Earlier this month, I sat down to talk with Corey Egbert. Corey is an illustrator and author—and he created the amazing map of Foneth featured in Candle and Claw.
Here’s our conversation, edited for brevity.
Introductions and Artificial Intelligence
Me: In your own words, how would you introduce yourself as an artist/person/creator/whatever else?
Corey: I usually say I’m a children’s illustrator, but when I say that, I assume people automatically think that I suck.
Me: *laughing because I’m mean.
Corey: Maybe it’s just my suspicion, but I feel like people don’t take it seriously when you say you’re an author and illustrator, so I default to assuming people think I’m deluded.
Me: Well, since most people who visit the blog are book readers, I think they’re the kind of people who probably respect authors and illustrators. So, assuming our audience is those nice, creativity-valuing people, how would you introduce yourself?
Corey: I’m a children’s illustrator and author. I want to create art that’s inspiring, real, and honest, and that often deals with mental health—which is an important subject for me. A lot of my main projects right now are somewhat connected to mental health.
Me: Let’s definitely talk through the projects you’re working on, but even before that can you give us any spoilery kind of insights about you ChatGPT couldn’t make up about your creative work?
Corey: I’ve never used ChatGPT. So there’s a little spoiler. I’ve decided I’m kind of racist against AI in that I have no foundation or personal reasons why I don’t like it. I’m just generally suspicious of it. At some level I feel like process and product need to work together and be balanced for artwork. AI gives you a product without a process. On the other hand, if you have process without caring about the end product, that’s when you have something like Jackson Pollock and the abstract expressionists, people who create artwork with no meaning, which is something I’m not really into. Pollock’s art is only about process, and he became a depressed alcoholic. So my theory is that both process and product need to be married together; they cannot be divorced in order to make good art.
Me: So you didn’t go to any generative AI to create the map for Candle and Claw, for instance.
Corey: No. I don’t know how generative AI works, and I’m afraid of it.
Maps and Visual Storytelling
Me: Can you tell us a little about the projects you have coming out in the future?
Corey: Fall of 2024 I have a graphic novel coming out called Visitations. It’s a personal memoir, and it deals with a lot of mental health in a sort of magical realism setting. I’m also working on a five-book series—graphic novel adaptations—of the Joey Pigza series, which is about a boy with ADHD and a wacky family life. I really relate to stuff like that, and it’s important to me. I love playful magical elements to that kind of story as well. And then I’m also doing the artwork for the graphic novelization of Flat Stanley, so lots of graphic novels right now.
Me: Since you do so much storytelling kind of artwork, I’d love to hear what you think about the role of the visual in storytelling, as opposed to written words.
Corey: The art does a lot of the talking, right? It’s hard for me to describe what it does, because it’s just supposed to do it in a way you don’t have to talk about. You can tell lots about these characters by how they look and dress, by body language. While making a graphic novel, I feel like I have to be the actor as well as the costume designer and the cinematographer and the concept artist—all of that at the same time. It’s a lot of power in a way, but it can also be really stressful. I’m trying to keep it fun. Going back to process versus product, I’m trying not to set the product up in my mind in a way that it has to be perfect when I’m done. I’m in the process right now. I want to have fun with it and be messy with it and not be so obsessed with the product that it becomes a tyrannical ideal that makes the process suck.
Me: I’m assuming it’s a very different process for creating a map, but to a similar result, right? In that the map can do a lot of the talking for you.
Corey: Right. As a kid reading books like My Father’s Dragon and The Lord of the Rings and stuff, I thought the maps in there were so cool. The map for My Father’s Dragon has tons of descriptions and illustrations inside it. It was so magical reading this as a seven year old and wondering what else was there in that world, where there can be little interesting spots on the map that make you ask “what kind of adventures could be had there?”
Me: I remember spending what must have been literal hours staring at a Treasure Island map as a kid, probably after I’d read the book and found everything that really was there on paper. Sort of looking at the map and wondering “what’s there?”
Corey: Yeah, that’s totally it. Playing something like [The Legend of Zelda] Breath of the Wild or Tears of the Kingdom, my favorite part is exploring and seeing a spot on the map and wondering what’s there—and then being able to go check it out. So it’s just discovery and open possibilities and all that. The map fires up your imagination. Little spots like a point on the My Father’s Dragon map that just says “my father doesn’t know what’s on this side of the island.” So you can start imagining right away, even if you’re not reading.
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About the Author
Stephen Taylor is the author of The Witherclaw Trilogy as well as short fiction appearing in The Future Fire, MYTHIC Magazine, The Centropic Oracle, and other publications. His short story “Only an Ocean” won a Silver Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. When he’s not writing, he’s often playing my violin or wandering in the woods.