“Is it true you have illustrated 100 books?”
“150!,” replied John Steven Gurney. He quickly explained these were series chapter books which entailed a color cover and a handful of interior black and white illustrations. Even so, that’s a lot of books! The A to Z Mysteries, Bailey School Kids, and The Calendar Mysteries series kept him busy in the 1990’s. He often completed a book a month.
This fall semester John has been teaching illustration techniques at Kutztown University. He studied at Pratt, Brooklyn and got his MFA from The Hartford Art School. He shares his years of professional experience with sophomores studying Communication Design.
Dinosaur Train, published by Harper Collins in 2002, may be his best-known book. Inspired by combining his son’s two obsessions, trains and dinosaurs, the picture book got rave reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
John shared an unusual story. “Dinosaur Train, the T.V. show, produced by Jim Henson is not based on my book,” he said. “Harper Collins advised me that you can’t copyright a title. Still, I got a call from the Jim Henson Co, now part of Disney offering to buy the rights to the title. It ended up that I earned as much from the title negotiation as the book’s original advance.”
John is now working on a series for Papercutz, a new publisher devoted exclusively to the hot trend of graphic novels for kids. Fuzzy Baseball is his first graphic novel and it is becoming a series. “I like writing these because Papercutz gives me a lot of freedom.” he said. His technique is a mix of analog and digital. He draws his illustrations in pen and adds light washes by brush to shape the figures. Then he scans the work and digitally adds final colors.
What has he learned from the Fuzzy Baseball project? “Kids today are less knowledgable about baseball than when we were kids.” So in addition to telling a good story, John explains basic baseball concepts to youngsters like the sacrifice fly. He adds more ‘inside baseball’ jokes to appeal to older readers.
Publisher’s Weekly noted, “Gurney’s love of the game is apparent.” School Library Journal wrote, “Panels illustrate where players are as they steal bases and the action speeds up. The overall effect is a very clear picture of the game.” The success of Fuzzy Baseball led to Ninja Baseball Blast and the book he is making now, Fuzzy Baseball #3, will be released in May, 2020.
John is also an amazing caricaturist. He honed his skills on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore. He recently shared that talent by sketching students at the Creative Royale event at Kutztown University.
When he is not at the drawing board, John loves to do school visits. He was in Tennessee this weekend. He has visited 31 states and presented at international schools in Hungary, Poland, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. To invite him to your school or see many more examples of his artwork, visit his website: johnstevengurney.com