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  Two pigs leave the story and the wolf behind

David Wiesner
on Creativity
An interview with Tom Bodett,
host of Loose Leaf Book Company

TOM: It's said that there is nothing new under the sun. It's all been done before. Nobody would argue that the story of the Three Pigs hasn't been around. A pig builds a house of straw, the wolf blows it down, and eats him. A pig builds a house of sticks, the wolf blows it down, and eats him. A pig builds a house of bricks, and his hams remain in place. A nice story. Who'd want to mess with it?

DAVID WIESNER: You know if you were one of the first two pigs in that story, and every time it get read you got eaten, wouldn't you have a little incentive to want to get out of that story?

TOM: David Wiesner. He won the Caldecott medal for Tuesday, his surreal story of night flying frogs, and is famous in his other award winning creations for messing with conventional ideas about what a picture book should be. David Wiesner tells us where he first got the notion to tackle the story of The Three Pigs.

DAVID: I've had for years this idea of characters leaving a story and moving into the space behind the story. You know, having the entire format of the book collapse and leave them standing in this sort of nether world. And when I began to seriously try to put a story to that concept, I had to figure out, well, if the reader is going to start in one story and leave it, I kind of have to start off with something that they're going to recognize. And the most recognizable stories I could think of were Goldilocks or The Three Pigs.

TOM: These pigs, now the three of them, have all gotten out of their story, and they're having a good time. They're floating around, they fold up one of the leafs of the, one of the pages, I should say, of the classic story that they just escaped from, and they ride it around on a paper airplane. So when you're conceiving of something like this, I mean these are probably always unfair questions to ask artists, how does this come to you? Is there any way you can describe that for us?

DAVID: As I said, I've had this idea, just this sort of graphic idea of this story that collapses and characters who discover this emptiness behind it. That's been sitting around in my head for ten or fifteen years. It was a long—in fact, it goes back I think to when I was probably seven or eight years old. The first time this sort of concept came to me was watching Bugs Bunny. Ninety nine out of a hundred times Elmer Fudd is chasing Bugs Bunny around. They go through the log and they spin it around. They do their classic sort of routines, but there's one cartoon where all of a sudden they're chasing and they run right off the edge of the film. You see the frames of the film, the little holes for the sprocket go by and they're standing there in this sort of white blank thing. They kind of look at each other and go, ah. Turn around and run back into the cartoon and it starts up again. And I remember as a kid going, oh, that's really funny and then sort of just going, oh, my gosh. That is so incredible, the idea that they leaped out of this one reality into this other place and then went back to it, was just amazing.

So that's been hanging around, you know, I've come across that concept in different places over the years but it began to develop into just this idea.

TOM: From a creative standpoint—a lot of I guess creativity in its simplest form is sort of making something from nothing. I guess that's the eternal form. Here you have, number one, you're working within the picture book format which by itself is a little rigid, isn't it?

DAVID: You know, it is and it isn't. It's a wonderful thing, the picture book. It's this 32-page, sometimes more than that but it's this set size and shape that you have to work with. There's a title page and there's a page where the copyright material goes, but what's really fun is to be able to see what you can do within the confines of that format, see how far you can push it and whether there's something new you can do with it. I enjoy the challenge of it.

TOM: So the challenge to the three pigs is number, one, you're working in a picture book format which is more or less 32 pages of something and then you also pick this classic children's tale that everyone knows. I mean, what's next? How do you challenge yourself - next thing and do this thing under water?

DAVID: Funny you should mention that. I'm playing around with a story under water. I kind of just wait and see what inspires me. I've got bits and pieces of stories that I play around with. I honestly, I'm not entirely sure what's going to be next. Gee, I wish I had a better answer for that.

TOM: No, I mean that's a telling answer in itself. This is something I'm very interested in. I know a lot of people are. When you talk to creative people you wonder where their ideas come from. I find it quite reassuring when they say, I don't really know.

DAVID: Yeah, the hardest thing is to be patient. I guess over the years I've learned to kind of just sit back and wait and realize that eventually it's going to come. If it doesn't, we'll be in big trouble but…

TOM: So what's a workday look like for you?

DAVID: Oh boy. Get up, get the kids breakfast and get them off to school. Then, work and on days where I'm trying to work on the concept of a story I can just sort of sit there with a sketchbook seemingly doing absolutely nothing for an awful long time.

TOM: So, do you find on those days when you've sat in a chair seemingly doing nothing with a sketchpad on your lap and at the end of that day when the kids come home from school it's still blank. Do you consider it a wasted day or is that part of your process?

DAVID: It's just part of the big process. It's frustrating because I'd really like to be actively working on something but that's the part of the process that is the toughest to get through.

TOM: David Wiesner speaking about his book, The Three Pigs, published by Clarion Books for ages 4 and up. David Wiesner lives with his family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thanks, David.

DAVID: My pleasure, Tom. You're listening to Loose Leaf.


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