Interview With King of the Monster Illustrators Adam Rex

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Adam Rex gets monsters in just the right geeky way and he can draw them like nobody’s business.

His incredible picture book, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, is in your kid’s Scholastic Book Flyer this month for a bargain price. And his newest novel — Fat Vampire, for older kids and adults only — is in bookstores now.

Image: Courtesy Adam Rex

Halloween seemed like the right time to ask him about all things monster:

How were you introduced to the classic monsters?

This would be a great opportunity to claim I used to watch Universal monster movies every Saturday afternoon as a kid, or that I was a fiend for repertory film, but Halloween decorations probably formed the greater part of my impression of the classic monsters growing up. Decorations and cartoons.
And that constitutes a lot of my rationale for referring to the monster as Frankenstein, by the way. After my first monster book was published I met dozens of helpful people who wanted me to know that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, not the monster. I know this, as would I think any person with a decent American public school education.
But I say that the Halloween decoration Frankenstein is a character too; a character with at least as much cultural regard as the tortured Regency satanic figure of Shelley’s novel.

Which is your favorite?
My favorite classic novel may be The Invisible Man. It’s smart, and genuinely funny. Otherwise my favorite character is probably Frankenstein’s Monster/Frankenstein the Monster.

Are there any you actually find scary?
I guess not. Maybe we’ve all been living with them for too long to really find them scary. Although I find the idea of invisibility to be frightening if in the hands of anyone other than me. Of course I would be a perfect angel. A perfect invisible angel, like the dead grandparents in Family Circus.

Or too sacred to lampoon?
Ha! Apparently not. I think I’ve given everyone a turn, haven’t I?

Image: Courtesy Adam Rex

Dracula with the spinach in his teeth was one thing, but with Fat Vampire, you seem to have gone straight for the kill. Was it your goal to puncture the whole glittery vampire phenomenon? Or was this a story you wanted to tell for its own sake?
For its own sake.
I haven’t read the Twilight books, though I suppose in general I thought it might be fun to deflate all of the notions of vampire sexiness, secret societies, the idea that anyone could learn to divide the population of the world between fellow vampires and perishable food sources and expect to retain their humanity, etc.

I guess I had just come to see most vampire fiction as kind of eternal youth wish fulfillment fantasies, and wanted to try my hand at something else. Vampirism is like celebrity now. Vampires are these eternally young, thin, sexy apparitions of perpetual nightlife and absolutely nothing like their folkloric European boogeyman predecessors. We don’t even make our vampires sleep in coffins anymore, or the ground. They’re barely allowed to do anything so grotesque as turn into bats or command vermin or whatever.

Image: Courtesy Adam Rex

Anyway, I got to thinking: what if I’d become a vampire too soon? If I’d been frozen not in my physical prime but before I got my growth spurt, before I learned how to talk to girls? So I imagined a short fifteen-year-old vampire who is never going to discover how much better life can get after high school. Doug Lee. And Doug wants to find love, or at least a naive and inexperienced 15-year-old-geek’s idea of love. And he wants to be admired and popular. And he wants to get the cast and crew of TV’s Vampire Hunters to leave him alone. And he’s eventually willing to do almost anything to make these things happen, and that’s what makes him a monster.

In other business:
What’s going on with Smekday? Will we get a sequel?

I’d never planned a sequel, but I’m considering the possibility. The True Meaning of Smekday has been optioned for a motion picture, and if that movie gets made then I may take the increase in interest as an excuse to finally write something else. Maybe a graphic novel. If the movie never happens, I gotta admit I’m not sure that I’d do it–the novel has been out for a few years, and I’m concerned that I’ve missed or am missing some window in which a sequel would be a good idea. Right now I’m waist-deep in writing the first book of a completely unrelated trilogy and I won’t have much time for anything else for a few years.

How about another illustrated mid-grade?
Definitely–that trilogy I just mentioned will be a return to middle-grade fiction for me, and will be heavily illustrated.

Or perhaps you’ve got something else in the works you might share with us?
I’m finishing up illustrations for a picture book right now, and I have a few more scheduled over the next few years. The one I’m working on now is like nothing else I’ve ever done. I’m building tiny sets for it. I’ve made puppets.* It’s either going to be amazing or a self-indulgent fiasco. Or an amazing self-indulgent fiasco, like a Terry Gilliam movie.

*If you’re wondering why Rex needs puppets to make a picture book … He’s famous in the kidlit community for creating sculptures to use a models for his illustrations:

Image: Courtesy Adam Rex

For more about Adam Rex, his monsters and Abraham SuperLincoln, visit adamrex.com.

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