Q&A: Eric Barclay, children’s book author and illustrator

Eric Barclay: Kim Leeson
Eric Barclay: Kim Leeson

Late last year, Oak Cliff-based illustrator and graphic designer Eric Barclay published two children’s books that he wrote and illustrated, “Hiding Phil” and “I Can See Just Fine.” He finished the two books within about a month of each other, and they were published in September and October, respectively. Barclay, 45, is an independent artist who writes and illustrates greeting cards for Hallmark, American Greetings and Papyrus, among other jobs. He has illustrated several children’s books by other authors. And he has written and illustrated two more children’s books, “Rainbow Cats” and “Counting Dogs,” which are available in Germany, France and Finland. He expects those to be published in the United States this year.

How did you get into illustrating children’s books?
I started a blog about five years ago and started putting my illustrations out there, and it started getting a following. The first book I did was for a Slovenian publisher who had seen my website and asked me if I wanted to do it. After that I was hooked. I also found my agent through my website.

When did you decide to write your own?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. “Hiding Phil” was the first book that I wrote. It started with a conversation with a friend who was talking about a recent trip to Thailand, where she had met a [literary] agent named Phil. We started joking around about “What would you do if you had an elephant?” and the idea was born from there.

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What is it about?
“Phil” is a book for very young readers. The pictures do most of the storytelling. It lets the kids fill in the blanks because there’s no narration; it’s all told in speech. It very much includes the parent in the story because the premise is that [the kids] find an elephant and decide to hide it from their parents, with varying degrees of success and failure. In the end, the parents find out about the elephant, and they work out a solution.

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What is “I Can See Just Fine” about?
“I Can See Just Fine” is based very loosely on my own daughter Paige. She had to get glasses when she was 4. A lot of well-meaning friends gave us books about glasses, and they always portrayed the child as a victim, and the message was always, ‘You’re not going to be that big of a freak with them.’ It was always somewhat of a negative experience. Well, that wasn’t our experience at all. Paige is very funny. She’s independent. And there was a lot of humor in the whole situation. We really wanted to set the tone of, ‘This is going to be a funny book.’ Mostly it shows what to expect in an eye exam and the funny things that can happen in an eye exam. This was an awful lot of fun to write. It is being picked up in Japan and the Netherlands, so it will be published in Japanese and Dutch.

How did the two books come to be published at the same time?
Scholastic and another publisher … wanted “Hiding Phil,” and we went with Scholastic. We sent “I Can See Just Fine” to Scholastic, and they passed on it. Abrams Appleseed and another publisher wanted it, and Abrams got it. Now Scholastic is buying the rights to “I Can See Just Fine,” so they will publish it as well.

What was it like navigating the literary publishing world?
It’s so totally different than anything else I’ve done. I’m used to illustrating for corporate clients and children’s magazines and things like that. It’s a much longer process. There’s a lot of collaboration with editors and art directors, and it’s just very much a collaborative process. And everything takes longer. Just getting the contract signed could take six months. The initial layout and sketch could take six months or longer, and then printing depends on what the publisher’s backlog is.

How old is your daughter Paige now?
Paige is 9, and she goes to the Kessler School [where wife Michelle works]. My older daughter, Emma, is 14, and she goes to Bishop Dunne. I should say, I am writing a book with the main character named Emma. When you write a book about your own kid, you’re the best dad in the world, unless you have two daughters.

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See Eric Barlcay’s work here.

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