Posted Dec 12th 2007 by

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An interview with
BOB STAAKEwords by , December 2007

Bob Staake is something of an illustration veteran, with 42 books to his name and over 25 years experience in the industry. He’s worked for clients as diverse as TIME Magazine, Nickelodeon and The Ren and Stimpy Show.

Hello and welcome to Thunder Chunky. How are you today?

Couldn’t be better. Just walked down the street and brought back a cup of coffee, so hopefully it’ll help me answer your questions (albeit in a more caffeinated way).

Tell us about yourself in 3 easy-to-follow steps.

Wake up. Push around a mouse for 18 straight hours. Have problems falling asleep.

How does the Bob Staake story begin?

I grew up in Los Angeles and always wanted to be a cartoonist. I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship to the University of Southern California where I majored in print journalism and international relations, but it was pretty obvious to everyone that I went there so I could draw five editorial cartoons a week for the Daily Trojan. After school I found myself losing interest in editorial cartooning and started working more as a humorous illustrator — and that’s pretty much what I have done since 1980.

Bob Staake Santa Freebies

‘Santa’ and ‘Freebies’

You’ve got a number of books due out soon, it must be an exciting feeling when one of your books hits the shelves of the bookstore.

When you finish a book, you send it off to your publisher and they go all gaagaa and crazy over it — and then you never see the thing in print until a year later. That is a HUGE time span for me because I look back on work I did two weeks ago and I think it just sucks — so looking at an entire 32 page picture book a full year later, well, it can be a pretty depressing experience. It’s fun seeing my books in stores but it’s actually more rewarding to get letters from readers (particularly little kids) who say they really enjoy my books.

What would you say were some of the milestones in your career?

Boy, that’s hard to say. I have been one of those strange illustrators who has built a long career over doing a lot of different stuff – different stuff in a lot of different areas. I suppose that’s the biggest milestone in my career; seeing my work translated into so many different venues. I’ve done comics in MAD magazine, covers for the New Yorker, animation design for Cartoon Network, greeting cards for Hallmark, cereal boxes for Kellogg’s, books for Random House and Little Golden Books, etc. Today I’m working on a New Yorker cover, some revised sketches for a line of teapots and french presses, finishing up some pages for a new book for Little Brown and making a Washington Post deadline by 4pm. If I’m doing just one thing at one time, I get bored.

Bob Staake work

‘The New Yorker’ and ‘Mary Had A Little Lamp’

Over the years that you’ve been involved in the industry computers and the internet have become ever-more important as both a tool for illustration and a means for artists to get their work seen. How big an impact have they had on your illustrations and the way you work?

Here’s my traditional to digital story: In 1994 I wrote a book called ‘The Complete Book of Humorous Art’. When I interviewed 20 peers to get their take on the business, I was amazed at how many of them said they not only saw the computer as the future for illustration, but how they were using them to create their own art. I panicked because I had never used a computer in my life and didn’t know where to start. I talked with an art director friend who told me which Macintosh system I should get, so I bought one. We then went to Europe for a two week vacation and when we returned to the states, I told my wife that I’d set up the computer and when the phone rang with the first assignment, I was going to figure OUT how to create it on the computer. The Chicago Tribune called that Monday with a (thankfully!) small spot, so I drew the art in pen, scanned it and colored the thing in some program called Photoshop — and then I emailed it to them. My digital work has changed over the past 13 years, but for all intents and purposes, I just plowed ahead and created nothing but digital art. Even today, I STILL work in Photoshop 3.0 to create my art and push, pull and tug a mouse to produce my images.

You have 42 books to your name now. What are the most challenging aspects about getting a book made?

For me it is in deciding WHICH book to finish. You have to understand that for every book of mine that you see on a shelf in a store, I must have another 20 that have been written and are just waiting for me to illustrate. Even at the fast pace with which I work, I can probably only do 4-5 books a year. The Red Lemon was a book that I just DID — no publisher commitment, no advance, no safety net whatsoever — just a book that I wanted to do that thought a publisher would indeed publish it once I had finished it (Random House turned out to be that publisher). This is the way I’d like to work more often than not at this stage of my career. Actually, I’m working on a very challenging couple books right now — but for technical reasons. ‘Trucks Go Pop’ and ‘Pets Go Pop’ (Little Brown) are a pair of pop-up books, so I have to work very closely with the paper engineers in China to get all the die-cuts and bleeds and structural components perfect. If you want to drive yourself crazy REALLY fast, do a pop-up book.

Bob Staake

Bob’s studio, with lots of books!

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve bought recently?

I can’t name just one thing so let me mention three: A Ryobi band saw, a bowling trophy from 1951, a rubber dog toy shaped like an abstract snowman. If you ask me the same question tomorrow I’ll no doubt mention another three equally odd acquisitions.

If there was a soundtrack to your illustrations, what would be on it?

I listen to a lot of different stuff and my kids are always turning me onto bands I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. The stuff that plays all the time in the studio is Steely Dan, Elvis Costello, Daft Punk, X, The Ramones, Fiona Apple, The Avalanches, The Bees, Devo, LCD Soundsystem, Talking Heads — and of course NPR.

Bob Staake

Bob’s desk

Finally, what’s the one thing everybody should do today?

Read, but if you can’t, then LOOK through a book at just the pictures — and don’t feel the need to apologize for only looking at them. We ALL need to look more!

If you’d like to see some more work or find out a bit more info then visit Bob’s Official Website. There’s enough stuff there to keep you entertained for hours!


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  • dinatr

    I used to be an ardent fan of Photoshop Elements . I have version 3. 4 wasn’t quite compelling enough. Now that CS3 is out, are we going to see a Mac update or is this it? I cannot imagine uploading my photos to the server every time I want to edit them. Yuk. If it’s limited to low res, then definitely not.

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