February 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Molly Idle’s ‘Flora and the Flamingo’ Is a Wordless Wonder | Under Cover

Photograph by Kathryn Smith

You use nifty interactive flaps to tell the story of an unlikely friendship between a gawky bird and a vulnerable girl. How’d you come up with the idea?

When I was little, I thought that Lee Iacocca and the Ayatollah were interchangeable and that flamenco dancing was flamingo dancing. I had this amazing talent for missing the obvious. It’s a running gag in my family. I was 10 before I realized that the names of A. A. Milne’s characters—Kanga and Roo—together made “kangaroo.” Then one day, I said to my mom, “Ooh, do you get that?” And she was like, “Please tell me you’re joking?”

Did your kids inherit that talent?

When they were learning to talk and play with language, they were coming up with all of these really funny phrases, like “fire extinguisher” was “fire stinking shirt.” And I started thinking back to when I was little, and I remembered this thing about flamingo dancing, and I thought, Oh, I want to draw a dancing flamingo.

The story comes across like a choreographed dance between the two characters.

Yes, absolutely, even though the flamingo is at first an unwilling partner. [Laughs] I watched a lot of ballet performances trying to find some poses from different pas de deux that would allow the characters to interact in ways that would move the story along. But I tried not to get too hung up on what this little girl and this flamingo would look like. Instead, I concentrated on the line and the feel of the movement.

There’s so much movement in your drawings. Did you pick that up when you worked at DreamWorks?

I can’t help but be influenced by my work in animation. Animation is always about creating an illusion of movement. I enjoy bringing a sense of movement to a still image—that kind of dichotomy really interests me.

What’s up with you and Prismacolor pencils?

It’s a love affair. For starters, they have this amazing range of colors, not unlike what you would find with wash or oil paint or watercolor. You can layer them in very much the same way as paint, and they give me total control as to where the pigment goes that I just haven’t found with paint. I know some painters are just amazing with their control, but for me, it was a constant battle with paint: go here! No, I don’t want you to go over there! My goal was to make pencils do what I wanted, and Prismas are perfect for that. If they ever go out of business, I don’t know what I’ll do.

I’m amazed at how neat and clean you keep your studio in Tempe, AZ.

I’m super-compulsive. I am type A, and there’s just no way around it. I like things neat, and I like to straighten my papers. Then I straighten the paper clips that hold the papers together—I’m crazy like that. Before I had kids, the house was always totally put together. My hangers were evenly spaced and color-coded. Then you have kids and that has to take a backseat. So now even though the house is slightly messy and there are piles of laundry, the studio is my little temple of organization and peace.

The story’s about friendship and dance, but I hear you’re not much of a dancer.

No, I am not. I’m awkward like Elaine on Seinfeld. I am so heavy on my feet, it’s kind of depressing. There’s an old movie maxim that says, when you make a musical, you sing when you can no longer talk and you dance when you can no longer walk. That’s the way I feel about pictures. I can draw a picture when the words that I might have said seem to fall short. That’s my dancing.

Rick Margolis is SLJ’s features editor.

Rick Margolis About Rick Margolis

Rick Margolis was executive editor for SLJ.

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