Matthew Reinhart, in his own words:
I was born to Gary and Judith Reinhart in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in September of 1971. My dad soon joined the Navy as a jet fighter pilot, so we moved around a lot when I was young. Florida, Texas, Illinois, California, Virginia, South Carolina -- all over! Dad wanted to be more than a pilot (which was pretty amazing itself) so he went to dental school and studied to be an oral surgeon. Mom and I followed along, and soon we were joined by my little sister, Erin. Often times, Dad's training took him to places we couldn't always follow (even on aircraft carriers), so Mom took care of us. My childhood was filled with good times -- I don't think it could have been much better. Actually, I've never really felt like it ever ended!
Art was always a tremendously huge part of my life. Drawing pictures and making crafts were my favorite activities in school and out. I drew whenever and where ever I could! My school notebooks often had more drawings than notes. I loved animals (and still do) so I drew them everywhere. Dinosaurs, like I think about every kid on the planet, were my favorite and I could rattle off the name of every single one before I could add or subtract. As I got older, I was captivated by the movie Star Wars. The richness of the universe George Lucas created on the screen fueled my young imagination. Creatures, monsters, spaceships, and action heroes filled my many sketchbooks growing up.
Like most high school graduates, I wasn't completely focused on a career. I didn't know there were cool jobs like paper engineer (that's a pop-up designer, in case you didn't know) or that I could make a living being a children's book illustrator. Like most doctors' children, I was convinced to study biology to prepare for medical school. College was great, but I wasn't really happy. Medicine was not my calling. I'd always taken art classes along with my biology courses, so I had built up a bit of a portfolio. I moved to New York after college, and met Robert Sabuda, paper engineer extraordinaire, doing some volunteer work. His book, Christmas Alphabet had just come out, and he told me he had studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I was inspired -- so, with the blessing and support of my understanding parents, I enrolled as an industrial design (specifically toy design) student the following year.
Pratt was fantastic, though my initial dreams of being a toy designer soon transformed into paper engineer with the help of Mr. Sabuda. I really got into pop-ups after working with Robert on books like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, ABC Disney and Movable Mother Goose. My first big break in the pop-up world was The Pop Up Book Of Phobias, which was my first solo paper engineered book. Since then, I've gradually began to illustrate and paper engineer my own titles or occasionally co-author with Robert. So here I am!
Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.
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Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Sabuda:
"My first job at the tender age of 16 was at a frozen yogurt shop called This Can't Be Yogurt, or TCBY. Wow, did I get chubby working there! We ate so much of the yogurt (which at the time wasn't fat-or-sugar-free) and the toppings like candy and hot fudge, too. It was a fun first job, though I remember the owner of the store was kind of rough on us and would sit in his car and watch us from the parking lot for hours.
"I am a devoted Transformers fan from the very beginning, back in 1984. Until all are one (only die-hard Trans-fans know what that means!), I must have hundreds if not a thousand different Autobots and Decepticons that I've collected over the years, from the original ‘80s Transformers to Beast Wars: Transformers to the current series -- which is awesome, by the way -- Transformers: Cybertron. They were actually one of the main reasons why I wanted to become a toy designer when I was younger, and I almost got a job at Hasbro working on them in the late ‘90s. Thank goodness I didn't take it! The way I figure it, pop-ups are kind of like paper Transformers. I'd love to do a Transformers pop-up book one day. You listening, Hasbro?"
"As a kid, I hated sweaters. I used to dread getting sweaters at Christmas time -- since I would have to wear it for whichever relative had given it to me. I thought they were too ‘stitchy,' or itchy. My skin must have been super sensitive back then. Thankfully, I've gotten over it."
"I am an exercise freak -- my day is not complete without an early morning trip to the gym. I run, lift weights, jump rope, bike ride and pretty much anything else to get my blood pumping!"
"I don't like tomatoes unless they've been chopped into unrecognizable pieces."
"I do like jumbo shrimp, double tall soy mochas from Starbucks, and Krispy Kreme glazed crème-filled doughnuts -- a whole lot."
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In the winter of 2005, Matthew Reinhart took some time out to talk to us about his favorite books and biggest inspirations.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton -- Cloned dinosaurs wreaking terror on in an amusement park on an isolated island -- in my opinion, a book couldn't be any more perfect! Mr. Crichton is the best in his field, and this is still my favorite of all his books.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling -- I am currently retelling this classic in pop-up, and I have read it for the first time in my life. The words are beautiful, the characters are rich and the pacing is quick. I know now why it has become such a timeless classic.
Star Wars: Heir To The Empire byTimothy Zhan -- This book brought Star Wars back to the bookstores! Before its release, we poor Star Wars fans were deprived of new adventures for Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the droids. Mr. Zahn's epic story arc not only lived up to the intensity of the original movies, but also introduced the coolest villain since Jabba the Hutt: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
The Han Solo Trilogy -- These books by the late Brian Daley were some of the first spin-off stories in the Star Wars universe about two of its coolest characters, smuggler Han Solo and the mighty Chewbacca. I remember reading these stories as a kid and thinking they were as good as the movies.
The Watchmen by Alan Moore -- An instant classic, this incredible story by Mr. Moore details the effects fantastic superheroes could have in a "real world."
Top Ten (Books 1, 2 and The Forty Niners by Alan Moore -- I love comic books -- or as we adults say these days, graphic novels -- especially those about super heroes, mythical creatures and robots. Mr. Moore is an extremely talented writer of fantastic characters and creator of amazing worlds.
The Dark Knight Returns -- Well, what can I say? Batman rocks and this was his triumphant dark return by the always-brilliant Frank Miller.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov -- Classic sci-fi short stories by the absolute master.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams -- Hilarious and ridiculous sci-fi. The best there is.
Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker -- A story from the point of view of a predatory Utahraptor and her life in the late Cretaceous Period, over 65 million years ago. There is no actual dialogue but the characters and plot are compelling, scientifically based and, most importantly, it's all about dinosaurs!
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
The original Star Wars trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of The Jedi) was the most influential film series in my life. The movies totally sparked my imagination as a child. I hope one day I get to do a pop-up about Star Wars one day (wink!). I also love the latest Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith. It was awesome! By the way, I did a personality test based off of science-fiction characters yesterday, and my personality matched up with Anakin Skywalker. Now, I'm hoping it was the good Anakin, before he started wearing the black mask and working for the Emperor, otherwise I might be in trouble.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
When I am writing, I need soothing electronic music like Delirium and Conjure 1. However, when I am making pop-ups and illustrations, I need a beat! We mainly listen to ‘80s pop and ‘80s alterative rock here in the studio. I am a big Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and Madonna fan -- who all began back in the ME decade! I am totally digging Madonna's new album, Confessions On A Dance Floor, these days. But I'm not lost in the ‘80s completely, and I love current pop stars like the Killers and Gwen Stefani. Dance music really gets me working hard and if the song's been remixed, I am all over it! I love Superstars #1 Hits Remixed because it has all the big names like Kelly Clarkson, Dido, and Mariah Carey all retrofitted for the dance floor.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I don't have a particular title in mind, but I would read any new author in science-fiction/fantasy.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Big picture books! I love looking at big heavy books with fabulous pictures.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I cannot write around other people -- I need seclusion. I have a small office at home that I use. I listen to soothing electronic music and tip-tap away on my keyboard.
What are you working on now?
Earlier in the year I completed Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Sea Monsters, the sequel to our Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs book, that releases in April 2006. As I write this, I am working on Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book -- specifically Mowgli's adventures -- due out next fall. Inside, it has the tallest pop-up up ever designed in our studio! This spring I will work on the final installment of Encyclopedia Prehistorica, which will be about prehistoric flying reptiles like pterodactyls and ancient mammals like wooly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers. For fall of 2007, I will be working on my ultimate dream project! Here's a hint: it involves a tall guy in a black mask with a breathing problem.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
It took five or six years of working with Robert Sabuda, learning the intricate craft of pop-up design. My first picture book idea, which I thought was brilliant at the time, was totally rejected everywhere. Every editor politely said "No thanks," which was pretty hard to take. But when I moved into pop-ups, I had a lot more success. Looking back, I had it pretty easy!
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Keep working and really listen to the advice of publishing contacts and your agent. Be open to listen to critique, it can be very helpful in developing your work.
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