Where did you grow up?
I was born in California but moved too early to have a memory of it. I lived in Cherry Hill, NJ, where Blindspot took place, through 4th grade, and then Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
I’m sure I was drawing long before this, but I remember spending hours on a “battle” drawing at the kitchen table of my Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I was probably around 10 and I remember the drawing clearly because it had a soldier calmly sitting on a pile of rubble with a pitched battle going on all around him.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book for children?
While taking a rather dull bus trip, I made a map in my sketchbook of the track of woods I played in as a 9 to 11 year old. The act of drawing the map conjoured memories and characters and soon a story emerged. I was actually pretty deep into the process before I realized it could be a book for kids.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
Yes, especially the freedom I enjoyed as a child, the propensity I had towards physical risk-taking, and the habit I had for finding places beyond the reach of adults.
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
I have as yet to do a story like the ones I read as a kid, which were mostly horror and some sci-fi. Blindspot, however, was very influenced by my reading of army comics like Sgt. Rock at the same age as the main character. I’m a fan of adult books that have young characters. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and Spies by Michael Frayn are some recent ones that come to mind. The movie 400 Blows is a big influence. There is one YA novel, The Pigman that I only recently realized must have influenced Katman. I should go back and read it.
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I’m a parent of a young son so often I try to feed his interests, which lately consists of making stuff like homemade flashlights or costumes from cheap materials and, yes, drawing comic books. My wife and I also like to take him to a lot of museums and go camping together.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
I really like the work of the comic artist James Sturm. He did Golem’s Swing and recently wrote Satchel Paige. I came to his work rather late because I have no interest in baseball whatsoever. But the way he uses baseball as a framework for exploring anti-semitism and racism is really subtle and effective.
There’s an Italian artist, Gipi, whose comics have the strong sense of place that I’m trying to explore. I love movies, comics, stories etc. where the landscape almost functions like another character or reflects the inner emotions of the protagonist. I think graphic novels are especially good at this because the story is so obviously placed within a visual context.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Keep moving. Stories are such big things that if you get stuck you can always shift to another part or approach it from another angle. Sometimes you’ll come up with a scene or a drawing that seems totally unrelated but ends up having a place later on. Also, read all the time and figure out why you like the things that move you.