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.

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