|Becky and Eric Carle post-drawing, pre-tattoo|
I while back I wrote about the tattoo collection on Becky's arm, but it's time to confess the dark side of asking illustrators to inscribe caterpillars, pigeons, and monkeys on one's flesh. There are wonderful, talented illustrators out there who don’t understand why she gets these tattoos, so they look down on her for getting them at all.
Becky moderated a panel of illustrators at SIBA 2010, featuring James Dean, Henry Cole, and Johnny Atomic. Afterward, everyone stood around chatting. Becky told the story of her three tattoos, one of which would be featured in the soon-to-be-released (at the time) Word Made Flesh. When he thought Becky wasn't looking, Cole rolled his eyes and twirled a finger beside his temple – also known as the international symbol for “what a nutjob."
Cole had already thrown shade at the Books & Books staff during 2010's SCBWI conference, but we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Anyone can have an off night, right? Well SIBA was strike two; why wait around for a third?
Cole, you’re a hoot at the dinner table and you give a great presentation, but come on. Why do you feel compelled to spit on someone else’s good time? I'd think the illustrator of books like And Tango Makes Three and The Sissy Duckling would look at his fellow man with a little more love. You won’t be part of Tattoo Girl’s Mortal Art Project*, a punishment I doubt you'd care much about. The real punishment is that with your attitude in life, you’re gonna miss everything cool and die angry.**
Then there's Brian Lies, who decided that bigger meant better.
Shelf Awareness, the best trade publication in the publishing world, featured Becky's Very Hungry Caterpillar tattoo in their write up of Word Made Flesh. Lies saw the review and felt compelled to write in the next day to “one up” Becky’s tattoo, as he put it.
This librarian loved Lies' work enough to have it indelibly inked on her arm, from shoulder to elbow.
Yes, Lies, that quarter-sleeve from Bats at the Library is indisputably gorgeous, and certainly larger than the Caterpillar, but… did you draw it there?
To claim petty victory because the librarian’s tattoo is bigger completely misses the point. So far, Becky carries three pieces of original artwork from modern children’s book masters wherever she goes. The tattoos are unique memorials of a meeting, a moment, a connection. They are, like us, permanent markers in an impermanent medium. Batsleeve is a perfect copy of a pretty picture.
And if I may, Eric Carle is timeless; those bats are still on the clock.
Sure this post is petty, but I don't like to see Becky's feelings hurt. She's a big girl and she recovered, but the worse crime was that these encounters tainted children's books that we used to love. Except for keeping them in stock because they sell, she didn't have strong feelings about Cole's stuff one way or the other. But when Becky lamented how much she used to love Bats at the Library, there was real pain in her voice.
Picture books are meant to spread joy. Now every time we sell one of these illustrator's books, or stock the shelf, or even see the spine, it's a tiny invitation to Bitter Town.
That's why I've resisted posting this for so long; I didn't want to ruin these books for anyone else. But fuck it, you mess with the Tiger, you mess with the Turtle.
And Turtles bite.
*I made that up to give it grandeur; whatcha think?
** With respect to Patton Oswalt