Hostile Questions: Bob Staake
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
I could really respect a man called “Bob Stake.” It’s a surname that conjures up the manliest of pursuits: eating a steak, staking a vampire, that sort of stuff. But you throw an extra “a” in there? Then you end up with Bob Staake, some dude who draws pictures. (He probably doesn’t even like steak.) This Staake fellow has illustrated over 60 books, among them such fonts of foolishness as Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! and Look! Another Book! His latest, Bluebird, is an apparently beautiful book about apparently deep stuff that’s getting all sorts of acclaim.
Until Mr. Staake slays a vampire, though, I remain unimpressed.
Just who do you think you are?
Apparently, I’m that kid who would obsessively draw, cut out paper silhouettes, and eat paste—and then found a way to apply those useless skills to his adult job. I’ve been doing this for 35 years now, so every day I live in trembling fear that the Art Police will knock down my door, wrestle the Fountain Pentel out of my hand, and haul me off to jail in a fit of jealousy—and because I’ve just been waaaaay too lucky. Don’t get me wrong, if I’ve had any success in Kid Lit, it is greatly due to my myopically focused work ethic, and it doesn’t hurt to be able to draw with one hand and write with the other. If I could just grow a third hand, I might finally be able to turn on the coffee maker.
Where do you get off?
Usually 57th and Broadway—and then it’s a three-block walk to Random House. Luckily, most of my days are spent in complete isolation in my Cape Cod studio, which is a grueling 45-foot commute from my home. I wish I could say that while working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, I’m in there finding a cure for cancer, but I’m not. I’m really just trying to make kids laugh, think, and become inspired in some small way through my art and writing. My books are also known for being filled with little visual puns, hidden surprises, and graphic asides that are put there to entertain me—and the adults who find themselves reading my stories to their kids. The problem is that clever book reviewers often discover them—and then waste 15% of their allotment of 200 words proudly pointing out the specific things they found that I sneaked into my busy artwork. I hate when they do that because it takes all the fun and subversiveness out of my hiding things in my books.
Hopefully, my new picture book, Bluebird. Not only do I refrain from using words in this story, but I limited my palette to blues and grays when creating the artwork. This is the most atypical of any picture book I have ever produced, but more importantly, the story’s finale can be interpreted in many different ways by both kids and adults. I “wrote” the wordless story 10 years ago, but never showed it to anyone because I feared it needed a clear, obvious, and unwavering conclusion. I was so wrong. The magic of the book is that it elevates the importance of the reader in the literary experience—and as they comfortably resolve the conclusion in their own way, the story takes on an almost ethereal dimension. Needless to say, that’s a tricky thing to pull off in any book, so I’m looking forward to just relaxing and writing a “medium-sized idea”—a silly story in groan-worthy rhyme.
What is your problem, man?
You mean beside the fact that I’m completely incapable of comprehending fractions without the visual aid of actual pie slices? Happily, children’s picture books rarely require math, heavy lifting, or dangerous moving metal parts, so you won’t find me complaining. That said, my biggest problem might be my inability to jump. At 6′ 3″, you’d think I could slam dunk, but I can’t. Sendak couldn’t either, so I don’t take it too personally.
Haven’t you done enough?
I have never been diagnosed, but I’m certain I have ADD—and while that can cause problems for many people, for me it has been a true blessing. My problem has never been coming up with a story—it’s been deciding which one of 25 stories that I want to turn into a book. I typically produce four picture books a year and I could write what I think is a wonderful story today. But if my agent doesn’t place it with a publisher right away, chances are good that I’ll lose interest in it—and I’ll be on to the next story I want to tell, and the next, and the next. I’ve never understood writers and illustrator who may have this ONE story they’ve written—and then spend the next 16 months retooling, tweaking, and obsessing over it as they see it turned down by one house after the next. I’m considered pretty prolific, but there are just so many stories to write, there will never be enough time, so if I get 15% of my books published, that’s enough for me. Still, you’d think I could slam dunk!