The Boss Baby, a 32-page picture book written and illustrated by Marla Frazee was published in 2010 (S&S, Beach Lane). Since the book’s publication, more than 200,000 copies have been sold and, in 2016, Frazee followed up with a sequel, The Bossier Baby, introducing the Boss Baby’s infant sister. On March 31, 2017, the animated DreamWorks film was released with Alec Baldwin voicing the main character. Frazee’s book depicts the newborn as a tiny suit-wearing boss who dictates the household. Simon Spotlight released several movie tie-in editions—two board books, a junior novelization, and a leveled reader—and the original picture books have been labeled as the inspiration for the movie.
Christine Van Zandt: Has being part of SCBWI contributed to your career?
MARLA FRAZEE: I have a career because of SCBWI. I attended my first conference in the early 1980s; Jane Yolen was working the main desk and Trina Schart Hyman gave a keynote. I think there were 80 people in attendance. After that, I went to the national conference as often as I could afford to and I attended local Southern California conferences, too. I tried to introduce myself to the speakers, which was super hard because I felt so shy about doing it and I didn’t have much to say. But I forced myself. During those years I was also sending illustration samples to art directors and picture book projects to editors, so I would occasionally meet someone who I’d sent something to. A few of them recognized my name and told me they liked my work. Those exchanges truly kept me going. I met Linda Zuckerman, who at the time was an editor at HarperCollins, at a local conference, and she eventually became my first editor. And 25 years ago, after meeting at Illustrators Day, I became part of a critique group—which is still going strong.
CVZ: Do you still use a critique group?
MF: I am in touch on a regular basis, but I no longer attend monthly meetings.
CVZ: Has your creative process changed over the years?
MF: I can produce books more quickly but not because they’ve become easier or I’ve become better at it! It’s because my three sons are now grown up men. In the early part of my career, I only worked during school hours, if that. Now I can work significantly longer hours. So, books are coming out a bit faster than they were.
CVZ: As an author and an illustrator, how do you decide whether to write the text, create the images, or do both?
MF: It depends. Sometimes the words come first. Sometimes sequential images come first and I go directly to thumbnails. Sometimes the character becomes my way in to the story. I let it all emerge in whatever way it comes to me.
CVZ: Where do you find your ideas?
MF: Oh, god! Even this question makes me nervous. I think we all worry that we won’t ever get an-other idea. I try to not spiral into that place very often. Every book, every solution, even every micro-decision usually comes as a happy surprise when I am not overly stressed out. So, I get out into the mountains with my dog on a regular basis, read a lot, and drive to interesting places. I feel like when I am really frustrated and blocked, the best thing I can do is get away from the work and connect to the real world in some way.
CVZ: What advice do you have for “pre-published” writers and illustrators?
MF: First of all, say out loud that you are a children’s book writer and/or illustrator. Claim it. You are, even if you aren’t published yet. Also, expose yourself to children’s books, past and present. Figure out which ones you love and which ones you don’t. And remember that whatever comes easiest for you, is most enjoyable, and puts you in your happy place, is probably where you will find your voice or style.
CVZ: What are you working on now?
MF: I’m writing and illustrating a book about a dog who is cranky because the other dogs won’t play with him. Or will the other dogs not play with him because he is cranky? It’s a bit existential.
More about MARLA FRAZEE: Frazee, a Los Angeles native of Lebanese descent, found her early inspiration in children’s books such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal. She illustrated her first book in third grade, which was called The Friendship Circle. After it won an award in a state fair competition, Frazee created a duplicate for her school library. Her bachelor of fine arts degree was earned at Art Center College of Design. Frazee has three sons and still lives in the Los Angeles area.
Frazee’s illustrations have earned her two Caldecott Honors for the books A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever and All the World.
For more information about Frazee’s process, please visit her website at http://marlafrazee.com/studio. Twitter/Instagram: @MarlaFrazee.