As the school year begins to wind down, perhaps now is a good time to mention my recent foray into the world of academia that will affect kids beginning in the 2022-23 school year.
Just as things were getting locked down back in 2020 due to coronavirus, I was in talks about a project with Del Thompson, the head of the art department at BJU Press, an educational publisher based in South Carolina that creates textbooks for all grades with a biblical worldview. They also create a lot of additional support materials for the homeschool market. They’ve been around a long time, because even I used some of their textbooks back in my elementary school days! It seems they were interested in having someone create cartoon illustrations for a 7th grade level math textbook that they were busy updating.
Cartoon illustrations? For a middle school math textbook? Unheard of. I remember seeing cartoon drawings in school books when I was in the third grade, but by the time I had arrived to the level of having a different teacher for each subject, school had gotten quite serious. In fact, anything math or science was like learning a foreign language to me. I hated those classes, as they consumed much of my brain’s capacity in a poor attempt to understand anything. It’s no wonder I chose a career path that thrived on poking fun at the world instead of trying to conquer it. To get to poke fun at math seemed like an intriguing prospect, and something that I more than likely would have responded very well to as a seventh grader myself.
The Fundamentals of Math project had already been started by another illustrator who was a good artist, but seemed to be struggling with trying to make the jokes funny. I thrive on funny, and have worked in the animation industry as a storyboard artist always looking for the whimsy in storytelling. When Del reached out, it was initially to ask if I might come up with some gags for the book, and possibly serve as a joke writer for the project. So, they hired me on a test run during which time I submitted a number of cartoon ideas which included drawings, after which the publishing house committee decided they wanted me to do the final art for the book as well. What started out as a dabble soon evolved into a full-time gig.
Since I was coming onto the project a little late, the editorial team had already devised a concept for the art in the book. The assignment was to create a full page title page and two smaller spot cartoons for each of the fourteen chapters in the book. The book would follow these two middle school students as they spent a day in an amusement park. The title pages were always going to be about the kids riding this one massive roller coaster that could go anywhere and do anything – no limits on what my imagination could come up with. The spot illustrations were about other aspects of a fun park. All cartoons would, of course, be instrumental in putting a fun face on whatever math issue needed to be talked about in those parts of the book.
This was a pretty big challenge. It had been over thirty years since I last had a math class, and as mentioned before, it was a topic that escaped my grasp. The math writers were giving me concepts both mathematically and humorously, after which I would have to plead with them to teach me the math in very simple “dumbed-down” terms, and only then I was able to make their concepts funny, or sometimes come up with even funnier concepts which often they would enthusiastically have me finalize.
So, if you have done the math (pun intended), this book required my attention on forty-two illustrations!!! Very daunting at the beginning of a project. I’m not going to show you all forty-two here today, but I will show you the very first one that will give you a taste of what was to come throughout the book.
This first illustration needed to establish the idea that the cartoon kids were on this crazy roller coaster that can go anywhere and do anything. There are dinosaurs, wild animals, shark-infested waters, a raging volcano, deserts, mountains, and even space as the coaster twists and turns. As students read the word balloons, it will start to sink in what kind of ride this book is going to take them on just as the kids in the picture start to realize what they also are facing.
You know, it’s kind of funny. When I was a student, I used to get in trouble for doodling all the time in class. Now I can say that I’ve been paid to officially doodle directly in a textbook! I guess school really prepared me for life after all, even if not quite the way my teachers intended.
By the way, whether you are a parent, a student, a school textbook buyer, or just someone who loves my art, ANYONE can order this book directly from the publisher. It is available right NOW! If you are interested in checking it out, and interested in seeing another sample of one of my illustrations from the book, CLICK HERE!