Sergio Ruzzier is a children’s picture book author and illustrator, and his books are delightfully quirky and charming, with wonderful warm humour and a lot of attention to detail (and therefore a lot of fun for the grown-up reading the book). My favourite books of his are the Fox & Chick series, which are a lovely (albeit difficult to categorise) combination of short stories, comic, and early reader. The stories take you along the escapades of the ever-patient Fox and the somewhat-annoying Chick. I read A LOT of children’s books these days, and these are the only ones where I find myself thinking of certain lines from the stories at random moments throughout the day and giggling.
The first book in the Fox & Chick series, The Party and Other Stories, was recently awarded a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor at the American Library Association Youth Media Awards. The second book in the series, The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, will be published March 5, 2019. We sat down with Sergio Ruzzier and asked him a few questions.
Jen Sherman: You began your career as an illustrator at the age of 20, in 1986. When did you start to write your own stories and become an author as well? What prompted that?
Sergio Ruzzier: I’ve always wanted to tell stories through my pictures. My favorite thing, growing up, was to read comics, which led to a love for old prints, Medieval frescoes, and narrative art in general. Even though I didn’t mind at all doing illustrations for magazines and newspapers, I knew my real goal was to be a visual storyteller. In my early twenties, still in Italy, I started to publish my first comic strips, and then, once I moved to New York, I was eventually able to concentrate on picture books. I believe that in order to make a successful picture book, the illustrator needs to feel like a co-author as much as the writer is.
JS: How does the process of being an author/illustrator work for you? Do the pictures come first, or the words, or the characters/stories?
SR: It really depends on the book, but I usually go back and forth between words and pictures, without methodically planning anything.
JS: What does a typical working day look like for you? Or an atypical working day?
SR: I don’t have a typical working day because I always find new ways to procrastinate. I cook, I eat, I drink, I take walks up and down the hills, I check the mail, I pet the cats, I read, and when I manage I write or draw a little bit. Then, when the deadline approaches, I start to panic, which is an unhealthy way to deliver on time (usually).
JS: Are the characters of Fox and Chick based on anyone you know, however loosely? (I ask only because they remind me a lot of my husband and myself. I’m Chick, who is a bit of a knob, and my husband is the ever-patient and long-suffering Fox. Our entire relationship is basically encapsulated in these three lines: ‘Should I take a hammer?’ ‘What do you need a hammer for?!’ ‘I can’t find my hammer.’)
SR: They are probably based on two sides of my own personality. I am both Fox and Chick, depending on who is assessing me.
JS: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SR: Chronologically: chef; typographer; graphic designer; comic strip author.
JS: Favourite children’s book you read in the past twelve months? Favourite grown-up book?
SR: Children’s book: I was lucky enough to read Ali Bahrampour’s new picture book, Dinner with the Queen, before most people. In fact, I read it in its dummy form, and I saw some of the final illustrations. Ali’s agent, Rosemary Stimola, is about to submit it to publishers very soon, and I bet she will get a lot of offers: the book is very funny, clever, original, and beautifully illustrated.
Grown-up book: Thomas Bernhard’s Goethe Dies.
Any-age book: Raymond Briggs’s Ethel & Ernest.
JS: What is next on your TBR (to be read) pile?
SR: Il libro delle frattaglie by Roberta Schira (it’s a book of offal recipes); Maupassant’s short tales; Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos.
SR: You will have to put up with at least two more Fox & Chick books after that, meaning six more stories (three per book). Which makes me realize I should start writing and drawing…