As you know, Robbi and I work together. On basically everything. On books, of course. I write them, and she provides the pictures. But also on raising kids. And playing house. And everything between. We’re so much of a unit that when one of us is out of town for a while the other one lapses into near incompetence on certain fronts. Our brains each keep track of approximately half of the details required for successful living. It’s a tenuous proposition, but one that seems to suit us.
We give a lot of talks about how we work and make art together, and one of the questions we usually get from the audience afterward is “Who goes first?” As in, do the words come first, or the pictures? And the answer is that usually the words come first, and that, on the very few times when I’ve written in response to Robbi’s illustrations, the result has been disaster. We’re both agreed that our very worst book is The Clearing, an early Idiots’Books effort in which Robbi handed me a stack of loosely related drawings and I was charged with placing them in meaningful sequence and wrapping a story around them.
But yesterday, Robbi posted the following drawing on Facebook. She had put it together to accompany the kickoff post for this month’s Bobbledy Books theme, which is snakes.
I saw this illustration and fell in love. I’m not sure why, but I responded in a visceral, overwhelming way to this little guy. Perhaps it is the delightful tension between his writhing, kinetic body and the stark flatness of the background wash. Perhaps it’s the utter lack of malice in his eyes. Or perhaps it’s that Robbi captured the micro-lightning moment when the snake’s shivering tongue is in full extension, something almost impossible to see unless captured just so by an illustrator.
In any case, my afternoon priorities shifted the moment I saw the snake pop up on my news feed. I knew his name was Marvin and that I had to tell his story right away. And so I sat down to write it and did not stop until the time came to pick up the kids from school.
And when the breakfast bowls are cleared and I take them to school again (two days in a row! It is a recent record; Fie, snow, Fie!) I will return to my keyboard and continue the unfinished tale. Right now Marvin is lonely in the desert and in need of deus ex machina. For the time being, at least, I’m his only hope.
Thank you, Robbi, for this unintended gift. With any luck, Marvin will one day soon be the hero of a book you illustrate. And perhaps, we’ll have a different answer the next time someone asks us who goes first.