Interview with SCBWI

Featured Illustrator


We are happy to announce that Joe Mohr is the Kansas/Missouri PAL illustrator of the month for June! Joe lives in St. Louis with his wonderful wife and three amazing kids.

Thanks to Joe for sharing his thoughts, and his amazing work with us this month. If you’d like to see more of Joe’s work, visit here and here.

How did you get started in illustration? What is your background?

I’ve been drawing my entire life. In 4th Grade I spent so much time “doodling” that I got in trouble for it a number of times. That same year I won an illustration contest at my local library. The combination of trouble and accolades is a delightful one—I’ve been hooked ever since! I am completely self-taught…for better or worse (probably the latter).

What is your preferred medium, method of working?

My preferred medium is pencil and ink on paper or acrylic on canvas, however as a cartoonist I do a lot of my drawing on my Surface Pro tablet. I used to just finish my drawings on the Surface Pro. Now, because of time constraints, I do it all on the Surface Pro. When time is on my side, I prefer to sketch on paper and transfer to digital.

How did your style and technique develop?

My illustration style improved from years of practice. Fortunately for me that process moved a bit faster when, as an environmental writer, I asked my editor if I could do a weekly environment-themed comic. He said yes and I’ve been a syndicated cartoonist ever since 2007. That opportunity pushed me to improve weekly as opposed to staying pretty stagnant with my old style.

Can you describe a typical work day for us?

On my “typical” work day I teach art and woodworking to Kindergarten through 6th graders, so I just fit in my writing, cartooning, and illustrating when I can. However, over the summer I try to carve out at least 4 hours each day either at my house or a nearby library or coffee shop. While I draw I must have music (or the Cubs game on the radio—I’m originally from Chicago). Music  is a constant muse.

What do you find the most challenging in your work?

I have some illustration-centric manuscripts I’ve written that I’m pretty excited about, but the amount of illustrating for each is a daunting pile of work on which I don’t seem to be progressing. My schoolwork and cartooning schedule keep pushing the work to the backburner. I hope to make significant progress this summer. Although, I said that last summer 🙁

What would you love to try?

Uni-cycling. I bike everywhere, but I’ve never tried the unicycle. I don’t know what I’d do with my hands. Air drums? Wave at passersby? Pick my nose? Probably the latter.

Do you have a favorite book(s) from your childhood? How about more recently?

Oh for sure! Anything by Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein is pure gold. More recently, I am enjoying the success of graphic novels in general (with my 3 kids), as well as the Andrews McMeel compilation of Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave comic strip. He is a great talent. I lamented the loss of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, until I found Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac. Sadly, Richard Thompson left us way too early from the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave has helped fill the void.

What would be your dream project? Or what was your favorite project?

My favorite project was my first book, ROBOT+BIKE=KITTEN. It was a lifelong goal and (oddly) spawned a rock band (ROBOT+BIKE). Also, I do regular cartoons for Greenpeace and a few years back they flew me to L.A. to be in a movie about the importance of free speech. It was a lot of fun to get recognized for my work as a cartoonist. I used up 3 of my 15 minutes of fame.

Any words of advice for folks just starting out in illustration? What do you wish you would have known sooner in your illustration career?

My advice is to keep drawing what you love and keep pushing yourself. In the art world criticism and failure are commonplace. Have a thick skin, put failure behind you, accept criticism if it’s constructive and ignore the rest. Keep drawing what you love—not what you hope others will love.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming book releases we should be on the lookout for?

Eventually I hope to share Alphabetanimalliteration with the world, but I have a lot of illustrating to do for that one. Before that I hope to have a compilation of my first 100-200 Broster comics.


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