It isn't often you come across someone who is as adept at using their illustrative tools as they are with language and words. Sure, Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein come to mind, but their illustrative styles were limited. Wonderful, but limited. Douglas Adams had an amazing talent with the English language, but no illustrative ability. That brings me to Adam Rex.
Adam Rex is the author and illustrator of several very creative and entertaining books, including: "Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich," "Frankenstein Takes the Cake," "Pssst!," "Tree-Ring Circus," and "The True Meaning of Smekday." He has also illustrated several books by Mac Barnett. But we'll focus our attention on the books he has both written and illustrated.
I was first introduced to his work in "Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich." This very creative collection of poems tells the stories of all your favorite monsters. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Mummy. Even Dracula's son and the Invisible Man make an appearance. The smooth, witty, seemingly easy rhymes capture each subject's personality and voice to perfection. Children and adults see the humor and can't help but laugh out loud. The vignettes with the Phantom are a special treat. Rex masters an impressive array of styles and techniques in illustrating the collection, yet each seems to work within the context of the book without clashing about. Pen and ink, black and white sketches, oil, acrylic, it all seems to flow just as easily from Rex's hands as words from a precocious nine-year-old's mouth. The illustrations of Frankenstein capture the classic monster with an added goofiness that makes children giggle. Rex manages, again and again, to add just enough style and wit to make these classic images modern and fun.
Rex revisited the monsters in "Frankenstein Takes the Cake" which follows the wedding and surrounding festivities of Frank and his bride. This is interspersed with blog posts from the Headless Horseman and recurring glimpses into Poe's study as he tries to overcome writer's block. Once again the writing is spot on and the illustrations cover multiple techniques and styles with ease and sophistication.
In "Psst!" and "Tree-Ring Circus" Rex sticks to oil and mixed media to illustrate animals galore. Both tales are appropriately silly. The illustrations in both books will have children studying the pages, trying to remember each image's nuances and laughing out loud at the visual jokes.
Rex rounds out his portfolio with a book for children 8 – 14 years old, "The True Meaning of Smekday." It deals with alien invasions, a Disney-like park, a cross-country trip and friendship. In "Smekday" Rex plays with language and quirky ideas like chips dancing around a poker pro's fingers. No idea is too "out there" to try. Therefore the story takes you on a trip you could never predict nor expect. Liberally sprinkled with pen and ink illustrations this tale is a must read for sci-fi and humor buffs.
Rex is the kind of illustrator that makes other artists yearn to keep studying their craft in the hopes of capturing just a little of his style and character development. Rex makes other writers remember why they began writing and hope that the next story they write will capture just a little of the wit and creativity he seems to freely toss around.