Exclusive Cover Reveal: PLOOF by Ben Clanton and Andy Chou Musser
Say it: ploof. It’s fun to say.
Ben Clanton and Andy Chou Musser have teamed up for a picture book about a cloud named Ploof, and today we will take a first look at the cover.
But first, I had a few questions for Ben and Andy.
Travis: What was the inspiration for Ploof?
Ben: During the winter of 2019-2020 I started drawing a silly cute-ish blob creature. It was a difficult winter for me, but this friendly little amorphous pal made it a bit brighter. I decided it needed a story. If it made me happy, then maybe it would bring some joy to others as well? The result was an interactive book concept called Gloop.
I brought Gloop to a critique group that Andy and I are both a part of to get feedback. Andy had all these fun suggestions for the story and art that never would have occurred to me. It made me wonder . . . what sort of book would Andy and I make if we worked together? After the meeting, I asked Andy if he’d have any interest in collaborating on a book.
Andy: You know, after that meeting, I was thinking of collaborating too… but I was too nervous to ask Ben! Thank goodness he got the ball rolling! We started our collaboration by sharing a bunch of our stories that we had started separately over the years and weren’t quite sure how to finish. One of my stories called “Big Cloud, Little Cloud” was about a day in the life of Little Cloud, an earnest and curious character trying to figure things out. We both were drawn to Little Cloud and Gloop, but both were missing something – then Ben had the idea to combine the two! Little Cloud just clicked into Gloop’s world, and the story for Ploof came together very quickly.
Ben: I was instantly taken with Little Cloud! Little Cloud brightened my day in the same way as Gloop. There was something so playful and honest there, which just fit.
Andy: Another big inspiration was conversations we had about the importance of teaching kids empathy, and how social-emotional learning skills can be life-changing. These topics felt tricky to approach, but we thought an interactive book where readers get to play with a huggable cloud would allow us to explore them in a really fun and breezy way.
Travis: How did the collaboration between the two of you work?
Ben: The pandemic hit right at the beginning of when we started collaborating. Which meant, despite us living in the same city, we did it all remotely for the first year and more. We’d have weekly phone calls where we’d open up a google doc and write simultaneously. It was fun! And a bright spot within such an isolating time. It was one of the highlights of my week!
Writing together felt pretty effortless! I think in part because we share a lot of interests and have similar sensibilities. Also, we’ve known each other for, what, 12 years?! 13?
Andy: Yes, I think you’re right! I want to say we first met at an Oregon SCBWI conference in 2010? Our paths kept crossing, then several years later Ben invited me to join the critique group he mentioned earlier, and several more years passed and here we are.
I agree, writing together felt effortless almost immediately! We generated lots of ideas, and worked on several different stories before Ploof floated to the top of our list. When the pandemic began easing a little, we started meeting in Ben’s backyard. Looking back, it’s funny to remember us bundled up in jackets writing and drawing outdoors in the winter. By the time we started final illustrations, we were lucky it felt much safer to be indoors together. We spent many a summer’s day in Ben’s basement drawing together, reading picture books, and singing along to oldies (Abba, disco, and funk were in heavy rotation).
Travis: What was the biggest challenge in making Ploof?
Ben: Figuring out how to illustrate together had a bit of a learning curve to it. We tried out a lot of options and had settled on passing illustrations back and forth using the program Procreate. But – and in hindsight I’m now very thankful for this – our art director John Martz didn’t think it was quite working.
Andy: Yes, John’s thoughtful nudging really pushed us to stretch ourselves creatively, and led us to develop a style that feels more true to the story than our original illustration approach. When we were brainstorming and writing we put a lot of emphasis on being playful and relaxed, and it was a long journey to find an illustration method that matched. After a lot of experimenting, we ultimately found using simple materials (graphite pencils and powders on cheap printer paper) and then collaging our drawings in Photoshop felt natural and freed us up to be playful again.
Ben: Credit goes to Andy for coming up with that process! He sent me this sheep image he made by smearing powdered graphite on a page and erasing out the shape, which he then added lines to. There was something so cloud-like and charming about it that I immediately thought “YES! That’s IT!”
Andy: It’s funny, I feel like I can’t really take credit for coming up with the process. One day, after months of failed illustration attempts, the idea came to me while I was sleeping. I suddenly woke up from my usual midday disco nap, hopped off my couch, and ran to my desk with a clear idea of how to draw that sheep. I actually didn’t have any powdered graphite, so I made my own using a pencil and sandpaper. At that point, we had fallen pretty far behind schedule because we couldn’t figure out how to do the illustrations, so it was an immense relief to finally find a style that looked and felt right. We had tried so many promising approaches that just didn’t quite fit; I still feel incredibly lucky that powdered graphite idea came to us.
Travis: Last question: What’s your favorite form of procrastination?
Andy: When Ben and I work together in person, we play a lot of basketball and take long walks. We try to make those activities part of our creative process, either brainstorming during them or clearing our minds so we can return fresh to our work. Although sometimes we can get a little competitive during a game of HORSE and, of course, we need to settle the score seeing who wins 2 out of 3… or 4 out of 5! Also, we always enjoy creating new characters and giving them stories, which is usually constructive, but sometimes borders on procrastination when we’re on a deadline.
Ben: There were definitely some heads-in-the-wrong-clouds moments when we were supposed to be finishing the book! I find that is often the case for me in the final stages of a project. My mind starts thinking about other projects and characters. Working with Andy meant that we had each other off of which to bounce those thoughts, which could make for quite the brainstorm and distraction. But a very nice one!
Andy: For sure! I think we’re at our best together when we’re making intentional decisions while remembering to leave space for happy accidents. Generally, our most productive days start with drawing games and trying to make each other laugh with silly puns. Coincidentally, both Ben and I did a bit of improv growing up, and I feel like the approach of saying “Yes, and… “ to each other’s ideas leads us to our most interesting ideas.
Thanks, Ben and Andy! And now, a first look at the cover for Ploof, by Ben Clanton and Andy Chou Musser. Publishing September 26, 2023 from Tundra Books.
From the publisher:
Come play with Ploof! Meet a friendly cloud full of feelings in this interactive picture book for fans of Hervé Tullet’s Press Here.
Ploof is a puffy cloud who’s a little lonely — but now you’re here, and the fun can begin! Can you help Ploof overcome their shyness? Play pretend? Make Ploof laugh with your funny faces, find their hiding spot, give them a high five! Full of imaginative and interactive fun, each page of this perfect book for preschoolers offers a chance to play. By following cues to say hello, clap, blow, shake, wave or make a funny face, young readers will be delighted to see the effects of their actions on Ploof. They’ll learn social-emotional skills like empathy, encouragement and kindness through Ploof’s emotional journey — and, along the way, they’ll learn how to be a fantastic friend!
Join Ploof’s adventures in a brand-new series co-written and co-illustrated by Narwhal and Jelly creator Ben Clanton and up-and-coming picture book maker Andy Chou Musser.
Filed under: Cover Reveal
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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