Interview with Adam Rex, illustrator and author of “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich”
I’m beginning a new series here at Ironic Sans: occasional interviews with interesting individuals, or people working on interesting projects. I’m kicking it off by interviewing Adam Rex, illustrator and author and friend of Ironic Sans, whose new book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich has just been published by Harcourt.
The beautifully illustrated and quite hilarious book includes poems like “The Mummy Won’t Go To His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies,” “Godzilla Pooped on My Honda,” and “Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach In His Teeth.” Blending Norman Rockwell-like talent, Shel Silverstein-esque poetry, and starring a few Universal Horror monsters, Adam has created a book perfect for children and adults that makes a great Halloween gift.
How would you describe “Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich” to someone unfamiliar with your work?
Just because you might be a monster, that doesn’t mean life is going to be all terrified villagers and biting. There’s a down side—monsters have problems, too. Bigfoot and the Yeti are always being mistaken for one another. Frankenstein has trouble meeting new people. Witches, on the other hand, are constantly being scrutinized by hag enthusiasts. They have clubs for that sort of thing.
What medium do you work in?
Mostly oils, but I used a lot of things for this book—gouache, brush and ink, scratchboard, modeling clay, and a little digital as well.
What kind of training do you have?
I have a BFA from the University of Arizona—I was lucky to study under David Christiana. I also have an Associate’s Degree from the School of Life. It’s a vocational school.
What was the last sandwich you made for yourself?
Is a burrito a sandwich? I made a breakfast burrito in a flour tortilla with eggs, fake bacon, cheese, and homemade tomatillo salsa. If a burrito isn’t a sandwich, then peanut butter.
How long did you work on “Frankenstein…”?
Off and on for five years. I first started writing poems in 2000, mostly to occupy my mind while driving. In 2005 I put what I had together and sold it to Harcourt. After that the art probably took three or four months.
What piece of advice did someone give you that you would pass along to aspiring illustrators?
If you find you’re spending a lot of time defending your draftsmanship or the choices you made in illustrations because that’s your “style”, then you probably have a problem to address. There’s nothing wrong with exaggeration, distortion, intentionally drawing “incorrectly”, and so forth, as long as you do it boldly and with a solid foundation of drawing skills to back you up. But good style never gets mistaken for bad drawing.
What advice would you pass along that you only wish someone had given you?
Save your receipts. Marry someone with health insurance. And don’t move to a city that charges you a business privilege tax just because you’re self-employed.
Do you have a favorite poem from “Frankenstein…”? A particular illustration of which you’re most proud? And why?
I don’t think it’ll be the one others cite, but I’m especially proud of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Henderson.” It’s the longest, I think, and the story just came together exactly like I wanted it to, despite an obstacle course of internal rhyme that I laid out for myself. I guess I’d say it’s the biggest achievement—the one I can’t believe I actually finished. I also happen to think it’s funny.
My favorite illustrations come from “The Dentist”—the characters are an homage to Charles Schulz and Peanuts. But I’m pretty proud of the ink work on “Zombie Zombie” and the aforementioned Jekyll poem, just because it’s a medium with which I’m not totally comfortable yet. The Jekyll illustrations were inspired by the early twentieth century work of Charles Dana Gibson—mine fall far short of that ideal, but it was fun to try.
What do you tell people who point out that Frankenstein was the scientist, not the monster?
After another little piece of me dies inside, I assure them that I know this already. I tell them that the tomato is a fruit, that it’s a berry, even, but that doesn’t stop anyone from calling it a vegetable. I may tell them that Pluto is still a planet if they want it to be. And, while I would never think of calling Mary Shelley’s monster Frankenstein, I would tell them that a big dumb green guy with ill-fitting clothes and a flattop is Frankenstein. They’re totally different things.
Oh. And I would thank them for their interest and ask them to please buy my book.
RELATED: I took the above photo of Adam Rex at an event in New York last April where I photographed several artists’ paint palettes and published them in an entry called Boris Vallejo’s Palette.