order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

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Odd-Fish Art Update #2

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I can’t express how delighted I am with the response I’ve received for the call for submissions for next April’s Order of Odd-Fish art show. Especially this new one: a gleeful comic-book style character sheet for the Belgian Prankster! This one’s by Kathleen Simmons, known as LittleDarlingEve on DeviantArt.

Kathleen deftly conveys the mix of goofy whimsy and insane terror that is the Belgian Prankster by showing him in four different modes. In the full-body drawing he looks guileless, almost innocent. Then Kathleen shows his monstrously eager, feral side when his stinger is out; gives us a taste of his contemptuous irony with the third picture; and then neatly acknowledges that Hoagland Shanks is the Belgian Prankster in disguise with the fourth picture, in which he blissfully clutches a pie! I love the red bags under his eyes, his exploding gray hair, his overall creepiness. Bravo!

At the tender age of 19, Kathleen’s already getting in at the ground floor at Disney: she snagged one of the coveted positions working as a Disney Cast Member for five months at Disney World next year. Go Kathleen! With her skills, she’s going far. Seriously, do yourself a favor and check out the tons of great art she’s already done on DeviantArt. I’m quite pleased with myself for having one of my characters in her awesome, ever-expanding portfolio!

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The indefatigable—both in quantity and quality—Max Pitchkites continues his astonishing streak of paper-cut illustrations for every chapter of Odd-Fish. The one above, for chapter 11, might be my favorite so far: Jo and Ian riding an elephant through Eldritch City. Max captures beautifully the lush, alien feeling I wanted to give the streets of this tropical metropolis. The mushroom-roofed houses put me in the mind of Super Mario Bros., and as usual Max adds his own distinctive element to the scene: a whale-submarine innocently swimming along at Jo and Ian’s side. This picture has a buoyant, joyous energy that really appeals to me.

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Here’s one for chapter 12, when Jo gets her fingernail bitten off by a seahorse-like creature called a nangnang. This mysterious design looks like the cover of some 1960s-1970s acid rock album, or the cryptic emblem of a chic secret society. The way Jo’s finger is bleeding—flowing upwards in perfect weightless bubbles—is more gripping, memorable, and appealing than a straightforward “realistic” picture of bleeding. Great idea to shift from the lush jumble of the last scene to the cool abstraction here. Remember how when Harry Potter came out, some adults were embarrassed to be reading about a boy wizard, so the book was also published with more subtle covers? This would be my choice for the cover of Odd-Fish if there was ever such a version. Elegant and intriguing!

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In chapter 10 the Belgian Prankster tells Ken Kiang the gruesome story of Jo’s birth. Max nimbly depicts the effect this supernatural birth has on her house, which the book describes “as if some invisible hand were squeezing the house, stretching and twisting it as if it were taffy. The bricks were melting, dripping down the sides in streams . . . The house strained at the seams, swelling, heaving, gurgling.” Max’s arrangement of windows makes it seem as though the house itself is moaning and screaming! Lovecraftian and creepy.

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In chapter 13 Jo runs across two accounts of the myth of her monstrous birth. One is part of the miles-long tapestry that is the repository of all Eldritch City myths. The other is a cheaply-made, seedy, but wildly popular show called Teenage Ichthala, episodes of which are bought on the black market or passed among friends like pop-culture samizdat.

Here Max cleverly splices the tapestry and Teenage Ichthala together! For some reason Max’s style keeps reminding me of video games: the various denizens trawling across alternating bands of horizontal color remind me of early Atari 2600 efforts like Air-Sea Battle. Max throws the whole chaotic richness of the tapestry at us: jellyfish, space invader, tsunami, dinosaur, conflagration, vortex, witch-doctor skull . . . and also gives us black-and-white cels from an episode of Teenage Ichthala. Those cels precisely catch the feel I intended Teenage Ichthala to have—like that of a grainy, scratched, old-timey 1930s film.

I’m going to be a bit sad when Max finishes this series (he only has 7 more to go!) Every week I find myself looking forward to what new unpredictable madness he’s going to pull out of his hat.

Fortunately I also have brilliant art from newcomers like Kathleen to pick up the slack when that happens. And Max has hinted that he might also do some Odd-Fish illustrations when he’s done with the cut-paper art—a prospect which I heartily endorse!

Remember: everyone’s invited to make Odd-Fish art for the show, and the deadline is March 1. This is already shaping up to be a fascinating ride.

Odd-Fish Art Update #1

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It’s the spitting image of Colonel Korsakov! Hot on the heels of my call for submissions for next spring’s Order of Odd-Fish art show, I already have some stunning contributions to show off to the world.

This magnificent portrait of Colonel Korsakov is by Danie, an aspiring illustrator whose DeviantArt profile is already quite impressive. She describes how she made it: “The figure is scrap pieces of framing mats super-glued together then painted with oil . . . hot glued onto a piece of spray-painted cardboard.” In a cunning move, “the tassles on his shoulders are real . . . I envisioned him fatter though. Ah well. It’s Korsakov on a diet.”

I love the mixed-media approach, and most of all, THOSE EYES! That quizzical-bordering-on-outrage expression is priceless. And his luxurious beard and mustache! His formidably bristling eyebrows! Thanks for a gorgeous job, Danie. I see a bright future for you as an illustrator. (Yes I am looking at you, bigwigs at Random House.)

But wait, there’s more! Below we have two more goofy, witty illustrations from my talented protégée Freya. To the left, a disgracefully drunk Sefino. To the right, a boy dressed as a hedgehog threatens Korsakov, Aunt Lily, and Jo at the costume party:

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There’s lots to love here: the glazed, half-focused look in Sefino’s eyes, his off-balance stance, his uncertain waving of his walking-stick (Freya has clearly put in her fair share of time with inebriated insects). And the composition of the hedgehog picture cleverly puts us in Korsakov, Jo, and Aunt Lily’s shoes, with the hedgehog pointing the gun at us! Good revelation of character through gesture: Jo seems to be reaching out for Korsakov’s hand for reassurance, but Korsakov defiantly has his hands on his hips. Check out the gallery for larger-resolution versions of drunk Sefino and the threatening hedgehog. Well done!

Freya has been quite en fuego lately. She’s appearing in A Doll’s House in a couple weeks, and she just finished playing Tevye’s grandmother Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof. She only has one scene, when she appears in Tevye’s nightmare, but it’s fair to say she stole the show. Not only because she can sing, dance, and act, but because SHE LOOKS ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING:

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Finally, it’s time to catch up with our friend Max Pitchkites, who in a sustained fever of inspiration is creating cut-paper illustrations for all twenty-eight chapters of Odd-Fish. Today we have chapters 6, 7, and 9 for our enjoyment. (You can see the gallery of all of Max’s work so far, complete with his explanations and my commentary, here.)

The aesthetically restless Max, never content to merely iterate a formula, has begun exploring more abstract ways of representing the chapters. For instance, for Chapter 6—in which Ken Kiang’s stylishly evil Fleet of Fury shoots down Colonel Korsakov’s rattletrap plane the Indignant—Max ingeniously represents this as a game of Galaga:

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I especially like how he worked in the Ken Kiang emblem he invented for Chapter 5—and, with scrupulous fidelity to the text, decorated the missiles with artwork from the Battle of Agincourt and the Crimean War! FLAWLESS VICTORY.

In the next two chapter illustrations, Max courageously ventures into the realm of abstraction. Below, on the left, we have a kind of avant-garde, almost nightmarish cornucopia of countless pies Ken Kiang offers to Hoagland Shanks:

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Here Max augments the pies I mention with his own menu of mind-bending pies, including pies that look like monsters from a side-scroller like Super Mario Bros.; a pie-within-a-pie-within-a-pie is probably the world’s first recursive pastry; not to mention a radioactive pie, a pie made entirely out of music, a pie that is a kind of 404 error, a pie that is a bold refutation of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” . . . I love the fertility of invention here.

Then, for chapter 9, Max shows us the actual “terrifying document” used for the construction of the Inconvenience—a gleeful mashup of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, 1980s video game, the mandala for some severely confused religion, and a Martian barometer. I won’t even try to explain this, but I sincerely hope that one day, an earnest Max Pitchkites fan will get this baffling diagram tattooed somewhere on her body:

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Tremendously fun. Relentlessly ingenious. The experience of receiving such brilliant fan art is proving to be more fun than actually writing the book itself. Thank you, Danie, Freya, and Max—and I’m eagerly looking forward to what’s next!

A “Scathing” Review. Plus: Laughing Lucy!



Tom Spicer, teen librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, has done a hilarious video booktalk that is an utterly withering, brutal review of The Order of Odd-Fish.

“I am here to tell you,” he begins, “about an completely normal book by a completely normal author.” It’s the only book review I’ve seen where the reviewer uses a human anatomy chart to make their argument, or where the reviewer gets shot with an Apology Gun. Thanks, Tom! But you don’t fool me. I saw what you said in the School Library Journal.

As friends of the blog know, my wife and I have a newborn baby, Lucy. Now I promised myself that I wouldn’t let pictures and videos of Lucy take over the blog. And so far I think I’ve been admirably restrained. But the occasional progress report must certainly be permitted, especially when Lucy hits a milestone like this—her first real snorting, giggling, infectious laughter—courtesy of my protégées Freya and Theo:



Theo was able to accomplish this by repeatedly putting a stuffed dog toy on his head and letting it fall off. Lucy’s reaction: COMEDY GOLD!

Well done, Theo. But why doesn’t it work when I do it? I must be too sternly paternal.

UPDATE: Matt Mayes, one of the geniuses behind the brewing of Belgian Prankster beer, suggests playing both videos simultaneously. Lucy insolently snickers in the background while Tom Spicer barks “No laughing!” It’s a new laugh track for a new millennium.