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An Interview with Illustrator Bob Staake About His ‘Orb of Chatham’
Chatham, Cape Cod:
Christopher Seufert: I read that you finished both the drawings and the text for the
Orb of Chatham in a week. How could that possibly be true?
Bob Staake: You have to understand, and people who know me know that I’m an
insufferable workaholic and that I work extremely fast, that the book was the type of
thing where just a lot of things coincided at the same time. Once I decided to do it I
didn’t rough out the book or anything. I went straight to my final illustrations and
they were working out, and I thought, “Well, there’s no real reason to go ahead and
rough this thing out. I can just take it straight to finish, and do it.”
It was the first of my forty or so books that I have done that way, where I have just
completely gone through and gotten it finished without sketches or anything. I think
some books are just like that. It was a story that was so simple, that at the end of
the day when you look at it, it is 290 words or something, and 13 illustrations.
I just tend to work very quickly and when I get on a project or on a book I’m not the
type of person who wants that protracted deadline. When I’m given that 9 months
by a publisher to get an entire thing done, I’m always waiting until the final month
because I don’t want to spread out those illustrations over time. For me to keep a
cohesiveness and a consistency between the illustrations it works best for me to sit
down and (hand motion) do it straight up. I don’t jump from page to page. I don’t
say “I want to do this spread,” you know, like a video director would do or the way a
movie director would cut back and forth between these scenes. I tend to have the
whole thing flow out, so no, it literally took a week. It was one of those projects that
I did over Thanksgiving of 2004. I figured I had a little time to do it so I just
CS: So you just did it like that without a publisher okaying your idea or anyone else
giving you a thumbs-up?
BS: Yeah, I’ve just done this for so long that what comes with that is a certain level
of confidence. I mean, I will tell you that one of my concerns was that this is the first
book that I have completely done without an advance or a contract from a publisher.
But my second book, a book called the “Red Lemon,” is coming out with Random
House and it was done the same way too. All the way through. And you sit there
with these books and you think, “Am I being delusional in thinking that this story
actually has wings and can fly?” Because you’re not showing anyone. You’re showing
your friends, and your friends are all going to say “This is wonderful!” You know, no
one is honest with you. It’s only when you take it to that publisher and “Boom!”
within an hour, they’ve offered you a contract on it, and you go, “Okay ,great, I’m
not delusional. My head isn’t somewhere it shouldn’t be.” So then there is complete
vindication, but politically, when you work with editors and art directors and
publishers, I was certainly hyper-aware of the political ramifications of essentially
telling an editor, “Hey I don’t need you here on this book.” But, happily, that didn’t
turn them off and happily the book is doing very well.
CS: Is it? It stands out for me an is refreshing in that it asks for an active
participation on the part of the reader, whereas most books are much more of a
passive experience. But I wouldn’t necessarily think that would translate into
commercial success. Of course authors like Edward Gorey really worked that market
Are most people you talk to “getting” the concept of the mystery you’ve laid out,
with the co-dependence of the book and the web site?
BS: Those people who get the book, those who read the book, and unlock the code
and go into the deeper web site and see all the stuff that’s there, they are
responding incredibly well to it. There has been some interest in an Inside The Orb
of Chatham, and in what happens next in a follow up book, and I don’t know. You
know, one of my feelings about the book is that the reader is the person who
creates that back story. The reader is the person who takes the basic story and
develops it in his or her mind. I mean, it is truly an experience. What I wanted to do
was to democratize the literary experience between reader and writer and book and
to really elevate the importance of the reader, and to make the argument that no
book would exist without a reader, okay? At the end of the day that’s really true,
but what I really wanted to do was to absolutely just build upon that in spades. I
wanted to truly make an experience where one person’s reality with that book is
different from the next person’s. They are that causal, integral part to the entire
process that completes the picture. So the idea of doing a follow up book, the idea
of doing something else beyond that, it kind of flies in the face of what I’ve done
here with the book.
CS: Personally, I was able to unlock the code and get into the web site, but I was
pretty blown away by the depth of the web site within. The onion layers peeled
away and I don’t know that I’ve yet gotten a full grasp of the mystery that is
presented there. So, I went back to the book, re-read it, and my whole perspective
on the story changed again. Then, of course, back into the web site, and this is the
way it’s been going. I’m still trying to understand the actual questions that are
being asked of me as a reader of the book.
BS: A lot of people have looked at the book and they’re just kind of blown away that
someone figured out a way to incorporate a literary experience with a web site
component, and kind of make it this whole multimedia thing and I’m flattered by
that, but I have to believe someone else has done that. I think that it’s a very
ambitious web site and there is a lot going on there, but to me it seems like a
complete natural. Certainly, for a mystery like this, it was a case where I did not
want to tell this big, elaborate story in the book. I could have very easily done it but
I really wanted the web site to function as a…. This is what I tell people, “The end of
the book, the end of the Orb of Chatham, is truly the beginning of the story. That’s
where it begins.”
So, you set the stage, and once they unlock the code and go to the web site, it
continues on, so for me, both as a writer and as a illustrator, it was a terrific way to
experience..to continue to let the story breathe, to just take angles and to insert
incredible detail into a back-story that just would not have worked with the printed
book coming in at 290 words. I wanted it that bare. I wanted it that bare and I
wanted the illustrations to be really sparse, and then I wanted to just continue it off
CS: Was the web site a sort of second idea, or was that always part of the initial
concept since day one?
BS: Honestly I can’t remember. I can tell you this much. It was essential to do the
Orb of Chatham and to complete the entire book, and to take it to a publisher, a
small regional house like Commonwealth Editions in Boston, who did a beautiful
job. They really got behind the book in a way that Viking or Simon and Schuster or
Random House would not have. But when I was considering Random House I
thought, “There is no way I can do it the traditional way,” which is to show the cover,
show the story, and show a couple sample spreads. I mean, everyone would look at
it and say “What?!” I’m at a stage in my career where, because of utilizing the web
the way that I do, I can pitch a book over the internet to an editor. When I call up an
editor and say, “Here’s what I have,” they can see it online. There’s no more reason
to have those hard copies flying down to New York. So, I think that as I built the
pages, showing how the book would flow, and it was very important to show black
background on the left with gray type and illustration on the right, it was just a
natural to then develop it beyond there.
CS: What sort of reaction do you get from those who don’t “get” the book? Are there
those who don’t “get” it what it is you’re asking the reader to do here? That it’s not
supposed to be a traditional book?
BS: No, I don’t think it’s a case of people not getting it. I think there are people who
will look at it and say, “Oh no, this is going to require work,” you know. I just
happen to be a puzzle person, I like stuff like that; any sort of puzzle, any sort of
thing that you have to decode or figure out, you know. I am fascinated by things like
that. There are some people who like that and some people who don’t, those people
who like tomatoes and some people who don’t. This is a big juicy tomato. It never
ceases to amaze me. Some people will say, “I’ve been working on it for three days to
try and solve the code,” and I say, “Hey at least you’re working,” and I sit there and
say,”You will get it, you will solve it.” One review said what was interesting about the
code is that there is a couple of very simple questions, and they kind of empower
you to believe, “Piece of cake, I’ll fly right though this,” but then it gets difficult and
people are going back to a couple of clues that they can’t quite get.
CS: So what is the proper way to approach the overall mystery and the individual
components of the book and the web site? Is the solving of the mystery better done
with logic or with the imagination?
BS: People look at me and say, “This is a number based code,” and it’s really not. It
requires numbers, but it really requires all the senses.. a visual sense, a tactile sense
in holding the book, certainly a oral sense in terms of hearing the music, because
it’s really creepy and it kind of sets the stage. It’s almost a total immersion thing.
One of the things that I found interesting, and it’s one of the things that I wanted to
do in the book, was when you read the book, you form a conclusion about the story.
If you are compelled to go ahead and solve the code and get in there, then what the
web site does is to take your original hypothesis and turn it inside out. All of a
sudden, you’ve got a completely different view of what really happened, you know.
That’s what I wanted to create. I wanted to create a kind of “Aha!” moment for the
reader where they think, “You know what, I really thought this was the real story,
but now I have a completely different take.”
And now for an exclusive clue: Author Bob Staake has kindly provided this
interview’s readers with an exclusive additional clue to the Orb of Chatham mystery.
In order for you to understand this clue however, you must already have cracked the
initial code at his website and gained access to the inner mystery of the orb. If you
haven’t yet accomplished this basic first step go back and do that before attempting
this additional research phase.
The Christopher Seufert interview clue is not required for you to solve the mystery
(you only need the book and his official website for that http://
http://www.OrbofChatham.com) but it does indeed point to an an additional piece of the
puzzle that is only available through this exclusive link. But we’re not going to just
give you the clue- you’re going to have to work for it. Investigate earnestly and
your clue will be revealed.
Now, visit the online clue at [http://www.MyChatham.com-] One of the true
“orbacious” links at the right leads to Bob Staak’s additional research clue. Read the
ten links through but don’t guess- then select the bottom button on the one you
most feel leads closer to the heart of the mystery. Choose wisely, however. You
only get one guess every two hours from your current computer. You get unlimited
guesses, but If your guess is wrong you won’t be allowed to guess again for that
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#Interview #Illustrator #Bob #Staake #Orb #Chatham