They met in an elevator, beginning writer and novice illustrator. Each was known by Maurice Sendak and encouraged to further his individual talents of writing and art.
Beginning with "Sid and Sol," a true working relationship began between Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski. They claim to have a special insight, a rhythm of working together that is unique. They find occasions to talk about it - in tandem - giving their impressions of the artistic collaboration.Recently they spoke at a National Council of Teachers of English meeting about their work together, their feelings of winning the 1987 Caldecott Medal for "Hey, Al," and a recent picture book, "Bravo Minski."
"When I first saw the squiggly little lines that Richard called thumbnail sketches, I thought we'd never make it," Yorinks said. "Not only did they not make sense to me, I didn't think he understood the story. . . ."
"But the more I showed him what each sketch meant," said Egielski, taking up when the author paused, "the more we knew the culmination of the book was possible . . . and a good one."
Both Yorinks and Egielski live in New York City. They also share the fact that neither was exposed to children's picture books at a young age.
When he was 6, Arthur Yorinks began training as a classical pianist. His mother, a fashion illustrator, set a model for art in the home.
He has performed and written for the American Mime Theatre, composed the libretto for several operas, recently completed a full-length story ballet commissioned by the Hartford Ballet Company and a screenplay for the British stage. He is currently working with Maurice Sendak to develop the Sundance Children's Theater.
Richard Egielski's first experience with picture books was when he took a course in book illustration. He had studied at the High School of Art and Design, Pratt Institution and Parsons School of Design, with drawings appearing in publications such as the New York Times and National Lampoon. It was when he was able to sequence the picture - the logical way for a picture book format - that he admits his artistic dreams were fulfilled. "The illustrator acts as an entire film crew. You cast the characters, design the costumes and sets, and direct the action, by interpreting the text."
He has received several honors and awards for his illustrations and exhibited at many galleries.
"Bravo Minski" is the fifth book in the team effort. It is a story of "the greatest scientist ever known to man." At 3 he proved the theory of gravity; at 7 he discovered electricity. Even after the great feats of discovering the world's first rocket, light bulb, washing machine, eyeglasses and aspirin, Minski is not content. He wants to sing.
"Bravo Minski" is a tongue-in-cheek story, a spoof at the impetuous drive of inventors and artists over the years. It is when Leonard da Vinci recognizes Minski's rocket and a Benjamin Franklin lookalike is involved in the discovery of electricity that the humor surfaces. The Minski-Mozart parallel is more than coincidence, a fact that will most likely be missed by a child reader.
While the text gives this impression of meaning, the illustrations are a study in mixed messages. There are rough frames on the pictures only up to the time when Minski reaches his musical goal. That is seen as a straightforward extension of the text. But the setting in Victorian times is stuffed with confusing paraphernalia; rockets, automobiles and household appliances mingled with period costumes, torches and candles. Most perplexing is the theater stage with shadows stretching contrary to the overhead light or moon. If this isn't enough to startle the reader, a stark-red telephone booth center stage should!
Because of Maurice Sendak's past influence on Richard Egielski (the book is dedicated to him by both author and illustrator, and his likeness appears in at least three places throughout the book), one wonders if the phone booth is similar to the "Mozart-image" that intrudes in Sendak's work - an undeniable influence on the artist. Certainly the mystical shadows are reminiscent of Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are."
One thing that Egielski has done with his pictures is suggest a variety of societal influences, cultural, political and religious, that add interest and humor. The self-portraits and glimpses of kings, artists, familiar statesmen and inventors are all part of the spoof of the story.
"Bravo Minski" is said to be ". . . the absolute mastery of the picture book." If that suggests it is a masterful book to delight and entertain very young readers, it just misses the mark. If, however, the accolade means it leaves plenty of room for speculation by adult critics, it certainly makes an accurate claim.