by Holly Fink, Ruckus Media Staff Marketing Specialist
Mike Austin, the author and illustrator of A Present for Milo, available today in the iTunes store for the first time, always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. His passion for art began at an early age when he and his sister decided to recolor the bedroom using the new giant box of crayons from their grandmother. The plain white walls where transformed into a scribbly forest and the steam radiator in the corner became a waterfall of melted crayon colors. He thought that was pretty cool but his first art opening was not well received. His mother thought a sketchpad and pencil was a much better outlet for his creativity and the rest is history.
Mike has been working as an illustrator/graphic designer for more than 25 years. He has had the pleasure to work with a diverse mix of national and international clients from Boys Life, to American Express to United Airlines and Johns Hopkins University, all the way to the U.S. State Department and just about everything in between. He’s won awards for his illustration and design and believe it not, his parents still showcase his latest works on the coveted refrigerator door.
We wanted to know more about the story behind Milo and how he came up with the idea for the story, so we asked him a few questions to find out how he got into children’s publishing, and particularly the digital side of the business.
We also found out that Mike actually does have a cat named Milo!
Where did you get the idea for the story for A Present for Milo?
A Present for Milo was originally created for my daughter who was two years old at the time, she is now 17…YIKES! We were lucky enough to live only a few block from the local library so my wife (illustrator Jing Jing Tsong) and I would take her there almost every evening after dinner to pick out some new books to read before bed. One night the library had closed early so I decided that we should use my sketchbook and her crayons to make up a new story together. She loved the idea! We drew a story about our cat Milo and what he was doing while we were out of the house. It was a fun way for her to become fully engaged in the story and creative process. That eventually led to a lot of crazy, nonsensical stories about birthdays and bumble bees, alien teddy bears and talking fireplaces and one particularly ridiculous one about a farting Christmas tree. Some nights the stories were more serious depending on the mood which almost always led to a very interesting conversation. I wish I still had that sketchbook.
Years later I reworked the Milo story and eventually put it together as a finished, bound dummy which sat on my shelf for about ten years until I was contacted by children’s book literary agent Rubin Pfeffer. I showed him the book and he was immediately attracted to the illustration’s whimsy, palette, and narrative qualities. He saw a sense of humor that would appeal to children.
I think in a way Milo and mouse are a reflection of my own family growing up, I have an older sister and three younger brothers. We all got along but we definitely caused a good bit of mayhem when we were little. As an example we lived in a big old house in the Poconos (Northeastern PA). The place was the summer home of some early 1900’s coal baron or something. There was a grand wooden staircase and we would take turns pushing each other down the stairs in a big cardboard box. It would slide perfectly if you sat the right way. We called it stair sledding! Or if you were crazy enough to all climb in together and go bumping down the stairs then it was called stairbogen! No surprise, our daughter and son have inherited the same mischievous gene.
What inspired the design?
The concept inspired the design. The story is about a topsy turvy chase and surprise so the design had to reflect that frenetic energy. I wanted it to be vibrant and playful but also have a textural quality that was different from most of the other apps out there.
Did you envision the story as something digital?
No, I always thought of it as a printed book but then along came the iPad! I thought this could be a really cool new way to introduce the characters and story.
Were you involved with coming up with the special effects and interactive aspects?
I collaborated with a great team of developers at Sequel Digital. We had our initial meeting, going over the basic story structure and pacing. From there, we created a long list of all the fun little things that could happen on each page, eventually whittling it down to a realistic number which was still huge! I don’t know exactly how many individual images or frames I drew in two months but I’m pretty sure it was around 500 gazillion or so.
What do you think is the story’s hook?
Friendship, surprising discoveries and just having fun!
How do you envision the reaction to this app?
I hope that parents and children will have as much fun with it as I had creating the story.
Do you have plans to do more digital story-telling?
You bet! Milo and mouse have a lot of adventures ahead of them and I’m sure you’ll see more of them soon. Now if