We are excited to share with you an exclusive inside look at John’s upcoming children’s book, Luca & the Mongrels of Montparnasse in a short, two-part blog series. In part one, John takes us inside the plot of his tail (ugh...every time: tale), which follows a young artistic terrier through inspiration, friendship and adventure in Paris in the early 1900s. In part two, released in two weeks time, he will reveal secrets and updates about the process of making a children's book, and future plans for little Luca and his big dreams.
Part I: Bringing Luca to Life
It all started with a greeting card...
This one ^ to be precise: an interpretation of a famous Van Gogh self-portrait—which many of you probably know, and love. This card, which John called Vincent van Dogh, was sent to a buyer, a few years ago, at the National Gallery Museum store in Washington, D.C. The museum not only liked the card: they asked for more. So, John created a series of these art history cards, full of puns and pedigrees, and soon Catisse, Labrador Dali, Moonet and many others joined Vincent van Dogh in the ever-growing Artiphany characterverse of art history individuals.
When John showed the series to a friend of his, who had experience working in children’s literature, she suggested he write a book built around these images. “The basic story came into my head quickly,” John says. “The group of painters to whom I was referring were already personal favorites of mine and the period in Paris in which they lived at the beginning of the 20th century was so rich with invention and importance in terms of music, painting, ballet, sculpture, that I already had sufficient knowledge to get started.”
“Because this group of artists were breaking all the rules of the existing modes of painting established by the official Academies and all my images were of dogs, it suggested that this was a conflict between a group of mongrels who were challenging the idea of purity and pedigree.”
For his main character, John landed on a young dog with artistic ambitions, setting off to pursue his dreams in Paris. “Since a dog's breed is a determining factor in what their temperament is like,” John adds, “I chose a tenacious terrier because tenacity is essential to achieving anything, especially for an artist.” And so Luca came into being, and trotted onto the page.
Luca leaves his childhood home in 1910 and is welcomed into the Parisian residence of his Uncle Jules, a baker of premier dog biscuits, who is also sponsoring his education at the prestigious Pedigree Academy. Uncle Jules and Luca’s cousin Celeste are thrilled to have him join their little family. “They toast Luca's arrival that night with a dinner of root beer and dog biscuits and recite the pledge that a terrier is true to the breed and "never gives up!" no matter what,” says John.
“Luca’s first day at school under the command of the eminent painter Maurice de Monfort Bark-Woofsey is a disaster,” John continues. “His gesture of friendship towards his classmates is rebuffed by a snobby assortment of pedigree puppies.” Bark-Woofsey gives the class an assignment: to paint a “masterpiece” representing all the virtues of their given pedigree. But before Luca even puts paintbrush to paper, a glint of color catches his eye. The gingko tree, swaying outside of the classroom window. “He's so captivated by its beauty that he begins to paint it instead of the assignment,” explains John. “Even though it's an unintentional act of disobedience, he's scolded by Maurice de Monfort Bark-Woofsey in front of the class.”
“Though he doesn't know it yet, his response to the tree's natural beauty is a marker for the type of painter he will become.” Nonetheless, after the admonishment, Luca abandons his painting of the gingko and sets about completing Bark-Woofsey’s assignment. After all, he’s determined to honor his Uncle Jules’ great act of generosity, and to make his family proud.
After his lessons, Luca escapes to a park near the academy to meet Celeste for lunch. “Her buoyant personality won't tolerate a place that isn't any fun,” says John, “and she knows that a big dose of adventure will cheer up her cousin's spirit. She grabs his paw and off they run to Montparnasse to meet the Mongrels…”
That's all you get for now....but keep your ears pricked for part two, which dives into the knitty gritties of publishing a children’s book—no small task in the world that is 2019, let me tell you.
Now...get off your computers and tablets and phones and out to the dog park! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!
Love and dog bones,