Thursday, December 18, 2014

TVOS Interview with Hero The Hero Illustrator Steven Snider

Hero The Hero illustrator Steven Snider
(Photo - TVOS/Steven Snider)
As a writer, and in my previous career when I was a ‘semi-known’ Canadian musician, I have been very fortunate to meet some incredibly talented people. It is one thing to meet people that have unbelievable talents, it is quite an honour when those people welcome you into their lives and friendships are created. Over the years, my friends have dazzled me with their talents on the ice and on the stage. They have also dazzled me with their written words and with their art.

Last week, I was able to share my conversation with two incredibly talented friends, Hero The Hero creators Kary Carkner and Pam Helmer. It was such a wonderful experience to be behind the scenes as Hero came to life. In fact, I have earned the title of ‘Uncle Andrew’, which is an honour I do not take lightly!

When Kary and Pam discussed the story that would become Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream with me and provided some insights into ideas for Hero’s future, I knew they would obviously need an illustrator. Immediately and without any doubts, a dear friend came to mind – Steven Snider.

How amazing is this technological world we live in? I’ll admit, sometimes it can leave us feeling too disconnected, but it can also help us accomplish great things! Like when a sports writer in Ottawa, can introduce his author friends in Hershey and Long Island, to his illustrator friend in Vancouver… Meet another one of my heroes, Hero The Hero illustrator – my friend Steve Snider.

“I have always been drawing,” Steve told me on the phone from his home in Vancouver. “I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have a pencil or a crayon or something in my hand.”

“My parents always encouraged it and never said ‘drawing is a waste of time, you should be focusing on your math studies’ or anything like that. I have just always been drawing. Mostly, it is because of cartoons – they were probably my biggest influence. Seeing drawings moving on screen, I was kind of like, ‘Well, I can do that.’ As I got older, I got into comic books and traditional art.”

A graduate of the Illustration and Design program at Capillano University in North Vancouver, BC, Steve currently works as a graphic designer for a community arts council in West Vancouver. While he works on illustrations as often as possible, his work is often found in editorial pieces and alongside magazine interviews.

Having the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book and helping to tell an entire story was a new and interesting challenge for Steve, both as an illustrator and as an artist.

Steven Snider hard at work
creating Hero The Hero
(Photo - TVOS/Steven Snider)
“It’s definitely very different,” he explained. “It is a huge step up - not only in profile and workload, but in your skills too because you have to keep things as consistent as possible. You have to make sure your style works in that longer format. While it is very different and challenging, it is also great to be challenged in your work.”

Working on the first Hero The Hero book and helping to create the images for an entirely new character, I asked Steve what he thought of Hero The Hero and the story he was helping to bring to life with his talents.

“I thought it was great! I thought it had a really good message,” he said with excitement in his voice. “At the end when Hero realizes the importance of family and not taking them for granted; I thought that was a really great message.”

“While it’s something that may have been done in children’s books in the past, I feel that it has never been done in this way,” Steve continued. “Kary and Pam use something very common for kids, like a fight with a sibling, to highlight their message. To have Hero and Star fighting, and Hero’s reaction to that, was very relatable and identifiable. I thought that was something that kids could really grasp onto and understand.”

“It is a story with characters that are relatable to so many children. That was one of the reasons I really liked it was because I thought it had that broad appeal and could reach a lot of kids. They would like it and identify with it.”

As readers, we see the finished book in our hands, but we may or may not think about the process of creating a character like Hero. As an illustrator, Steve was given the story and worked with Kary and Pam to fine tune each and every aspect of what would become the book. I asked Steve what it was like to hone in on Hero’s ‘look’ – did he have something in mind immediately, or did it take time to develop the character we see today?

The Evolution of Hero The Hero
(Photo - Steven Snider)
“That was a challenge,” he admitted. “It was a real challenge to come up with the final images for Hero. Pam and Kary gave me a really great description for what they wanted – green eyes and longish, brown hair. An athletic build, but of course, it still had to look like a child. So the basic components were straightforward, but in creating a Hero that was gender neutral and appear in a way that Hero could be a boy or Hero could be a girl - that was really difficult and took a lot of research.”

“I had to try and figure out what facial features wouldn’t instantly say ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. The first character model I designed, with shorter hair and a bigger nose, made Hero look too much like a boy and we all agreed it was good but needed changes. So, I didn’t have Hero’s initial image in my brain right away. I had the colours and basic idea of the body, based on what Pam and Kary had given me, but it took a lot of research and sketching to get Hero’s final appearance.”

Without giving away any plot twists if you haven’t read the book yet, former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson makes an appearance in Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream as Daniel Elfredsson. Having grown up in Arnprior, Ontario, which is 40 minutes West of Ottawa, I wondered what it was like to illustrate this iconic ‘elf’.

“That was interesting,” Steve said. “With this project, I did my work in a different way style-wise. I tried to simplify my style since it was for a children’s book. So, in doing that and trying to have Elfredsson actually look like Daniel, well, that was hard! That is one of the great things about art though; you are trying to interpret something while challenging your brain and your hand to do something new. I’m glad that it looks like him.”

"Go Team!!"
As a sports fan, I love seeing someone holding a generic “Go Team” sign – not sure why, it just brings a smile to my face. The first time my daughter Eliza and I read Hero, I immediately noticed some Go Team signs. And, on page 14, a guy in a red sweatshirt with a "Go Team" sign in front of him looked a lot like a friend of mine… Was that a self-portrait Steve?

“Ha ha ha! No!! I know who you’re talking about, but that’s not me,” he said with a laugh. “I was just trying to have a variety of background characters. It’s funny you mention that though, it might be subconscious!”

One of the goals for Kary and Pam’s Hero The Hero character, is to have Hero help others find the heroes in their family, in their neighbourhood and the world around them. They also hope to inspire others to have their own ‘Be A Hero’ moments and in turn, inspire others to do the same. In the book’s dedications, Steve thanks his mom and dad for all their love, support and guidance. They inspired him to take on the challenges of life and follow his dreams, which in my opinion, is a hero-iffic thing for any parent to do.

“It will sound kind of cheesy, but if I ever do have to look at anyone as a hero, it is usually my mom and dad,” Steve said. “They were so supportive of me and they never told me I couldn’t do it. They always said if you want to do something, then try it. If it doesn’t work out, then you’ll try something else. They were always super-supportive and had a good outlook on life.”

“Things were tough when I was growing up,” he confided. “We didn’t have a lot of money and my dad had a back injury, so he was on disability for most of my life. Free trade came in when I was a kid too, so my hometown of Arnprior, being a factory town, we watched everybody lose their job.”

“My parents always told us that while things are tough right now, they will get better. All you have to do is work hard, surround yourself with good people and never give up. I always kind of take those words of wisdom and work them into my own life.”

Speaking from personal experience, I know that in taking on a job of this magnitude, while maintaining a regular day job does not leave a lot of extra time in the day for a social life or quiet time at home. For Steve, having the support of his partner Dusty became very important and helped him create the images for the Hero story that have been so widely praised by friends and readers alike.

“That is the thing with creative people and their partners and spouses,” Steve explained. “Sometimes you won’t see them for a week because of a major project. It is really great to have someone that understands that and can deal with that!”

“Everyone has been really positive and really supportive. I know people that have bought multiple copies of the book,” he continued. “People think it’s a pretty big deal and they are proud and happy for me. It’s funny because I don’t know a lot of people that are into sports or hockey in particular, but they are really supportive of the book and they see the positive message. That is what is so cool about Hero - it crosses that boundary.”

Congratulations Kary, Pam and Steve. You have created a truly beautiful and unique new hero for readers of all ages to enjoy. It has been an honour to play a small part in this story and I’m sure that there will be many more stories to tell and stories to illustrate in the future. Your fans are eagerly awaiting your next adventure!

Check out the Hero The Hero website to learn more about and order the book, and you can also find more of Steve’s work at his site.

And, be sure to download the new “Be A Hero” single by Skinner, which is available on iTunes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Meet Two of my Heroes: Kary Carkner and Pam Helmer

“I love playing hockey. I love watching hockey. I love people watching me play hockey. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE HOCKEY!! Did I mention that I love hockey?”

– Hero The Hero in Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream

As a new year quickly approaches, and I attempt to breathe some new life into The Voice of Sport (it’s been a little neglected since I became a dad two years ago), I can’t help but look back as I look forward. For instance, it is hard to believe that it was almost 6 years ago that I sent an email off to the Hershey Bears with an interview request for their captain, Bryan Helmer. A lot has changed since then!

Since that first interview, Bryan and his wife Pam have become great friends to my wife Dianne and myself. So has Pam’s sister Kary and her husband Matt Carkner. And it is their perseverance, passion, dedication to the game and more importantly, dedication to their family, which has inspired me to continue with my passion for writing and for creating music too. To be quite honest, I know I’m a better person because I have these wonderful people as my friends.

Pam, Kary and Hero
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
Which brings me to today’s topic – meet two of my heroes! While it was many months ago, it seems like it was only yesterday that Pam and Kary sent me an email asking if I could help them with a project they hoped to pursue… It was a small step towards the many big entrepreneurial steps that would soon follow! So, it was with a tear in my eye that I first read the recently published Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream.

Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream, written by Kary and Pam, and illustrated by another friend of mine, Steven Snider, is a truly remarkable read. With beautifully illustrated images, using a vivid colour selection, Kary and Pam’s story comes to life as the book’s hero, Hero The Hero, learns several valuable lessons on a journey to the North Pole to play on the greatest outdoor rink you’ll ever see. With a forward eloquently written by world-renowned hockey historian Liam Maguire, this book will entertain parents and children of all ages for years to come.

In many ways, Hero’s adventure mirrors the journey of Hero’s creators. The new authors are pursuing their passion and following their dreams, just as our young hero does and will do in future books. There have been many triumphs for the Carkner and Helmer families, but like all of us, some defeats too. And it was in tragedy, that Hero emerged and came to be.

Inspired to begin writing after the unexpected death of the hero in their life, their father, as well as the heroic resiliency of their mother, Kary and Pam have now embarked on a writing career that will surely flourish and help children of all ages discover the heroes in their family, neighbourhood and in the world around them.

When I have interviewed Bryan or Matt here at The Voice of Sport, they have always been very open and honest with their answers, which has allowed me to show a different side to professional hockey; hockey players as dads, as husbands, as fans of the game and as active members of their community. My conversations with Pam and Kary are always filled with laughter (lots of laughter!!) and thankfully, the same openness was present in our first interview together (the first of many!).

Pam and Kary at NY Islanders book signing
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
“I’m actually a little shy,” Pam admitted as we began to discuss the reaction to their new career. “But it definitely feels good to have people acknowledge us and acknowledge the book!”

“The best reaction has been our own children,” she continued. “My daughter, Rylan, after hearing the Be A Hero song (written by Pam and recorded by Skinner – available oniTunes), said, “Oh my gosh mom, I love it. That was so good! You’re a songwriter and an author? I’m sooo going to brag about you at school!”

“We’ve had a lot of people say, you should be so proud,” Kary added.  “They are just really happy and excited for us. I think a lot of people respect the fact that Pam and I are stay-at-home moms - we have inspired them!”

Having been part of the hockey world for several years and as a stay-at-home dad myself, I can tell you that Pam and Kary are more than stay-at-home moms. They are strong women that have been important contributors to their husbands’ hockey careers, they have been great role models for their children and they are very active in every community in which they have lived.

With the schedule for Bryan and Matt sending them out on the road for lengthy periods, there is a lot on their to-do list at times (Bryan is currently an assistant coach with the Hershey Bears after 20-seasons of pro hockey, and Matt is a defenseman with the New York Islanders). So, unlike most households, Pam and Kary have dealt with the added pressure of trades, free agency and injuries over the years, issues that can complicate their lives in an instant.

One of the toughest things for moms to do is follow their own dreams, but as they start this new journey of their own, Pam and Kary have lots of support at home.

“Both Matt and Bryan, are so excited for us,” Kary explained. “They see the passion, they see how much Pam and I continue to talk about it and how much work we’ve put into the book.”

“One cool thing that happened recently,” she recalled. “Was that someone messaged me on Facebook asking about getting their copy of the book signed.  So, right away I wrote back and knowing they are into hockey, I said Matt would love to do that… They wrote back saying, ‘No, not by Matt, we want it autographed by you!’ It kind of caught me off guard.”

Bryan and Pam Helmer
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
In this part of the conversation, Pam shared something that really struck me about the teamwork that goes into a life in hockey and a life outside of hockey.

“It is kind of neat to see,” Pam said. “How I had to help my husband achieve his dream and along the way, I kind of put mine aside. But in doing that, I have realized a new dream. Now Bryan and Matt are able to help us, which is amazing!”

“It’s funny, I’ll be meeting people for the first time and they’ll already know everything about myself and the book because Bryan has already told them. I actually start blushing because I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s telling people about us!’”

With countless hours going into writing and creating the book, and now publishing it and making it available (for ordering info, visit, the reaction has been extremely positive. Not only to the story itself and the illustrations, but also the main messages that accompany the book via social media – Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

There is Hero as a character, someone that kids can be drawn to immediately, but it also allows the conversation to begin about everyday heroes and how to be a better person. Parents and kids can use the book to have conversations about heroes in the family or in their neighbourhood.

“People are really connecting with the goodness of the story – if goodness is a word,” Pam said with a laugh. “We tried to create something that was promoting the good that people do, promoting happiness, promoting every day heroes, and I think we did that. We certainly didn’t invent the concept of every day heroes, but we are really trying to highlight it.”

“People are constantly messaging me about the positive messages we are sharing on the Hero TheHero Facebook page,” Kary added. “They are sharing ideas, wanting to help share the happy, positive message we are trying to put out there. With everything that goes on in our lives and in the world, I think people look forward to our uplifting moments.”

“This all started out as just a script, a story without any illustrations, and we wondered if people would actually like it or actually want it,” Kary continued. “Now we know that they do, which is wonderful! We are getting emails and messages from parents saying that their child has already read the book 4 or 5 times in the first 2 days and they are talking about being a hero, talking about being a better person to get on Santa’s nice list, so we really have the feeling of ‘we did it!’”

Summertime Get-Together for Hero The Hero and TVOS
(Photo: The Voice of Sport)
As Pam and Kary prepared for the release of Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream, they also took a crash-course in the world of social media, with a few tips along the way from yours truly. With the world at our fingertips thanks to today’s technology, it was important for the two sisters to reach out and begin building a support system for Hero.

“It has been very interesting,” Pam said of joining Facebook for the first time. “My favourite part has been reconnecting with people from our past and seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s awesome to see how they are supporting us – we haven’t talked in years, but the connection has been made and that gets me all choked up.”

“And, another thing that gets me all choked up is seeing the addresses when we go to mail out books. I’ll know a person or know an address and think, hey, this used to be my postal code! It’s all the people we have met over the years and how they have supported us that has blown me away.”

As Kary explained, launching a social media component to Hero has made her more aware of how needed Hero’s inspirational messages are in people’s lives.

“It has definitely made me more aware of what is going on in the world,” she said. “So, I am trying to find uplifting things. I’m searching for good things for the Hero Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest. I’m the type of person that doesn’t watch the news, I don’t want to read bad stuff, so while I am spending more time on the computer now, it’s for happy things and I think that people are enjoying that positive message.”

Matt and Kary Carkner
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
Becoming authors and entrepreneurs (and even songwriters!) has provided a great teaching moment for Pam’s son Cade and daughter Rylan, as well as Kary’s sons Chase and Corbin. They are seeing firsthand, both from mom and from dad, how love and support, hard work and following your dreams can help you reach new heights.

“One of the best moments for me so far, was coming home from the printers with all the books,” Kary said. “Chase and Corbin came home from school and I gave them each a copy. They both immediately stopped what they were doing, read it front to back and then Chase read it again before he went to bed that night. He read it again the next morning too. I was surprised because he has heard the story at least 50 times, but he said, ‘I just can’t stop looking at it mom.’”

“He had been hearing so much about it and the day had finally arrived where it was all put together. Heading for school, both of them, on their own put a copy of the book in their book bag and said they wanted to show their teachers.”

In this part of the conversation, Kary and Pam both made a comment that will stick with me as my wife and I raise our daughter:

“Be the change you want to see in your child,” Kary said. “I think that I need to be what I want my kids to be.”

“Always remember,” Pam added. “We are our kids’ first teachers.”

My "Junior Writer" Eliza Lillian Rodger
(Photo: The Voice of Sport)
What else can I say here at TVOS about these two wonderful friends, these two wonderful families? As an avid reader, I am truly fortunate to have two more favourite authors and equally fortunate to say that they are friends of mine. Thanks to Kary and Pam, I am able to share my passion for reading and my passion for hockey with my 2-year old daughter Eliza. There is no better gift!

(If you follow The Voice of Sport on Facebook, you’ll know that the only hockey jersey I’m allowed to wear at home is my New York “Uncle Matts” jersey!)

For more info on Hero The Hero, visit the website at

Friday, December 5, 2014

How Matt Carkner Helped TVOS Have A Be A Hero Moment

As we celebrate Hero the Hero in our household, it's remarkable that I was part of what you could call a "be a hero" moment last night thanks to Matt Carkner. Now, Matt says I'm the hero of this story, but I say he is, so I guess we'll both be proud of our hero moment.

This story is a little long, but I do hope folks take the time to read it and maybe even share it... You'll see that it may only take a few minutes to be a hero to someone.

My wife and I bought tickets for last night's Sens and Islanders game so we could watch Matt play. Unfortunately, an injury kept Matt in New York (keep working big guy - we missed ya! But we'll catch you next time for sure!!).

We stumbled into quite a night as it turns out, with Alfie's retirement happening right before our eyes, but it was what happened before "the skate" that I'll always remember!!

We were in our seats by 6pm, with our supper and another copy of Hero in our hands. Even at that early hour, 50-100 people were at the Sens "tunnel" at the end of their bench, nobody was at our Islanders tunnel. Then a little girl arrived, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and she said, "Wow, Matt Carkner is my favourite player!" (she saw my Islanders #7 Carkner jersey).

She took off her Sens jersey so we could see her autographed #7 Carkner t-shirt.
She was waiting patiently by herself, hoping to see some of her hockey heroes, when we heard the ladies behind us say they had seen her there before and yes, she was a HUGE fan of Matt's. My wife Dianne and I joked that it's too bad we couldn't get her a message or a "hello" from Matt. Wait a minute... Could we? Should we??

Sent Matt a text with a quick explanation (thanks for the assist Kary!) and within a minute, a hello and picture came our way.

I don't usually do the "do you know who I know thing", especially with a kid - I'm proud of what I do but try not to show off... too much - hahaha!

I tapped the young lady on the shoulder and said, "You wouldn't know this, but Matt is a friend of mine, I sent him a text and told him you were a big fan and he sent along a hello just for you."

I've never seen eyes get so big!!!! "What? Wow!!!!"

She said, "Tell him I make the loom rainbows." - I sent him another text and told her that yes, Matt remembers you... Didn't know a kid's eyes could get bigger and brighter, but they sure did...

So, thanks again Matt for helping me feel like Santa! As I said to Dianne, that's probably the closest to "rock star status" I'll ever reach. I didn't get the little girl's name, but gave her one of my business cards so her mom or dad could email me and I'd send her a copy of the picture. I hope to hear from them!

So, keep an eye out Matt, you might be autographing that pic one day.

A legendary moment! A hero-iffic moment!!

Thanks Matt - I owe ya one!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Goodbye Mr. Beliveau

Mr. Beliveau was truly one of the greatest Legends the game has ever seen!

Winning championships and individual awards can make an athlete great. How they interact with their teammates, friends and fans can make an athlete a legend. Jean Beliveau is at the front of the line when it comes to legendary athletes - from any sport!

When you stop to consider for a moment, that Mr. Beliveau retired after the 1970-71 season, he was still one of the most respected and loved players the game has ever seen when he passed away. A truly remarkable man - the hockey world has indeed lost a Legend.

Was looking online for a picture to share and found his 500th goal and one of my favorites found at the Windsor Star's website, relaxing with his wife of 61 years, Elise Beliveau.

RIP Mr. Beliveau