Jeff Weigel is an author, illustrator, and graphic designer who lives in Belleville, Illinois. He has written and illustrated multiple children’s books and graphic novels, including “Thunder From The Sea”, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and “Atomic Ace (He’s Just My Dad”) and “Atomic Ace and the Robot Rampage”, published by Albert Whitman & Company. He illustrated “The Monster Alphabet” by Michael P. Spradlin, published by Price Stern Sloan. Jeff is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Jeff created illustrations for the 2009 New York Times bestseller “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Zombies: A Book Of Zombie Christmas Carols” by Michael P. Spradlin. The follow-up books in this series, “Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs”, and “Jack and Jill Went Up to Kill: A Book of Zombie Nursery Rhymes”, each have more than fifty of Jeff’s drawings. All three are published by HarperCollins.
Comics have always been Jeff’s first love, and he was a regular contributor to Image Comics’ anthology title, Big Bang Comics, for more than fifteen years. His work as a writer and illustrator on the character he created, The Sphinx, earned him a past nomination for the Russ Manning Award For Most Promising Newcomer in the comics industry.
Now on to the FIVE QUESTIONS
1. What was the spark of inspiration for Stop Math?
The idea for Stop Math came to me several years ago when I was reading a lot of books about astronomy, physics, the history of science. I became interested in finding a way to clue kids in to the power and importance of math, and do it in a way that would entertain them rather than lecture them. I did that by creating a main character they could relate to: a boy that hates math homework and doesn’t see why he has to be bothered with it. The boy, Sparks, sets out to end math forever by finding it’s inventor and stopping him from ruining kids’ lives. Add time travel, a robot dog named Widget, a collection of history’s greatest mathematicians, and stir vigorously. Voila, you have Stop Math! It was originally conceived as a traditional picture book, but once I saw my first interactive book on the iPad, my brain immediately exploded—I knew instantly this was the perfect medium for what I wanted to do with this story. The interactivity built into Stop Math rivets kids, even those that might normally turn away from a book about math. The iPad’s capabilities let me create fun interactive diagrams that introduce kids to abstract concepts like relativity and gravity. It also allowed me to create the amazing “Chronoport Calculator”— a way to get the reader to actually solve a few simple math problems to advance the action. These things take the story way beyond anything I could have done in print.
2. How different is the process for illustrating an app compared to illustrating a book?
The first stages of creating Stop Math are pretty much the same as they would be for a print book: tell a good story and create exciting artwork to illustrate it. After that comes a whole new way of thinking about the process of telling the story by using animation and interactivity to involve the reader in the action. There’s always the danger of losing sight of the book’s mission by adding flashy interactive elements that end up distracting the reader from the story. I’ve seen many other iPad books fall into this trap. Stop Math is designed to use the medium’s capabilities to draw the reader into the story’s events. Beyond these creative concerns in making a storybook app, there’s a huge amount of technical skill needed (provided by Stop Math’s outstanding developer, Ed Brown) and a labyrinth of decisions to make, all directed toward making the app’s functionality smooth and the user experience intuitive and seamless. Some decisions are as seemingly simple as how to let the reader know it’s time to turn the page, or even how to turn the page. Others are more complicated, like how to interactively illustrate the relationship between time and the speed of light! Plus there’s the task of recording and adding sound effects and narration. In short, making an app adds many layers of complexity to the traditional rolls of designer/author/illustrator. It was a radical learning experience for me.
Teachers sure seem to think so. A number of them saw Stop Math in it’s testing phase (another crucial step to creating a good app) and they saw its potential to engage kids’ interest in math’s power to decode the universe—something kids don’t think about when they’re struggling with classroom equations and homework. Stop Math won’t make a student better at math, but it will help them understand why they should want to be better at it. That’s a lesson teachers will welcome.
4. What advice do you have for aspiring author/illustrators?
Work hard. Talent is like iron ore, it’s a raw material that’s only worthwhile if you’re willing to forge it and hammer it into something useful.
5. Finally, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek. As a kid I always wanted to grow up to be James Tiberius Kirk. Now I draw pictures for a living—go figure!