Jim Stevenson of Cos Cob is the author and illustrator of more than 100 children's books. For 30 years or more he has spun out cartoons and covers for The New Yorker and lately has been entertaining readers with his "Lost and Found New York" column on the Op-ed pages of The New York Times.
Stevenson spends his summers in Block Island with his wife, Josie Merck. He recently held a book party celebrating his new, artfully illustrated children's book, "The Dawn of the Sea Monster - and Other Wonders of Block Island," which takes a whimsical look at the natural history and personalities of his island home.
In his book is featured a mysterious, 15-foot-long sea monster skeleton; the life of Block Island dogs; and profiles of the island's unforgettable characters.
To learn a bit more about the author/illustrator and his latest book, Greenwich Citizen asked him a few questions.
Are you a painter who writes, or a writer who paints?
Neither -- or both. When I was a kid in school, I could never keep up with the interviewing. I'm a writer who tells painters that I'm a writer, and the other way around.
You've written more than a hundred children's books. Why children's books?
I have not done any for a while. The whole market for children's books has changed. I have nine children -- so I like children, needless to say. I was always looking for something to make into a book, and with children around it's a very congenial activity. A son came up to me, and I told him I was trying to write a book and he told me a story. I wrote it down and when I finished it I did some paintings for it, and sold the book.
Why do you like children?
I never thought of explaining it! At first they're cute, and then they get older and they cause a huge amount of trouble.
Where do you get your inspirations?
Most of my life has been fiction writing or reporting, and a lot more reporting than writing.
You seem to have a thing for dogs -- what's that all about?
I think they're very special. If they're treated right, they're very spiritual creatures -- and also a lot of fun.
You've spent a lot of time in New York City . What are some of the major differences between Manhattan and Block Island?
There's a shortage of boats tied up in Manhattan. There are a lot of wonderful people living out here. I find in the course of walking a few blocks, I say hello to a lot of people. They talk to me -- it's quite remarkable. It's not like New York. If you live in an apartment, you're lucky if you know anyone on your same floor.
You've been living in Cos Cob for how many years?
My wife Josie is in charge of numbers. I'm really old, so the chances of me knowing are very unlikely.
What are some of the similarities/differences you see between Block Island and Cos Cob?
There are more chances to get to know people here. In Cos Cob, if you get someone to wave at you it's a real social event. But we know a small group of people in Cos Cob very strong in wonderfulness.
Who are some writers and/or artists you admire?
A lot of each. I admired Ludwig Bemelmans. He was a writer and a self-taught artist. He had a way of capturing people in a very original way. He started as a child working in a hotel and would hide behind a curtain and just sketch people. He was not worried about precision. With precision there's no humanity. I never had that interest in precision. Ludwig was a funny writer -- he could express joy and funniness.
What are you working on next?
I'm in the midst of writing a book about Frank Modell, a cartoonist for The New Yorker. He's in his '90s. At The New Yorker, I got a lot of help from him. He's a wonderful man. I had an office next to his. I was very lucky. He had a lot of art training in Philadelphia. He's a very gifted, very funny man. I've interviewed a lot of people about him in this book. He's a delight. I've got piles of pages. Working every day to me -- that's like eating breakfast. It's important to delude yourself that you're doing something important.