The Hobbit’

Soon, of course, we’ll have Peter Jackson’s take on the story — likely a high-thrills 3D romp complete with terrifying dragons, wise elves, and of course, hobbits.

A still from Jackson's upcoming movie


 
 

Did you know that there are no penguins on the North Pole? Most penguins live on the South Pole, where predators like bears and foxes do not roam. Polar bears, on the other hand, live up north, far from their feathered friends.

TOON author Frank Viva based his book A Trip to the Bottom of the World on his own voyage to the Antarctica, where he encountered penguins, whales, and even the ominously named Deception Island (an active volcano covered in black beaches). True to life, there are no polar bears.

frank viva deception island toon books

Frank at Deception Island

Viva’s book sits at number 8 on Amazon’s list of the bestselling children’s books exploring the polar regions. Other books on the list also feature a number of polar animals, including the ever-popular penguin, reindeer, wolves, owls, polar bears and even the occasional elf. Santa Claus, of course, lives on the North Pole, which makes this sight rather unlikely:

penguins santa claus frank viva toon books

Penguins dressed in holiday cheer


Polar regions also make us think of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, who have ventured far from home to live indoors (with the air conditioning turned very low) with the ever-suffering Mr. Popper.

mr poppers penguins toon books


Here in New York, the only penguins around are at the zoo. In the Central Park Zoo, they live in the aptly-named Penguin House:

central park zoo penguins

But for those who can’t get to the South Pole to see the penguins in their natural habitat, A Trip to the Bottom of the World lets you make the amazing journey to the frozen islands of the lowest part of the globe with Mouse as a friendly guide. And, don’t forget, Frank Viva will be at Little Island Comics in Toronto this weekend, on Saturday December 1st, from 2 to 3pm!

a trip to the bottom of the world frank viva toon books

 
 

For the third printing of The Shark King, TOON author created this amazing blog post about the origins and inspirations for his book. We’ve re-blogged the post here, for those of you who may not have seen it.

To celebrate its second return to press, here’s a collection of sketches, production art, and notes from the making of The Shark King. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the book’s success!

Rough style test for an unused book concept.

When Françoise Mouly approached me to do an early readers’ comic for her Toon line, the first step was to sketch up a few loose concepts for possible books. One of my favorites followed a young pelican, Petey, through the northern Californian coast. Unfortunately for Petey, my sketchbook was promptly hijacked by the rascal who would eventually drive The Shark King.

Early character sketches.

Nanaue and his mother Kalei in an unused vignette for the end papers of The Shark King.

I probably first came across Nanaue and his father, the shark-god Kamohoali’i, in elementary school. Rediscovering the mythology as an adult was a revelation. My interpretation in TheShark King tones down the violence of traditional versions in which Nanaue’s insatiable appetite for meat compels him to dupe and devour passing fishermen. In certain variations, he is ultimately butchered and cooked by villagers in retribution. Historians speculate that this story may have emerged to explain the terror of an ancient cannibal. Although brutal in its turns, the Nanaue myth has a strong emotional core in its protagonist, a young outcast searching for his place in the world.

Unused cover sketch.

The Shark King depicts ancient Hawaiians fishing with throw nets, fishing poles, and largehukilau (seine) nets. In my research, I learned that throw net fishing was introduced to Hawaii by Japanese migrants in the nineteenth century. Pole fishing began as an eighteenth century sport reserved for the ali’i (chief class). Of the three techniques illustrated, only the hukilau was likely practiced in ancient Hawaii.

Intricate lures, traps, spears, and a wide variety of nets were masterfully crafted and employed throughout ancient Polynesia. Early drafts of The Shark King included some of these tools, but their appearance was so unfamiliar, I ultimately decided that the space used to explain their function was better focused on Nanaue’s struggle.

↑ Barkcloth was produced throughout Polynesia, but Hawaiian kapa was renowned for its refined quality. Examples like this one inspired the patterns on Kalei’s Pa’u (wraparound).From the collection of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu Hawaii.

↑ The ruins of an ancient Heiau (temple) complex overlooking sprawl in Waiehu, Maui. Invasive koa haole and other non-native plant species comprise the overgrowth. I took this photo on a research trip home. I grew up in the subdivision visible at the foot of the distant mountains in the upper right corner.


↑ Sketchbook.

↑ Rejected style test for The Shark King. This looks more like a page from an 80s DC superhero comic than the kids book I had in mind.

↑ A more colorful and cartoony chase scene as it appears in The Shark King.


↑ Whiz Comics #22 by C.C. Beck, 1941.

While searching for a simple, direct, and colorful way to depict Nanaue’s world, I returned often to the work of C.C. Beck. I’m always impressed by how much information he squeezed into his 1940s Captain Tootsie comic book ads without them ever feeling cramped. During his thirteen year stint illustrating Captain Marvel, Beck only wrote one 11-page story: 1941′s ”The Temple of Itzalotahui” (It’s-a-lot-a-hooey). Although dated by cultural sensibilities, for me, this story is his best.

Anne Cleveland‘s elegant figure work in It’s Better With Your Shoes Off, 1955, was another source of inspiration.

↑ An early rough for pages 10 and 11. The entire book began as a loose cartoon manuscript and slowly tightened over the course of many subsequent sketch-drafts.

↑ Digitally revised sketch.


↑ Raw scans of the finished pen and ink artwork.


↑ Digitally colored artwork.

↑ Hand lettering was done separately.


 
 
Houdini toon books

I am sitting in my favorite box

Meow meow meow. Or in Human, “Hello TOON friends! This is office manager and ruler of the known universe Houdini.”

While my human minions are at work in the TOON office, I take care of the real work: getting my belly scratched, shedding hair onto couches and pants, and finding the warmest place in the room to sit on top of. I’m also great with catching imaginary mice and hopping onto tables.

Since I can only speak in Cat, I’ve decided to commandeer the office computer to write a blog about the most important things in life — cats. More specifically, I will give you a list of my favorite cats from children’s books. While none of them are as glorious or as powerful as I, they are nevertheless, my family.

The Cat in the Hat (from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss): I met the Cat in the Hat once. His rhyming drove me crazy and he was a total nuisance. In other words: a real cat.

Aslan (from the Narnia books by CS Lewis): Aslan is a lion, which some people don’t think are cats, but we know better. The King of Beasts, the guardian of Narnia, and a Lion, not a lion, Aslan’s supreme rule proves that you should listen to what your cats have to say. Or else.

Crookshanks (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling): We’ve heard that Crookshanks is also “not a cat,” but like a cat, he’s loyal to his mistress Hermione, suspicious of rats, and quick with his claws. And I admire his fluffy coat.

The Cheshire Cat (from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll): When he leaves, he leaves behind his smile, which is, I think, another word for “mounds and mounds of cat hair.”

Hobbes (from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson): Silly adults only see a stuffed tiger when they look at Hobbes. But to Calvin, Hobbes is the perfect friend and partner in crime. But like any sneaky cat, Hobbes manages to lay all the blame for his shenanigans on Calvin.

Puss in Boots: Puss is a legend of the feline world, though some say he never existed at all. I do find it hard to believe that any cat would need a sword to fight his enemies, but we’ll let that pass.

A sidenote: Benny and Penny are my two favorite mice. I would never eat them. Not even if I was hungry.

 
 

the giving tree shel silverstein

When we think about Thanksgiving, we think about the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes and pie. We think about our families and loved ones. We might think about the origins of Thanksgiving, the story of American settlers setting the table after a long, hard arrival to the new world. Benjamin Franklin originally wanted the national bird to be a turkey — he reconsidered when he realized how stupid it was.

And of course, we think about the things we’re grateful for, big and small, momentary and everlasting. We think about the luck we’ve had to be where we are, the people we know, and the little things (fresh bread, sunday papers) that ease each day forward.

Children’s books are often about gratitude, and not only for Thanksgiving. There are books like Where the Wild Things Are and The Wizard of Oz, which remind us that home can often be the most exciting place to be in the whole world. There are books like Stone Soup, which teach us that luxury can be made out of any circumstance, if you have the right attitude. And there is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, which shows us just how precious any gift can be, no matter what you have to give.

Here are some things the TOON offices are grateful for:

Francoise: “I am so grateful to have both of my kids in the same place for Thanksgiving.”
Emmy, intern/student at Parsons: “For the break.”
Amy: “For every good book out there that I haven’t read and will eventually get to read.”

 
 

viva a trip to the bottom of the world with mouse toon books

Dear TOON friends! In the upcoming months, you’ll have a few different chances to catch TOON’s books and authors at events in different cities across North America. Here’s a round-up of what’s on the schedule.

November 28th, 5:30pm: Candlewick Press will represent TOON’s books at McNally Jackson’s Educators Appreciation Night in New York City

Their description:

McNally Jackson welcomes New York City educators and representatives from several major publishers and small presses to share ideas over food and drinks, preview fall and winter titles, and meet-and-greet with other educators, authors and illustrators. Raffles and giveaways of galleys and teaching supplies will happen throughout the night.

December 1st, 2:00pm to 3:00pm: Frank Viva will sign his books at Little Island Comics in Toronto

Their description:

We’re excited to announce Frank Viva’s appearance for his new book A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse! Part of the stellar Toon Books line, A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse is great for beginning readers or to share together as a picture book. Kids love the repetition in this story of Antarctic discovery and animal encounters; grown-ups will appreciate the striking art by one of Toronto’s top designers

Please join us on Saturday, December 1st between 2 and 3pm, when creator Frank Viva will read from and sign copies of this gorgeous new release. There will be activities for kids and schmoozing for adults.

It’s getting to be that time of year, and we think Frank Viva’s books are the perfect beginning to your holiday shopping. So, everyone who purchases one of Viva’s books during his in-store appearance will get 10% off their entire purchase! That’s right – buy A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse and we’ll give you a deal on all of the comics in the shop! Bring your kids’ wish lists, and give the gift of comics!

And, be sure to keep your ears open for an interview with Geoffrey Hayes in mid-December on the Out of Bounds radio show! Full details to come.

 
 
David Nytra The Secret of the Stone Frog

Leah and Alan at Teatime

If you’ve enjoyed David Nytra’s The Secret of the Stone Frog, an intricately drawn, fantastical tale of two children lost in an enchanted land, you might wonder about the artist who’s creating such scenes. His story and illustrations, seem to touch on influences like Hayao Miyazaki and Winsor McKay, while remaining truly original.

The New York Times, in a comic review, describes Nytra’s style as “a lush, loving cross-hatching that makes you wonder how his wrist is holding up.” Even though Nytra’s work is black and white, the reviewer writes that “the world is better realized than many full-color paintings. Dappled sunlight through trees and shadows on subway tiles are faithfully conveyed with nothing but masterly little black dashes.”

In fact, each of the pages in The Secret of the Stone Frog took Nytra up to a week to complete. All of those little black dashes add up. Nytra himself lives a life that many might consider to be outside of the ordinary. Born in 1977, Nytra has been drawing since he could hold a pencil, though he’s also worked in clay, wood, silk screening and animation. His short film, “A Night in the Gilman,” told the tale of a girl with mud instead of skin, sticks instead of bones, and a fish for a brain. And his graphic novel Ballad, an Edward Gorey-esque macabre story, showcases Nytra’s skill.

david nytra ballad

A scene from 'Ballad'

Currently, Nytra lives in 100 Mile House, a small town in British Columbia, Canada, with a population under 2,000 and an area of just over 20 square miles. Six months out of the year, the temperature regularly drops below freezing. Forestry and ranching are the town’s main industries.

TOON’s own Nadja Spiegelman interviewed David to find out some more about his childhood, inspirations for The Secret of the Stone Frog, and more.

Do you have memories of being in the woods with your brother?

A little bit. We usually did different things.

Did you ever get lost in the woods?

Nope. I really just made the story up.

Where did the idea come from?

I don’t remember. It was a while ago. I just pulled bits and pieces together from different sources.

Is this what your own dreams are like?

No.

What do you tend to dream about?

I usually have boring dreams.

Like what?

I usually dream about taking the bus to nowhere.

Is there any sort of real or imaginary adventure that you went on as a child that you can remember?

Not really.

Leah and Allen seem so excited when they first take the train — do you remember the first trip you ever took by yourself?

Not really.

You live out in the country, right?

Yeah, but I didn’t grow up here.

Where did you grow up?

The city.

Which do you prefer?

The country. There’s fewer people out here.

Are you afraid of bees?

I’m a little bit allergic.

Do you have a special love of candied cherries?

No.

So…if you were to stumble across an orchard with something, what would it be?

Trees. Filled with more trees.

Do you remember any games that you and your brother used to play together growing up?

Not really — we had different interests.

What were your interests?

I just remember watching a lot of TV.

What sort of TV did you watch?

Nature programming, PBS.

Is there a book that you read as a child that inspired you? That you hope this book will be like for some child?

I just hope I put enough beasties in it to make it interesting. Usually kids’ books don’t have enough creatures in them for me.

Were there any books that did have enough creatures in them? That you liked?

Books about dinosaurs.

Check out more information about The Secret of the Stone Frog on TOON’s website.

 
 

“Like most humans, I am hungry…our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it…”
― M.F.K. Fisher

Maya Makes a Mess

Maya, making a mess


Everybody likes to eat. Children are no exception. But kids have a special relationship to food that adults seem to lose. Some are picky eaters, others sugar fiends. Some will make scrumptious pies from mud and flowers, others will pour invisible tea to eat with their invisible pastries. Some, like TOON’s own Maya of Maya Makes a Mess, like to eat spaghetti with ketchup, using their hands, mouths and appetite to guide the way.

Children’s books do not ignore these facts. Many favorites, both classic and modern, revolve around food — there’s Alice in her Wonderland, illustrated classics like Stone Soup and Strega Nonna, and many more.

Sometimes, food paves the road to disaster. Children who eat too much or who are overly tempted by the prospect of food (as in Hansel and Gretel) usually end up in a bad place.

The perils of gluttony are perhaps best described in Shel Silverstein’s poem “Hungry Mungry,” the cautionary tale of a boy who just can’t stop eating. After finishing with food, he eats the table, his parents, cities and countries, when he gets to the universe:

He started with the moon and stars and soon as he was done
He gulped the clouds, he sipped the wind and gobbled up the sun.
Then sitting there in the cold dark air,
He started to nibble his feet,
Then his legs, then his hips
Then his neck, then his lips
Till he sat there just gnashin’ his teeth
‘Cause nothin’ was nothin’ was
Nothin’ was nothin’ was
Nothin’ was left to eat.

The Twits eat like twits

An eternally empty stomach isn’t the only problem that comes of greed. Let’s turn to Roald Dahl, whose books are populated not only by unlikely heroes, but by wicked, nasty children who just want to get their way. All of Dahl’s books are crammed full of food, from the delicious overgrown fruit of James and the Giant Peach, to the monstrous chocolate cake in Matilda that Bruce Bogtrotter is famously made to consume, but it’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that puts food, hunger and appetite at the center of its story. But of course, even in Willy Wonka’s magical factory, tasty-seeming treats can be more deadly than delicious. Remember Violet Beauregard?

Not everyone is lucky enough to have pots and pots of honey at hand. In some children’s books, food is an unimagined luxury, the stuff of dreams. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, plucky heroine Sara Crewe, after her slide from student to scullery maid, is often hungry. One day, when mistaken for a beggar, she takes the coin and buys six buns. But upon seeing a girl hungrier even than she, she gives away five of them to her. She tries to make the final bun last:

Sara found some comfort in her remaining bun. At all events, it was very hot, and it was better than nothing. As she walked along she broke off small pieces and ate them slowly to make them last longer.

“Suppose it was a magic bun,” she said, “and a bite was as much as a whole dinner. I should be overeating myself if I went on like this.”

Later, her friend Ermengarde brings her a box full of cake and meat pies and other food items. The two girls, plus Becky, another maid, set out the food, using scraps from their attic to set the table, and imagining a feast far grander than their own:

So Sara told her, and because her Magic helped her she made her ALMOST see it all: the golden platters–the vaulted spaces– the blazing logs–the twinkling waxen tapers. As the things were taken out of the hamper–the frosted cakes–the fruits– the bonbons and the wine–the feast became a splendid thing.

But, the evil headmistress Miss Minchin breaks the party up before they even get a chance to eat. What Miss Minchin doesn’t anticipate is a different kind of magic, when her neighbor breaks into the attic and fills it with furnishings:

Imagine, if you can, what the rest of the evening was like. How they crouched by the fire which blazed and leaped and made so much of itself in the little grate. How they removed the covers of the dishes, and found rich, hot, savory soup, which was a meal in itself, and sandwiches and toast and muffins enough for both of them. The mug from the washstand was used as Becky’s tea cup, and the tea was so delicious that it was not necessary to pretend that it was anything but tea. They were warm and full-fed and happy, and it was just like Sara that, having found her strange good fortune real, she should give herself up to the enjoyment of it to the utmost. She had lived such a life of imaginings that she was quite equal to accepting any wonderful thing that happened, and almost to cease, in a short time, to find it bewildering.

We should not forget that food is also fun. Here, we’ll turn to Maya again, whose panache at the dinner table wins over the queen herself.

Maya Makes a Mess

Maya at dinner

TOON’s looking forward to Thanksgiving.

 
 
Hurricane Sandy TOON books

Our damaged books are now your free books. Though TOON’s offices managed to get through Hurricane Sandy mostly unscathed, we have a bunch of books that were waterlogged. Rather than throw them out, we want you to have them.

Hurricane Sandy TOON books

We have copies of three of our newest books — David Nytra’s The Secret of the Stone Frog, Frank Viva’s A Trip to the Bottom of the World, and Rutu Modan’s Maya Makes a Mess. We have 6 of the Nytra, 8 of the Viva and 4 of the Modan.

As you can see, the pages have been rippled by water, though we’ve had them drying out since we discovered the damage. But the spines are intact, the pages are all there, and the colors are undistorted — We prefer to think of them as pre-loved rather than defective.

Hurricane Sandy TOON books
If you want a copy of one (or all three!) of these books, just email us at amylee.toon@gmail.com. We’ll send them over to you for the cost of postage. We hope you enjoy them.

And if you want to follow us on twitter @toonbooks, on Tumblr at toon-books.tumblr.com or like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TOONBooks to show your appreciation, we won’t mind. Likewise, any pictures/stories you send us about reading these books, we’ll cherish (and probably post online).

 
 

Have you ever been trapped in a boiling hot gymnasium full of comic connoisseurs? I certainly haven’t…at least, not until this past Saturday.

Note: This was taken as the festival was winding down...

“Is it always like this?” one comic-loving father asked me as a pushy crowd rushed passed him. “I don’t think so,” I said back, grateful for the table protecting me from the masses of children, teens, parents, and assortment of hipsters roaming the floors with wild and excited eyes.

This year’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, in short, was an event to be remembered. With an all-star guest list of artists including Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Roz Chast, and our very own Art Spiegelman, it is no wonder that crowds came sprinting to the Williamsburg venue.

TOON Books, thanks to the help of our friend Bill Kartalopoulos, had a table at the front of it all. Kids, parents, and even older comic fans couldn’t help themselves from stopping and admiring the color and design that filled our table. As one woman was eyeing Frank Viva’s poster for A Trip to the Bottom of the World with envy, I asked her if she had any kids. “Nope,” she said, “this is just stunning.”

Our table soon filled with young boys and girls stretching their arms across our books, turning pages and touching covers. Parents with babies in Bjorns snatched up titles like Little Mouse Gets Ready and Jack and the Box anxious to get their little comic fans started early. When they found out the artists of the books were right next to them, things got even more exciting.

Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch... winning hearts.

Trade Loeffler, artist of the hilariously smart Zig and Wikki books, had everyone smiling as he drew his characters for children of all ages and chatted about his favorite comics. TOON books all-star duo Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch stole the show as they sold their book Mo and Jo Fighting Together Forever like wildfire, while of course making everybody in the vicinity laugh uncontrollably.

Our final event, a signing by Art Spiegelman, brought in a line that stretched out tables beyond ours. Avid fans waited patiently to meet their idol as he drew a detailed and personalized sketch for each. Art certainly made a lot of friends, whether it was the 8 year old Eva with her copy of Jack and the Box, underground comics follower “Sir Real” with his newly purchased special edition print, or even a long lost cousin. Yes, it was certainly a day to remember.

Art Spiegelman drawing "Quacker Oats" for a young fan.

A special thanks and shout out to Desert Island, PictureBox, and Bill Kartolopoulos for putting this incredible event together!