Harry Bliss: Relating to Rosie

Harry Bliss with Penny

Harry Bliss is an illustrator and cartoonist. He is known for his New Yorker cartoons as well as his many children's book illustrations (Bailey; A Fine, Fine School; Diary of a Worm; My Favorite Pets). He and Kate DiCamillo worked together previously on Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, and had planned for years to team up on a kids' book about dogs. Candlewick will publish Good Rosie! on September 4, 2018.

Is Good Rosie! the book you imagined when you and Kate DiCamillo first started talking about doing a dog book together?

Initially, I imagined doing a book of dog-related poems. But then Kate sent a narrative about an introverted dog and I thought kids could really relate to Rosie. As a child, I was a lot like Rosie. I spent a lot of time alone and was reluctant to open myself up to other children.

What made you decide to take the paneled approach to this particular book?

Comics are a wonderful way to introduce young readers to the joys of books and I wanted this book to have the feel of an early reader, not intimidating for children. There's something wonderful that happens in comics--the narrative that we don't see in between the panels, the time elapsing in the story which our imagination makes up. I have always found that aspect very intriguing. 

The illustrations for Good Rosie! are in watercolor. Is this your preferred medium for kids' books?

I adore watercolors. I have been working with watercolors since I was 10 years old. I have never been asked this question before, but yes, I feel watercolors are a wonderful medium for children's books. There's a lightness and sincerity in this medium--a drawing medium, only with color. Moreover, I'm a Pisces... fish.

How does the process for creating cartoons differ from illustrating a book written by someone else? Do the words of the story "speak" to your illustrations?

Well, cartoons are one-offs, single-panel narratives, not multiple panels for pages, so I don't have to keep a consistency of character(s) going for 32 pages like I do in books. With cartoons, the viewer has to imagine a narrative leading up to that single panel, as well as the narrative that follows the panel. Imagining those two narratives will often inform a caption for the cartoon. When I do books, whether I write them or someone else writes them, the narrative is far more illustrative and complicated. A cartoon will take me two hours; a children's book will take me 10 months.

Only a true dog lover could capture the priceless expressions and poses of Rosie, Fif(i) and Maurice the way you do. Who is the dog in your life right now? Is she/he jealous of your relationship with Rosie and Co.?

Ha! My dog Penny would most certainly be jealous of Rosie; she has me wrapped around her little paw, which interestingly enough, smells just like corn chips. Penny is 12 years old and has developed a little arthritis, but she's still pretty active--woke me up at six o'clock this morning for breakfast.--Emilie Coulter

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