I love the work of Calef Brown. For years I have been amazed as a room full of kids suffering from some serious cabin fever listen intently to Brown’s poems, or stories as he calls them. But seriously, how could they resist bats pooping on people? The illustrations and words weave together and create stories within stories. It’s magical how Brown inspires kids’ imaginations. The kids would take a poem like Skeleton Flowers, which is about what it sounds like, and turn it into an elaborate world of monster bees that use the pollen from the flowers to turn people into zombies. In response to the poem about Ed who likes red the kids thought that if he married a girl who likes green then he wouldn’t look so sad. I could go on forever… Mother of two, Heather Armstrong of the super blog Dooce, sums it when she proclaims Polkabats and Octopus-Slacks “is pure genius.”
So you can understand my enthusiasm when the opportunity came to bring Calef Brown to the Walker. Local musician Kate Lynch and Chris Beaty, aka Clemetown, created a musical versions of Brown’s Polkabats and Octopus Slacks and Dutch Sneakers and Flea-Keepers. On January 2 Calef, Clemetown, a funky snowman, and some others will take the stage at Free First Saturday for a performance filled with music, live drawing, stories, and lots of dancing.
In the meantime I asked Calef some relevant (and some not so relevant) questions about his childhood and life as a father.
What was your imaginary friend like?
A stock car-driving-cat named Cannonball
How did your family influence your career?
Everyone in my family has a good sense of humor. We’ve always been able to make each other laugh. The nonsensical spirit of my books is very influenced by that.
What was your favorite bedtime story?
I had lots of favorites, but for a while I especially liked A Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter, because it involves ransacking, and the name Hunca Munca cracked me up.
What was your first pet like?
A wonderful German Shepard mix named Dickens. She was hit by a car and lost one of her front legs, but she still got around okay and lived a long life.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I have always loved to draw and paint since age 5 or 6, but in high school I realized that it was the only thing that I was good at, so I should give it a go as a career.
What’s your favorite line of poetry?
Do I search for what is not?
Vainly, vainly have I sought?
Or in searching do I find,
The end that so eludes my mind?
My father wrote that when he was in college.
What surprised you most about fatherhood?
I’m more patient and competent than I thought I would be.
What superpower would you like to have?
Who’s your favorite villain?
Gollum and the Grinch, who both turn non-villainous.
What did you want to be growing up?
Aside from an artist, a rock musician and/or a racecar driver.
What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon?
Rocky and Bullwinkle
What Disney character most resembles your personality?
I can’t think of a Disney character that I like, I never got the appeal, so for the part of my psyche that’s self-critical and doubting, that can be Donald Duck.
What was your first job?
I was a counselor at a small co-op day camp called Camp Goochy Gotch. My younger sister Phebe came up with the name of the camp.
What’s your advice for all the artist/parents out there?
Since I’ve only been a parent for about 6 months I need to get advice, rather than give it.
What’s the first work of art you remember seeing?
My very first memory is of being on a beach in Maine and watching my mother paint a watercolor. The first work of art that made a big impression on me was a painting called Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War by Salvador Dali. I saw it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I was eight or nine and it blew my mind. Very scary, but fascinating.
What question do you wish we had asked you?
I wish you had asked me about what kind of pie I like and why,
because I like eating veggie pie. Want to know the reason why?
The reason is the cheese inside the peas inside the crust.
Tasty peas are stuffed with cheese until they nearly bust.
For those who haven’t tried it yet, you absolutely must!
Especially with cheese inside the peas inside the crust.