Self-portrait by Joe Kulka
Joe Kulka has written and illustrated My Crocodile Does Not Bite, Vacation’s Over! Return of the Dinosaurs, and the award-winning book Wolf’s Coming!. Joe lives in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff. I wanted to ride around on a dinosaur, too. Still do.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
“When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.” —A Confederacy Of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
J. C. Leyendecker, N. C. Wyeth, Charles Santore. If I could ever draw only half as well as any of them, I’d be very happy.
Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I love being an author and illustrator. I always loved to draw and read. There were so many books that I cherished as a child (and as an adult) that magically take you away for awhile to a different world. As I grew older, I realized I wanted to try to make books that hopefully children would enjoy. When I receive a letter from a parent or teacher, or when I meet a child at a book signing and they tell me how much they liked one of my books, it’s an incredibly rewarding and humbling feeling.
Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Draw and write every day.
If you want to be an illustrator, get started now. Get a little sketchbook and carry it with you everywhere. Whenever you have some spare time fill it up with drawings of things that you like to draw. Don’t worry if your drawing aren’t as good as you would like them to be right now. Supposedly every artist has at least 10 thousand bad drawings in them. (I think I have twice that in me). The sooner you get those out the sooner the good drawings come along more consistently. Also copy. Yep, I said copy. Find an illustrator or artist whose work you like and draw what they drew. Don’t trace, but look and draw. You’ll learn a lot that you can use in your own drawings. These copies are for you to learn from, not to make into into an art forger.
If you want to be a writer, get started now. Keep a journal and fill it up with stories, stuff that you think and dream about, things that happened to you. Also read. Read a lot. Read all kinds of different books and stories. When you find a book you like, ask yourself why you like it. Try to incorporate parts of that into your own writing.
Most importantly, above all else, stick with it. Every artist and writer, at times, feels like their work is lousy. Sometimes it is lousy. But that doesn’t mean you quit. You try again and next time or maybe the time after that, you will surprise yourself with something wonderful that you drew or wrote. You’ll be able to say to yourself, “Wow! I did that!” That’s one of the best feelings in the world.