‘We’ll do pretty much anything to engage with kids’
Young picture book creators Tim Miller and Matt Stanton have worked together on four hilarious books, including the bestselling There’s a Monster Under My Bed Who Farts. Their new book is Dinosaur Dump – a gross but hilarious dinosaurs-and-poo story which three and four year old boys will adore!
They both also have ‘day jobs’ in book publishing.
We spoke to them about the terrifying and exhilarating experience of creating their own books, writing for boys, and the joy of making kids laugh.
BRK: You both work in a major publishing house (Tim in Marketing, Matt in Design), so you were already pretty close to the process of book creation. Were there any surprises in the transition to being an author and illustrator?
Matt: While we spend most of our day using our creativity on other author’s books, it’s a wonderful experience to also invest that creativity in something that’s just our own. You also get a window though into the vulnerability required of authors and illustrators to create something from scratch, workshop it until it’s the best it can be, let it go and then wait to see how people respond. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
Tim: There weren’t any surprises for me, I’ve worked across multiple departments (sales, publishing and now marketing) so I’m totally across the life of a book – from acquisition to publication. It was just a bit odd being on the other side of it all.
BRK: Often a picture book author and illustrator work quite separately – the text is created and edited first before the illustrator begins work. We understand you do things a little differently. Can you describe the process of working together?
Matt: Our process is very collaborative. We work together on the ideas for our books and develop a pitch, presenting to our publisher the ideas we’ve developed together. We work on the story and the illustrations together and we check and edit each other’s work. Collaboration is something we find really helpful in the creative process.
Tim: Matt and I come up with the ideas together, throwing random and absurd ideas around. The story and the illustrations go back and forth between us – the closer we work together on a project, the stronger the end result.
BRK: Your first picture book together was There’s a Monster Under My Bed Who Farts and this latest one is about, well, a lot of poo! Along the way you’ve also written about pee. We’re spotting a theme here. Comments?
Matt: We said right at the beginning that we wanted to create books that 4-6 year old kids would find really funny. That means we’re led by things that kids are fascinated and amused by – smelly gas that makes a noise when it comes out of your bottom or the whole concept of a stinky poo. We simply want them to have a great experience reading our books, so we’ll do pretty much anything to engage with them on their level and help them to laugh.
Tim: Well, toilet humour is hilarious. Both Matt and I were readers when we were younger but we realise that there are a lot of reluctant readers these days – especially boys. We wanted to write stories that they would want to read, that they would find hilarious. I think we’ve achieved that. Well, at least we have a laugh… maybe that means we’re just big kids?
BRK: Apart from the themes, are there other elements in Dinosaur Dump that are specifically shaped with a boy reader in mind?
Matt: We pair a bodily function with something else that (mostly) boys love – monsters, pirates and dinosaurs so far. The words in Dinosaur use a really fun rhyme that builds a rhythm through the narrative and the illustration style nods towards a style they’ll be used to from TV or games. We also sought to give them something to talk about – an alternative explanation for what may have happened to the dinosaurs that they can have some fun with.
Tim: I think the grossness is definitely created for the boys but the girls love it too! It might help that Matt and I are writing/illustrating things we think are pretty awesome ourselves.
BRK: This (female, adult) reader was a little grossed-out by Dinosaur Dump, although all the way through I was thinking how much my nephews would have adored it when they were four. Is there a limit? Do you sometimes have to edit content out?
Tim: We try to really push the boundary of what we can include and what we can’t. There is a line and we won’t cross it, but sometimes we need to be reminded where the line is. It gets hard not to get caught up in the world of farts, poop and pee … it’s just a lot of fun.
Matt: We certainly edit content out, but mostly on the basis of whether it comes from their world. Poo, while gross, is a pretty dominant part of your early childhood – nappies, toilet training, not stepping in dog poo. Needing to hold your pee and wait to get to the toilet is an entirely human experience. And farting, well … We don’t feel like we’re introducing these concepts to kids, we’re simply having fun with something that’s very present in their early lives.
BRK: Tim, you must have a lot of fun writing your books, but we imagine there is also quite a bit of work involved in achieving a pleasing rhyming text and considering which colloquialisms to use to enhance the fun and cheekiness. Please tell us about some of these challenges.
Tim: To be honest, it’s mostly fun. Researching synonyms for farts and poo is actually really enjoyable and every time Matt and I do an event, a child from the audience will tell me one I’ve never heard before. Sometimes it is tricky to find words that rhyme and I need to restructure a line, but that’s all part of the process.
BRK: And Matt, please tell us a little more about how you created the illustrations in Dinosaur Dump. Do you work entirely digitally?
Matt: I draw everything by hand and then, once we’re happy with the pencils I scan it into the computer and redraw/paint the colour over the top of it in Photoshop. None of the original pencil is visible once I’ve finished it and by putting all the characters on different layers in Photoshop I’m able to nudge the characters around on the page as we design the text all the way through to the end.
BRK: The illustrations you created of the little green monster with his smell clouds in There’s a Monster Under My Bed just oozed personality, as do Terry the T-Rex with tiny arms, Big old Brucey and the other characters in Dinosaur Dump. Do you have a favourite character?
Matt: I love the Fart Monster – he will always be my little hero I think. I enjoy the cheeky characters too – the surviving frog in Dinosaur, the cat in Pirate, Santa in There is a Monster Under My Christmas Tree who Farts. Interesting side note, Terry the T-Rex is purple because it’s my two-year old’s favourite colour. That seemed like pretty good logic to me.
BRK: How have the kids you know reacted to Dinosaur Dump?
Matt: It’s become a few kids’ new favourite book, which is wonderfully humbling and exciting to see (apologies to their parents).
Tim: With squeals and laughter. It’s fantastic. (Not even sorry about it)
BRK: What are you working on next?
Matt: We’ve got more Fart Monsters coming next year and we might also go to space as well.
Tim: Two new picture books with Matt and throwing some new ideas around.
[Matt also has the follow up to This is a Ball – the book he wrote with his wife Beck – called Did you take the B from my _ook?, which will be out in April.]
BRK: What books did you love when you were kids?
Matt: Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings, Morris Glietzman, Max Dann …
Tim: My favourite picture book was Ted and Alice by John Talbot, and when I got a little older I really enjoyed the Hardy Boys series and all the Choose Your Own Adventure books.
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