In this third and final part of our discussion with The Clouds Above artist, we discuss Crane’s first venture in kids lit and how having children of his own has affected his art.
How did the kids’ story come about?
I was in Portugal and I saw a really tiny kid with a really giant cat. He looked exactly like the kid in The Clouds Above. The kid was so small that the cat was the same size as him—it’s not a big cat, but next to him, he was huge. And then I just kind of went from there.
How conscious were you that you were making a children’s book while you were writing it?
I was very conscious. This is definitely for kids, absolutely for kids, in a much as Harry Potter is.
It’s not watered down.
I hate watering down stuff. Any kids book that’s watered down is just terrible. I mean, kids get it. they know when you’re talking down to them. It makes for a worse story and the things in which you talk to kids like adults—adults can appreciate them too. Those are some of the best stories we have. Even Dr. Seuss’s stuff. It’s the stuff that both adults and children can both like. A lot of Shel Silverstein’s stuff is like that. There’s a lot of really get stuff in there, whereas the just for kids stuff is totally brainless.
Do you feel like there’s less of that universally good stuff around these days?
Oh, I definitely do. I think we’re in a super-scared, cautious society that just likes to test market everything. It sucks all of the individuality out of it, in favor of appealing to as many people as possible, instead of just assuming that if an artist makes it and it’s good, their crazy singular vision will actually make a singular work of art.
I mean, fuck, if Roald Dahl had been test market, there’d be a lot of stuff that was taken out. I mean, even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the original, if you watch that, it’s nuts. There’s the scene where they go in the tunnel, with the chicken head being cut off and insects and scary shit. I mean, we just live in a really scared, safe society now. The danger has gone way down, but our cautiousness has gone way, way, way up. People have to protect their precious little children. I have two children now, and I think it just fucks them up because they don’t feel any ownership over anything.
They don’t feel that charge you get when you discover something for yourself, like a piece of music that none of your friends told you to listen to or any exact interest of yours led you to. It’s a charge, because you’ve discovered it. and even though maybe a lot other people have heard it, it’s yours. You own it. and that’s taken away from kids. The thing about music is you’re responding to something that’s really human. A lot of what you see has been illustrated and changed by package designers, they change the fonts. They’ve been engineered by committee. Like Baskin Robbins. The new Baskin Robbins font is extreme and jaunty. You show it to a kid and focus group it. the focus marketing gives a skewed view of what is important. you see it and you respond to it. “I like that one.” It’s one thing to show two things to someone and ask what they like more. It’s another one to say, “here are the things that are important to us.” I’m getting very far afield. It’s just that I don’t think that kids are thought of thinking individuals. You don’t give them anything that isn’t florescent.
How has having kids actually affected your storytelling?
Having kids has made me have to drop everything that is not entirely related to what I actually want to do.
[An apology here—the audio quality of the recording from the Comic Con showroom floor was just too indecipherable toward the end. The transcription had to be cut of mid-answer, sadly.]