I grew up in Nyack, New York, just up the street from the Hudson River. In our house, there was always an art project going on, thanks to my mom.
My early drawings were very animated: a lot of stuff zipping around, airplanes, racing cars, football players. No surprise my first published drawing was of a pack of rats running along a highway. I did that for the New York Times Op Ed page when I was still in high school.
I went to college at The Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, where I met a lot of interesting people. I took up painting, sculpture, lithography, photography and filmmaking, but the thing I loved most was sketching out cartoons and comic strips in my spare time.
When I graduated, I hauled my pile of doodles into the offices of a bunch of editors, with the wild notion that somebody might publish them. When that failed, I wrote a story for kids to go with my pictures (IF SNOW FALLS). It was two sentences long (which counts, by the way). Frances Foster, a wonderful editor with Pantheon at the time, saw something in that book and signed me up.
The next book, ELLSWORTH, was about a dog who teaches economics at a university. When he gets home, he throws off his clothes and acts like a dog, which is fine, until some fellow teachers discover this and rat him out to the dean. Somebody told me that ELLSWORTH was a story about "being yourself." I never realized it had a moral.
I moved to another publisher with LUDLOW LAUGHS, the story of a grumpy guy who laughs in his sleep. This book was doing very poorly until the comedienne Phyliss Diller read it on PBS's Reading Rainbow. It stayed in print for twenty years.
My fourth book, THE INCREDIBLE PAINTING OF FELIX CLOUSSEAU, was a hit. One of the first people to see it and give it the thumb's up – literally, hot off the press – was Maurice Sendak. We bumped into each other at the printers. It was a lucky first meeting, and happily not our last.
That was all a long time ago. Since then I've written several other picture books, illustrated a few by other authors, and created a series of offbeat wordplay books, beginning with the book of palindromes, GO HANG A SALAMI! I'M A LASAGNA HOG!
I visit schools across the country and sometimes around the globe. I live with my wife, Audrey, in San Francisco.