SPOTLIGHT SERIES: Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

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Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg are the authors of To Timbuktu, an illustrated travel memoir of their adventures together after college. Casey was born and raised in Brooklyn, and Steven grew up in Bethesda, Maryland.  They met while studying abroad in Morocco, which is where To Timbuktu begins. The book is a story of their trip around the world, and also as a snapshot of their relationship and its evolution.

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Although they’re fans of travel memoirs, like Guy Elise’s Pyongyang, and Craig Thompson’s Carnet De Voyage, they did not turn to other travel works like these for inspiration, and instead sought their own voice.  They describe themselves creatively as Steven coming from a “Calvin and Hobbes, Where’s Waldo background” and Casey being “a lover of Virginia Woolf and other very wordy things.”

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Casey is more than happy to acknowledge that To Timbuktu does not follow the usual graphic novel layout: “We’ve had people tell us in very serious terms that ‘this is not a graphic novel’ as if we’ve violated some religious doctrine.  It’s the form that just came naturally to us because we both liked picture books when we were little.”  Steven agrees, citing Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl’s Matilda as inspiration for his own work: “Matilda is a really beautiful book.  Those illustrations… really inform the story, and don’t overwhelm you with too many details.”

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Casey saw a chance for that same kind of collaboration between illustration and text in their work: “We just wanted to have a lot of freedom with each page and working panel to panel is a pretty strict format, especially hard to do when you’re two minds.  But if [we could] approach each page like a canvas, it was much easier for us to work together. We could each work kind of separately and then come back together and mush them.”

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Casey’s father is Jon Scieszka, the children’s book author responsible for The Time Warp Trio and The Stinky Cheese Man.  The elder Scieszka was a large part of how Steven and Casey knew how to navigate the publishing world: “I grew up knowing a lot about the ins and outs of the publishing world just from sitting at the kitchen table with my dad.  It was one of the reasons we knew that ‘Hey, don’t just send your thing into a publisher, get an agent, because otherwise some fourteen year old intern is going to be looking at your unsolicited manuscript in the slush pile two years later.’”

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To Timbuktu is not the only book that Steven and Casey created while they were traveling.  When they were in Mali, they helped put out first novel ever in Bambara, the official language of Mali (The book now has a spot in the National Library of Mali).  It is part of their nonprofit, Local Language Literacy, which is “dedicated to creating, printing, and distributing books in local languages and giving them to students” in West and North Africa.   Their next book is in Senegal with the author Daour Wade.

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For future projects, Steven and Casey are interested in picture books for little kids, more of their comic strip Telephone and Soup, fictional graphic novels, and more travel books, including one Steve describes as “the anti-Timbuktu” in which he and Casey would travel to Europe and “do a heritage tour, and go to all the places we’re from.”  They also want to go back to Morocco and Mali, places that still inspire and excite them.

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LINKS:

Official Site of To Timbuktu

Local Language Literacy, Steve and Casey’s Nonprofit

Telephone and Soup

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The Rumpus Spotlight Series presents one-time posts of select pieces from working cartoonists and comic artists.
Interview by Lucas Adams.
Series Editor Paul Madonna.