Smash Pages Q&A | Emma Hunsinger + Tillie Walden

The creators of ‘My Parents Won’t Stop Talking!’ discuss the new picture book, their creative process, the differences between making comics and children’s books, and more.

Separately Emma Hunsinger and Tillie Walden have crafted impressive bodies of work. Tillie Walden is the Eisner Award winning cartoonist of Spinning, On a Sunbeam, Are You Listening? and other books. Emma Hunsinger is known for She Would Feel the Same, which was published by Shortbox, and How To Draw a Horse, which was published in The New Yorker and nominated for an Eisner Award, a National Magazine Award and a National Cartoonist Society Divisional Award.

The two have collaborated on a new picture book, My Parents Won’t Stop Talking! which is hilarious and visually exciting. The main character Molly just wants to go to the park, and what follows is deeply relatable but also beautifully bizarre and inventive in all the best ways.

I spoke with both Hunsinger and Walden about the new book, the differences between creating children’s books and comics, their inspirations and boring “adult chit chat.”

The two of you mostly work on your own, how did you meet and what made you interested in collaborating?

We both went to the Center for Cartoon Studies, a comics program in White River Junction, Vermont, which is how we met and ended up settling down here in the woods. The idea of collaborating really only came up because we were so bored in the pandemic, and I think we both really liked the idea because we are very different artists. We have different drawing styles, different processes, and different ways of solving creative problems. But I think the difference is what made it such a good fit, we were able to fill in the gaps for each other. 

Where did My Parents Won’t Stop Talking! begin?

We decided we wanted to try to make a picture book together in early April 2020. After discussing what it would be about, we agreed there was most likely a lot of waiting in our future so it should be themed around waiting and patience. We brainstormed if we had any really vivid memories from childhood about waiting and Emma instantly thought of waiting for her parents to stop talking to people after church. We decided it should be called “My Parents Won’t Stop Talking” and the rest is history. 

How did the two of you work together to make the book?

Nailing down the concept and starting the script was pretty straightforward: we talked over what should happen in the book, then wrote out the text together. Once we had the script, we didn’t know how do start drawing a draft, and decided we should each take the script and draw a rough draft of the book ourselves. We then came together with our drafts and picked the best parts out of each one and combined them in one. To make the final draft we literally sat side by side and passed the artwork back and forth. 

Having made the book, I’m curious about your thoughts on making comics versus making a picture book. Because they are very similar but not the same.

It’s funny, we got asked this question recently while Emma was agonizing over drawing pant legs again and again in a graphic novel. The thing that really stands out to us is the utility of the drawings: in picture books you have to pour everything into each drawing on each page – whereas graphic novels are much longer and have WAAY more drawings of various scope and scale which means not everything gets the same amount of attention. In the same sense the pacing of graphic novels and picture books are totally different. You have to build up so much faster and economically in a picture book whereas in a graphic novel you can take your time getting somewhere in the story.

You did seem to have fun with the language. Everything from the names of adults – Credenza, Gruyere – to the names that Molly invents. How important was the language for you?

This whole book was really a way to have fun and be creative. We were looking for every opportunity while making this to make each other laugh. The names and specifics you see in the text for this book are really born out of that sense of play we had while making it. Which was very important! We really wanted to make a kids book that was FUN more than anything else. 

Did you know that the book would shift in style as we get into Molly’s imagination? How much effort was on making those pages look just right?

We definitely knew going into it we should have Tillie “Tillie out” on a spread. I think we sort of worked backwards from the idea that Tillie would do a super beautiful dramatic drawing at the climax of the book. The idea to go into her mind after the big colorful spread was our editor Connie Hsu’s idea, and it was inspired by the fact that at the beginning we had mentioned one of the Mom’s listens to meditation podcast. It just created this seed of an idea – could Molly find internal peace, somehow, after the blowout imagination? We tried to imagine somewhere so far inside her mind that it was devoid of space. I think after we figured out the sequence and what it would say (“She needed to become her own park”) the imagery came together easily. The drawing of Molly becoming the park is one of our favorite’s in the whole book. 

As you were working, were there other picture books you remember or were looking to for inspiration or captured some of the tone and approach you were trying for?

We both had fond memories of picture books as kids (Graeme Base for Emma and Richard Scarry for Tillie) that had a lot of detail – so we both knew we wanted to make a book that would be interesting to come back to again and again. Tonally, we didn’t have a direct inspiration, we really just wanted the book to be rowdy and funny. Emma has fond memories of The Stupids (Harry Allard and James Marshall), so maybe that helped us get it there. 

What was the hardest part to get right – the linework, the writing, the lettering, the colors – what was your experience?

Getting the wording right was tricky for sure. We really had to be succinct, and we’re both accustomed to having a lot of pages in our comics to say everything we need to. Placing the text was also challenging. It’s one thing to come up with a good idea for a drawing, but then to find a way for three sentences to live naturally within it was a whole other thing. The colors were also difficult because we couldn’t quite figure out how we wanted them to look, so there were a few stops and starts and messing around with different mediums before we found our way. 

Having made this book, do you want to make more picture books? Make more books together? 

OH YEAH. Yes to both. Collaborating really was the best experience. It’s hard to describe just how labor intensive and lonely drawing comics can be, and so the fact that we got to just hang out together and make each other laugh, and then both draw our favorite things (characters for Emma, backgrounds for Tillie) was like winning the lottery. So yes, we’ll have to do this again. 

What else are you working on? 

Emma is currently working on her first middle grade graphic novel called How It All Ends. It will be out in 2023. It’s a coming of age story about a girl who gets bumped up to high school a year early, full of hilarity and heart (it’s easy for me to say this because this is Tillie typing) and Tillie (me) is working on graphic novels in the Walking Dead Universe called Clementine, the first book of the trilogy will be out in June of this year. Different vibes, but we’re both drawing a lot. 

I have to ask, since making the book, have you taken to heart Molly’s observation that “everything adults talk about is BORING”?

Actually, we went the other way. After becoming homeowners all we want to do is talk about getting new siding, how hard our sump pump is working, and the contractors who won’t call us back. With each passing day we delight in adult chit chat even more. Sorry, kids. 

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