Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Super Star Interviews: Steve Metzger

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm tickled strawberry lemonade pink to be catching up with the award-winning children's book author, Steve Metzger! Steve has written more than 80 children’s books, including The Way I Act (approved for classroom use by the California Department of Education), Detective Blue (IRA-CBC Children’s Choice List, SLJ starred review), and Yes, I Can Listen! (an Eureka! Honor Award winner from the California Reading Association). His latest, The Bumble Brothers: Crazy for Comics! is a middle-grade graphic novel chosen by the Junior Library Guild as a Gold Standard Selection. And today we're gonna be talking ALL about it! You can also enjoy more of Steve's books here!

Who doesn't love a hilarious comic?!

Q: Your NEW graphic comic, The Bumble Brothers, just released this past fall with publisher Reycraft Books! (Hooray! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop: what is it all about, how did the project come to be published and what jokes are your favorite?

A: The Bumble Brothers: Crazy for Comics! is about nine-year-old twin brothers, Walter and Christopher Bumble, who are totally clueless about...EVERYTHING! When they’re asked by their mother to go on a simple errand to buy a quart of milk, they are immediately sidetracked and go off to buy a comic book instead, one that features their favorite superhero, Frabbit (½ frog, ½ rabbit). Lots of silly misadventures ensue.

This book, which I think is just right for 7-11 year-old reluctant readers, had a long gestation period. It started as a comic strip when I was 14 years old in Junior High School. Many, many false starts later, I finally found the perfect illustrator, Brian Schatell; the best agent, Janna Morishima; and an excellent publisher, Reycraft Books.

My favorite scenes are when Christopher and Walter try to raise money by performing a magic show where nothing goes right. Also, when Harold the Bully fails to scare them, he says, “I’m the worst bully in the world.” Trying in vain to cheer him up, Christopher replies, “Oh, I think there might be one or two bullies worse than you” and Walter adds, “Maybe if you practiced more.”

(Psst! You can order your very own copy here:)

Rock Star Author Steve Metzger!

Q: The Bumble Brothers is full of lighthearted humor, silliness and quick jokes that make for a fast, fun read. Dish with us a bit about creating FUNNY books and who/what/where inspires your sense of humor.

A: From early on, I’ve always been kind of a silly person with a wacky, off-beat sense of humor. Being the class clown in elementary school often got me in trouble, but it also might have been good training for writing The Bumble Brothers. Growing up, I was always attracted to legendary comedy acts and performers, such as the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Carol Burnett, Jack Benny, Charlie Chaplin, and Lucille Ball. A big influence in my love for zany word play was the “Who’s on First?” routine from Abbott and Costello.

Q: So often graphic novels and comics are created by author-illustrators who orchestrate both the art and writing, but that is not the case with The Bumble Brothers. You are the writer, and Brian Schatell is the illustrator. Tell us a bit about the creative process of creating The Bumble Brothers, and what advantages & challenges you experienced being on the editorial side of the project.

A: When searching for an artist for The Bumble Brothers, I remembered a beginning reader that my daughter especially loved when she was a preschooler. It’s called Two Crazy Pigs, and the illustrations were really wild. When I contacted Brian Schatell, the illustrator, I was very fortunate he agreed to be my partner with this endeavor. It didn’t hurt that we both admire the comedians, Bob & Ray, and basically share the same sense of humor. We also agree that the humor should not be “gross”—that means NO fart jokes. I welcome Brian’s text and artistic changes when illustrating from my script. We pretty much have a seamless working arrangement.

What a pair of goofballs!!

Q: You are the author of more than 80+ children’s books! Wowza! In what ways, do you practice resilience as a writer? How do you handle both success and rejection over time?

A: Failure is a basic part of being an author or illustrator of children’s books. It just is. Being rejected is never easy and, believe me, I’ve certainly had my share of rejections. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the rejecting publisher will offer words of advice. I handle rejections by not getting too frustrated, never giving up on my talent, believing in what I know about children’s senses of humor, and that I have a basic understanding of the challenges that children face growing up. When my first book in a new series, The Dinofours: I’m Super Dino was accepted for publication by Scholastic, I was delighted that my experiences as an early childhood teacher would be communicated to parents, teachers, and children through my stories.

Q: Over the course of your long career, the children’s book publishing industry has changed and grown & trends have risen and fallen. What advice would you give fellow writers about how to develop a sustainable career? And what is next for your as a children’s book writer?

A: Wow, that’s a tricky and interesting question. Not being influenced too much by the ever-changing trends in the publishing business is a difficult, but very worthy goal. A positive trend, like increasing diversity in children’s books is, of course, important and long overdue. But my advice to prospective authors and illustrators is not to be influenced by publishing fads and what’s currently “hot,” but to be true to yourselves and what you believe in. If you create from the heart, you will reach children’s hearts. To have a sustainable career, one needs to believe in oneself and despite any low points that arise, never give up! Finding an agent who believes in you would also be helpful in your journey.

What’s next for me is the 2nd Bumble Brothers’ book (The Not-So-Secret Clubhouse, which is currently being illustrated and scheduled for a Fall 2023 publication. I’m also working on a picture-book manuscript, Alice’s Adventures in New York City. Based, of course, on Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this New York-centric book will probably be a hard sell for publishers to take a chance on. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Never fear—Frabbit is jumping to the rescue!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Like every other day of the week, my perfect Sunday (or Saturday) would start by being woken up at approximately 7:00 AM by my cat, Biscuit, asking for her first meal. After making a pancakes breakfast with my daughter, it would be off to a nearby park. Since I live in Manhattan, that park would be my oasis, Central Park. A spring hike in the “wilder” northern end of the park to look for chipmunks would be followed by a visit to the Central Park Zoo to see the sea lions being fed among other attractions. Later on, my wife, daughter, and I would go to the Great Lawn (still Central Park) for a friendly softball game with friends and family members. After a delicious post-softball Italian or Mexican restaurant meal, it’s back home to watch a classic movie on TCM.

Thank you so much, Steve, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on The Bumble Brothers!