Ben Clanton — An Interview With the Author and Illustrator
Twas’ the night before Halloween (or maybe a couple nights) and all through the house all the babies were napping as I made a phone call to Tacoma, WA. My nerves were met with a jolly “Ahoy” from critically acclaimed author and illustrator, Ben Clanton. Clanton is the author and illustrator of 7 children’s books and has collaborated as illustrator on 6 other stories. It seems that even with the pleasant distraction of an infant at home Ben shows no signs of slowing down and is on track to publish 3 more books in 2017. I was fortunate enough to meet Ben at ALA in Orlando and even more fortunate to have the chance to find out more about the man behind the books.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I always loved being read to but when it came to reading myself I was a little more reluctant. I loved looking at the illustrations and can remember How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head as a favorite. In fact, I liked it so much that I may have even stole it from the library or at least refused to return it for a very long time. :O Another favorite book to flip through was It Zwibble and the Greatest Clean-up Ever! It wasn’t until the Harry Potter series that I really began enjoying reading on my own.
Are you a book buyer or a library user?
I tend to buy books. I purchase a lot of audio books, mostly Science Fiction and YA Fiction that I like to listen to while I work in my studio. I do use the library and will visit with my son but I like to have books within arm’s reach and have quite the collection.
What does a normal work day look like for you?
I am a late riser and don’t make it to my at-home studio until 10 or 11 am. I start by checking my emails and doing some sort of little drawing game to warm up before diving into whatever project I am doing. I take breaks when I need to and continue to work after dinner as well.
What comes first, the pictures or the story?
It is an evolving process. I started by writing stories. My girlfriend at the time who is now my wife pushed me to sketch and now it can go either way.
At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be an author of children’s books? And, what steps did you take to make that happen?
During my freshman year of college I volunteered at an elementary school where I encountered for the first time books by such authors and illustrators as Mo Willems, Jon Muth, Viviane Schwarz, and David Shannon. Their books were so funny and clever and sweet and soon I had the dream of making such books myself. Upon graduating I was set to move to North Carolina as a part of Teach for America, but had a gut check. I was more interested in making fun books for kids than teaching them. So I gave myself a year or rather my wife did to focus on making books and getting published. Fortunately, it worked out and within a year I had sold my first book. Though, I doubt I would have been able to set aside my dream if I hadn’t.
Has having a child of your own influenced the type of stories you write?
At this point it hasn’t, though he is still very young. Maybe as his interests evolve then my stories might reflect those more. I do have more interest in board books at this point and would like to explore that. I can imagine as he gets older I may eventually work on more chapter books.
Ben Clanton is the author/illustrator of the NARWHAL AND JELLY early graphic novel series as well as IT CAME IN THE MAIL, VOTE FOR ME!, and REX WRECKS IT. When Ben isn’t doodling up stories (and often when he is) he likes to cook, explore outdoors, and play basketball. Ben lives in Tacoma, WA with his wife, son and goldendoodle pup. Find out more about Ben at www.benclanton.com. And visit Narwhal and Jelly at their o-fish-al page www.narwhalandjelly.com.