"When I listen, I feel like I’m getting an audio postcard from an old friend."
Author-illustrator Adam Rex loves audiobooks and can remember the moment he discovered them: in the summer of 2001, when he and his wife faced a four-and-a-half day drive, moving their possessions from Tucson to Philadelphia. “We loaded up on audiobooks and listened to everything from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST to James Bond novels.” Since then, Rex says, he’s become something of an audiobook connoisseur; particular favorites include the works of David Sedaris, David Rakoff, and Sarah Vowell. Hearing them read, Rex says, “I have the sense that I’ve built a relationship. When I listen, I feel like I’m getting an audio postcard from an old friend.” He’s also a fan of narrators who don’t oversell humor. “They let a funny line be funny on its own merits and don’t read it like they’re playing a slide whistle.”
Rex enjoys listening to audiobooks while working on drawings and illustrations for various projects. In fact, when the final Harry Potter story was released, he says the audiobook version “saved” him. “I had a tight deadline, but I longed to read that book before the salient plot points got ruined. Jim Dale really saved my hash!”
Rex may still be best known as an illustrator, but he’s also a critically acclaimed author. His picture book FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH, a clever, wildly original collection of rhymed stories about monsters and their problems, made The New York Times Bestseller list in 2006. THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY, a 432-page genre-bending illustrated science fiction novel, followed in 2009. Rex, who illustrates his own work, says that listening to narrators bring his stories to life through vocal illustrations is fascinating--and sometimes surprising. He enjoyed how L.J. Ganser, who read the Frankenstein stories, invented a little tune for one piece that Rex himself had never intended. “I loved it when I heard it, though, and it made perfect sense in the context of the book.” Recently, Rex listened to all nine CDs of SMEKDAY. “They even read out the caption on a character’s T-shirt!”
Narrator Bahni Turpin’s characterization of J.Lo, an alien character, took a little getting used to though. “I describe Boovish [alien] speech as sounding like a sheep stepping on Bubble Wrap--lots of pops and bleats,” says Rex. “I didn’t imagine those sorts of noises when J.Lo the Boov speaks English, however. I don’t know why I didn’t. But Bahni did, and she wasn’t wrong for doing so.”
With the publication of his new YA novel, FAT VAMPIRE: A Never Coming of Age Story, in July, Rex moves from illustrator to author/illustrator to author of a story with no illustrations. Rex describes this work as a “bawdy teenage comedy that starts out as Superbad with vampires, then turns more meditative after that.”
He’s careful to point out that it’s for teen and adult readers, not his younger fans. The inspiration for the novel came from misreading a banner--Rex thought it said “Dork Embrace” rather than “Dark Embrace.” That got him to wondering: “What if you became a vampire before your growth spurt? Or before you lost that 15 pounds that always bothered you?”
These days, Rex says, it’s writing that most engages him--he sees himself as more of an author than an illustrator. “It’s what I want to be doing right now. I am doing both, but writing is what’s really thrilling me.” His current writing project bears all the hallmarks of his original offbeat humor. He describes it as “a new middle-grade trilogy about an evil breakfast cereal company and King Arthur and a leprechaun in a pet carrier.” It’s sure to entertain his growing number of fans as well.--Jessie C. Grearson