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Patricia Storms: Illustrator, Cartoonist, and Creative Dynamo


Patricia Storms is a multi-talented cartoonist and illustrator whose clients include The National Post, Chronicle Books, Scholastic Canada, The Saturday Evening Post, and The National Lampoon. I got hooked on her blog, Booklust, a while back.

In addition to her regular illustrations, Patricia publishes several comic strips including Tart (about a foul-mouthed, bitchy blonde) and Art Imitating Lit (publishing/lit gossip with a twist).

Patricia says her early report cards praised her artistic talent, but encouraged her to move beyond cartoons into more respected forms of art. "As soon as I find a more respected form of art, I promise I'll drop the cartooning."

More about Patricia, comics, illustrating and publishing beyond the jump.

How long have you been illustrating? How did you get started?

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There are a few answers to that question. I've been illustrating professionally for about 22 years, most of that on a part-time basis, but as a full-time professional illustrator, just for the past 5 years or so. And really, I've been illustrating all my life, ever since I can remember picking up a pencil.

I got started doing illustration work professionally by being lucky. In my early 20's I wasn't planning on going into art, even though that's what I had really wanted to do. I had experienced quite a few emotional blows in my late teens and early 20's, the end result being that I just wanted to work in a library and hide from the world.

I know I've told this story before, but it's worth repeating. I was about 22, had zero confidence in my artistic ability at that time, and was taking a cartooning course at the Dundas Valley School of Art (close to Hamilton, Ontario). My instructor was Steven Toth, who was then working as a professional cartoonist and illustrator (these days he focuses his talents on creating beautiful digital paintings). He saw potential in my work, and did not give up on me, even though I had pretty much given up on myself (it was a particularly wretched time in my life). He helped me to get together a decent portfolio, and set up a meeting with one of the editors of The Hamilton Spectator, and that's how I got my first illustration gig.

I ended up doing about 20 illustrations for the feature page of the Hamilton Spectator for over a year or so. I owe a great deal to Steven - he was an amazing mentor just at a time in my life when I really needed someone to have faith in me. I continued to work in libraries for many years, and freelancing on side, building up my confidence very slowly over time.

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Along the way I met other illustrators and cartoonists who befriended me and gave me advice and guidance and strength. Even though we are all competing with each other, most of the cartoonists and illustrators I have met have all been very supportive. It's an amazing community of some of the very finest people.

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How would you describe Booklust? Why did you start this blog?

BookLust is really just a mishmash of all the stuff that goes on in my brain. Pretty scary, huh? I talk about books and book-related subjects, but I also talk about illustration, cartooning, and certain things that go on in my personal life. Hence the subtitle: 'A bibliophile's musings on books, cartoons, art and stuff'.

Why did I start this blog...hmmm...it's been over three years now that I've been doing this blogging thing. I think one of the main reasons I started was because I was feeling very frustrated in my creative life. It's all well and good to sit in a room and draw funny cartoons, but what good is it if no one sees them?

Quite a bit of my cartoon work is a little racy, so I knew it would never see the light of day in print. I guess I wanted to share the irreverent, kooky side of myself to a larger audience, and see if people enjoyed it, or were totally freaked out by it. Surprisingly, most people liked my wacky cartoons and ideas. But I also wanted to be a part of a larger conversation regarding discussing books and authors and ideas and the fascinating world of publishing.

It was a lot easier to talk about this stuff when I was in high school, hanging out with my group of bookish girlfriends, but as one gets older, people move away, and life gets busier. I found that it was harder to connect with people who shared my interests. I've discovered so many wonderful, clever and talented people through blogging - many of whom I've been fortunate enough to meet in person, too. I didn't actually start blogging in order to enhance my career, but that has also been an amazing bonus in creating BookLust.

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Where have your illustrations/cartoons appeared?

Let's see...I've illustrated quite a few cards for American Greetings, my illustrations have been printed in the National Post (one of Canada's national newspapers) and I've illustrated books for publishers such as Wiley, Harcourt Canada, Scholastic Canada and Chronicle Books.

I don't do as many one-panel gags these days (just not very lucrative!) but I used to do quite a few cartoons for Reader's Digest Canada. And now once a month I do an editorial/community cartoon for the Town Crier newspapers - they cover eight communities in Toronto. I used to just do a cartoon for the Bloor West Journal, but it got picked up by the Town Crier, and the publisher decided to have me do a cartoon for all the community papers.

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What's '13 Ghosts of Halloween' about?

13 Ghosts is a fun Halloween book about 10 kids, two dogs and a cat who go on a spooky adventure in a haunted funhouse. They encounter lots of scary characters, like black cats and shrunken heads and giggling goblins! The story is written in such a way that you can sing it to the tune of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'. In the catalogue it states that the book is suitable for ages 3-7, but I think it's good fun for any age!

How did you get involved in the project?

By being in the right place at the right time, I guess! Scholastic had some samples of my work on file from a job I didn't get with them, and I just happened to be exactly what they were looking for. Interestingly enough, Robin Muller (the author) is also an illustrator as well as a children's author. Quite a few people who knew this were confused as to why he didn't illustrate the book.

When I met Robin he explained to me that he had just finished a two-year illustration job and wasn't eager to jump into a new project, and also, he thought that my illustrations fit the words perfectly. I believe he had some say in picking the artist, but in the end, the final decision comes down to the marketing department.

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What's 'Good Granny / Bad Granny' about?

Good Granny/Bad Granny is an adorable gift book for all the grandmothers out there. It's written by Mary McHugh, who has written many successful humor books. Each spread of the book features what Good Granny would do in a certain situation, and in turn, what Bad Granny would do. And yes, Bad Granny does seem like she has way more fun.

And speaking of fun, this book was a blast to illustrate! Chronicle Books is an amazing publisher - I've admired their creative, funky books for years and so was thrilled to bits when they approached me to work on this project. It's coming out in August, the same time as '13 Ghosts of Halloween'.

So tell me about your new cartoon book that's coming out in February.

About a year ago I was approached by this small independent publisher in New York called Red Rock Press, which focuses on creating gift books. The publisher wanted to create a Valentine's Day gift book from a woman to a man. It's called 'You're My Guy Because...' I was asked to write 30 sweet/funny phrases which would go along with 30 cartoons that in a humorous way explained why 'you're my guy'.

It sounded like fun, and it was the first time my then agent negotiated a book deal for me, so even though it was a small project, I was very excited about it. The final product is cute, but the creative process was not what I expected at all.

It was the first time in working with a publisher where I experienced such limited creative freedom - the publisher had final say on everything regardless of what I thought, and so in the end, I don't really feel that the book is a true representation of my humour. That being said, it's a great idea for a book, and I'm sure people will enjoy it. The book will be available in February 2008.

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What are your upcoming projects?

At the moment I'm finishing up another grandmother gift book also to be published by Chronicle Books sometime next year. I'm also illustrating a fun educational book about the history of democracy, which will be published by Capstone Press in the U.S., and I'm doing lots of educational cartoon work for Scholastic Canada. And I've got quite a few spot illustrations for various magazines on the go, so I can't complain about a lack of work right now!

There's something else I'm working on, and this is the first time I'm mentioning it online. Notice that I had said earlier 'my then agent'. Well...after two years of submitting my book idea, my agent (McIntosh & Otis) was nearing the end of possible publishers on her list.

It was suggested to me that I change my idea to make it more 'marketable' and 'universal' (my idea is focused on a niche market) - but the changes were just so opposite to my style, that I simply could not do it. It would have meant watering down my original idea, which I still love, so I said, 'sorry, can't do that' and they said, 'we wish you the best of luck in your publishing endeavours'. They were really very nice about it, actually, and we parted on good terms.

Part of the problem also was that any new ideas I sent to them were either too similar to the original book idea, or simply still too niche oriented. So even though one part of me feels like I have failed in my relationship with Mac & Otis, another part of me is very relieved to not have to deal with that pressure anymore.

It also means that I am now going to focus on self-publishing this book, somehow. I'm still not exactly sure of my direction in doing this - I had originally thought of publishing it via Lulu.com, but some friends have cautioned me about how very, very hard it is to publish, market and distribute one's own book. It's not impossible, but it's very time-consuming. But I think I will start with Lulu.com anyway, and see what happens.

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I would like to publish the book in colour (since it is illustrated), but I'm afraid that the cost might be too hefty for the average book-buyer (it could cost around $20, which for a paperback gift book, is a bit steep). Another approach I might take is to publish a few samples, and send them off to publishers who were not on my agent's list.

In the mean time, I'll be setting up a web site devoted to the book, so now's as good a time as any to reveal the title. The book is called 'Books Are Better Than Men: Love Lessons From A Bibliomaniac'. If you've got a good memory, you will know that the kernel of the idea started at this blog post.

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I will also be producing cards and other gift items around the 'Books Are Better Than Men' theme on CafĂŠ Press (which I am slowly in the process of setting up, finally!) I'm hoping that people (ok, women for the most part!) will like the book - it's just a light-hearted, tongue-very-firmly-in-cheek look at some of the reasons why books might be better than a man.

And on top of all this stuff, I'm also seriously putting my energies into writing picture books - I'm working on a story right now, and I really hope it gets to see the light of day. No matter what though, I'm having lots of fun!

TORONTO-CENTRIC QUESTIONS:

What's your favourite bookstore in Toronto?

I do love Nicholas Hoare and Type because they have an astounding collection of high quality books, but I will still have to say my favourite is Book City in the Bloor West Village, because the staff are just so very, very wonderful. They are funny, and smart, and I can tease and joke and commiserate with them, and they have been nothing but supportive of my publishing endeavours. A bookstore is only as good as the people who sell the books, I think.

What's your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

I do so love the pasta at CafĂŠ Volo on Yonge at Dundonald.

You can find out more about Patricia Storms in her blog, Booklust, or her portfolio site.

All images courtesy Patricia Storms. Image #1 (wine) & 5 (blogger) originally appeared in The National Post. Image #3 (Mayor Miller) originally appeared in the July issue of Bloor West Journal/Town Crier. Image #9 (food in bed) originally appeared in City Bites.


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