An Interview with Mitch Vane

What can I say about today’s guest? Let’s see, she’s funny, she’s an amazing artist with so many awesome books, she’s an absolute Aussie legend, and I can’t wait to start talking to her, so ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the super awesome Mitch Vane – Woo-hoooooo!

crowd cheering for interview on reading with a chance of tacos
Woohoooo! I love Mitch! She’s so funny! I love Jelly snakes!

Hi Mitch and thanks for joining us today

Hi Ken

From the Little Lunch series to your wide array of picture books, your style is so recognisable, it just adds extra layers to a story and I really love that, do you think your sense of humour comes through your drawings?

Well, I can’t tell a joke to save myself, so I figure my sense of humour IS my drawings. A bit clumsy. A bit slapstick and daggy. Occasionally un-PC.

They’re the ones I like the best.

I do love a visual gag. I grew up with Archie comics. Mad Magazine was like a rare delicious treat – especially discovering the little side gags (which is why I love to add a side gag to a story).

Mitch Vane interview

Later, I discovered the wicked humour of Ronald Searle’s St Trinians and there was no going back.

Is humour a big part of your working life?

A HUGE part. Even when I am working on my own artworks, I can never resist giving my characters some sort of quirky characteristic. An overly jaunty hat. Slightly crossed eyes. An unfortunate mole. These are the sort of things that I always notice when I’m studying people on the tram. It doesn’t always have to be obvious hit-you-over-the-head humour to be funny.

How important is humour in children’s literature?

Danny Katz and I will be discussing this very topic at the CBCA National Conference next month. Humour is a bit of a hot topic.

I know I’m very biased, but we all need to laugh. It is good for our health. And it doesn’t have to be gratuitous humour (although I’m partial to that as well).

(me too) Can it be a way of tackling other issues?

Just because something is funny and light-hearted doesn’t mean it is dumbing down an issue. In fact, sometimes it is the best way to tackle a delicate or heavy topic with children without bringing the weight of the world down on them. Or, it can just be a way to enable them to laugh out loud and take a break from anything troubling them. This also applies to adults!

Do your characters ever make you laugh as you’re creating them?

Sometimes when I am doing my initial sketches and workshopping, I’ll surprise myself by laughing at a ridiculous character that has appeared on the page and I get such a buzz when I drop this character into the page layouts and instantly the story is funnier.

I love to hear that! One of my favourite things about picture books is an illustrator who can add their own magic to the story. I especially love seeing something in the background that makes me laugh. Or, something I didn’t notice at first and then see it later and get a real kick out of it.

I know I’m on a winner when I can make Danny laugh. He knows how to tell a joke, and is a natural funny writer.

No arguments here. I’m a huge fan.

When we’re working on a book together, he’ll suggest a visual gag that is perfect for the text, or sometimes he will delete the text because my illustration has already told the joke.

I wondered how you two worked together, that’s a fantastic insight. Especially for picture book writers learning when to write something or leave it to the illustrator. 

Our humour is very similar which makes working together really easy.

Speaking of you and Danny, I know you’ve got a new book out. And, I know it’s hilarious! And, I’ll be reviewing the series here soon, but can you tell us what it is?

It’s the latest in the Poppa Platoon series, just released (Scholastic) titled, Saving Private Rabbit. We’ll be discussing this at the conference as well.

Awesome. I love that the CBCA Conference is focusing on laughter and humour in kids books this year. We want kids reading and we want them laughing.

Do you have a funniest fictional character?

There are SO many funny characters … how do I choose? Sponge Bob Squarepants is a legend. But, I’m going to look closer to home. Leigh Hobbs’ Mr Chicken is making me laugh out loud right now. Even saying Mr Chicken makes me laugh. Actually, Leigh has managed the funny trifecta with Mr Chicken, Horrible Harriet and the inimitable grumpy Old Tom.

Do you have a funniest book that you’ve read?

I did love reading books by Babette Cole to my kids, especially Dr Dog. Her characters always make me laugh. And Cole’s work is a perfect example of how humour is a great way to tackle important issues when dealing with children. Mummy laid an Egg and Princess Smartypants are GOLD!

Do you have a favourite joke?

Yes, I have three. All very telling about my sense of humour.

What’s brown and sticky?

I don’t know

A stick.

How do you make a hanky dance?

I don’t know, how?

Put a little boogie in it.

I’m sensing humour from your books here. This really is telling.

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

I didup

I didup who? Oh wait, poooo! No, I didn’t. Ha ha ha ha. Got me!

That last one is a Danny Katz classic, and we’ve managed to put all three  in one of our Little Lunch books!

What would you choose as your creative mascot or spirit animal?

It would have to be one that makes me laugh. The Malayan Tapir. It has such a goofy long nose and looks like it is wearing an oversized pair of undies. Their babies are spotty and kind of cute.

You might give it a jaunty hat?

Okay, if we can just be serious for a moment. Should pineapple ever be on a pizza?

Neverrrrrrrrr. No. No. No. No. No! (blahhhh)

So, that’s a no then.

Do, you have any tips for someone wanting to create a funny story?

Don’t over think it.

Stay loose.

Don’t try to make your first draft your final masterpiece (you can always come back to it).

Write or draw what makes YOU laugh.

Make sure you’re having FUN doing it.

Eat Jelly snakes.

I love it! That is some list. Thank you so much. (Mmmm jelly snakes)

And finally, do you think funny can be taught or is it instinctive?

Funny can be taught … up to a point. The rest is natural ability. You can learn timing and technique. You can work out a formula that works. I can instinctively draw a funny picture, but I know I’m not great at writing funny stories and so I’m sticking with what I do best.

Well, what you do best is amazing and please keep doing it. And, Danny too. You’re both awesome and thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for a chat. I’m off to get some jelly snakes.

Thanks Ken

To find out more about Mitch Vane and her work (and why wouldn’t you?) Check out her website: http://www.mitchvane.com/

The Dynamic Duo

And, If you haven’t already, check out these very very funny books by Danny and Mitch

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