I bought a copy a new kid’s book illustrated by Kutztown University student Joey Strain. The Little Wolf Who Howled at the Moon is written by Dr. Curtis Herr of the KU English Dept. Not every college student can illustrate a high-quality hardcover children’s book, but Joey pulled it off with distinction.
I wrote to Joey to ask about the project. Below is our lightly edited Q and A.
Q. What drives you to keep making art outside the classroom?
A. Everything. Experiences, people, thoughts, feelings. It’s what is most important to me in my life. I have to make art outside of the classroom because if I did not I would not be happy.
Q. How many zines did you make before making a this book?
A. Well, I actually did not really make any narrative-based zines before my first children’s book job. I, of course, created a lot of illustrations that told a story in the broad sense, but no actual well thought out stories. I always played around with creating characters and jokes since I was a kid, and even used to make small comics about a dinosaur named Yogurt back in 5th grade, but never really made zines in the pure sense of what they are even to this day. I have made some art book zines that are really just illustrations with no words, but that is it.
Q. How did the “The Little Wolf who Crooned to the Moon” come to be?
A. The book came to be in a pretty unexpected way, I think. In my English Comp class during freshman year, my professor, Dr. Curt Herr, asked me what I was interested in doing in life during a review of one of my essay drafts. I said I wanted to illustrate children’s books. He asked me to send him some of my artwork and told me he was working on a book at the time with an illustrator already, but might be interested in doing another children’s book. He ended up loving my work and eventually bringing me in to illustrate the book he was working on – “The Little Wolf Who Crooned to the Moon.” After almost 2 years of book-related meetings in his office and then over FaceTime during the pandemic, the book finally came into fruition after lots of collaboration . It was a long process being my first book and I made a ton of mistakes along the way from start to finish, but I learned an absolute ton of information in the process.
Q.Why did you choose Kutztown U?
A. I ended up at Kutztown after taking a year off from education after graduating high school. Originally, I planned on attending University of the Arts in Philadelphia, but due to financial issues I had to take a year off and work full time. Kutztown University sounded like it had a pretty neato program and I really dug the classes that were offered in the Communication Design program. It was not my first or second choice, but in the end it was where I belonged. I have met amazing folks along the way that have really impacted my art and thoughts. A fella like me wouldn’t have made it in the big city anyway. I truly enjoy being in a town that’s mostly fields and farms, and being able to take a short walk or drive and being able to experience nature and calmness.
Q. Do you still work at an art store? Does the job help you stay creative in any way?
I do still work at an art store, Michael’s Arts & Crafts in the Reading area. Been there over three years now. The job absolutely makes me stay creative because I do not want to be there forever. It’s a lovely gig for the most part, but it definitely drives me to keep making art so I can eventually build that passion into a viable enough career that I don’t depend on my Michael’s paychecks to live. Being a Custom Framer/Personal Designer there is great and I love framing art for a living, but by the end of the night there when I am cleaning up after customer’s messes in the store on my knees scrubbing dirty toilets, I know I need to push myself to get this illustrator career to work out.
Q: One of your classmates at Gov. Mifflin High School was the artist Amos Lemon Burkhart, who tragically died in 2018. Was he an influence on your work?
Yes! Here is an image of one of Amos’s pieces I bought from him back in high school.
Amos was a great friend and the only other person I knew who was as interested in being an artist. He was always my biggest inspiration and I was always pushing myself to keep up with his seemingly endless talent and skill.
More of Joey Strain’s colorful work can be found on his website. Also find him on instagram. The Little Wolf Who Crooned at the Moon can be ordered at your local indy bookshop. I got mine through Firefly Books, Kutztown. You can get the hardcover or Kindle edition at Amazon. Joey has an Etsy shop where you can buy prints and books.
More about the life and art of Joey’s friend Amos Lemon Burkhart can be found at: amoslemon.org