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Brett Helquist

OREM — I'm so sorry to tell you that this Saturday the ill-fated illustrator of those disturbing "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books will appear in Orem.

However, you can avoid finding out more about this Utah native by stopping right here.

At least that's the way the elusive author Lemony Snicket might tell you about "Unfortunate Events" illustrator Brett Helquist's visit Saturday.

As those who have read the books will tell you, they are warned by the author at every turn not to continue reading the stories of "tragedy and sadness."

But that doesn't seem to have deterred anyone. The books have been so successful, a big-budget movie based on the first three books in the series of 11 will open in theaters today.

Orem's SCERA theater, 745 S. State, will screen the movie starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep, starting tonight, and will host the illustrator from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Helquist, who grew up in Orem and graduated from Brigham Young University, wasn't involved in making the movie, but he said the look of the film mirrors his artwork.

"I didn't have any direct input, but it is clear that they used the illustrations as a starting point," he said. "I think Count Olaf, the way he's characterized in the movie, he might have just walked off the page of one of the illustrations."

Helquist said he's pleased that the filmmakers retained many of his ideas for the characters.

"They definitely did a good job of being true to that vision in the book," he said. "That's the way I'd kind of envisioned things, and it's flattering that they would stick so closely to it. The tone of the story, the visual look that I tried to create with the illustrations, and what they tried to do with the movie, it all fits very well together."

The first two Lemony Snicket stories were Helquist's first attempt at illustrating books. Before that, he had been working mostly for newspapers and magazines. But he saw the first "Unfortunate Events" book as the perfect way to get into the children's book market.

"At the time, there was no way of telling that it was going to be such a big thing," he said. "It just seemed like a fun story and a chance to do a book at the time. And to kind of move my career in that direction — so I jumped on it."

Helquist said when he first read the manuscript, he enjoyed how unusual it was.

"I'd never quite seen a story like it," he said.

The Snicket book left a particular impression on Helquist, which he incorporated into his illustrations.

"To me, it kind of had the tone of some of those old Victorian tales of poor orphan children, so I wanted to give it kind of a feeling that was reminiscent of that," he said. "But at the same time I didn't want to make it seem old-fashioned, I wanted to make it seem current and something kids today would relate to, to bring it into the present and create this feeling of it could be anytime, or no time at all, just kind of a strange world of its own."

Helquist said his life in Utah shows up indirectly in his work.

"I didn't think back on my life in Orem as I was doing these illustrations, but I draw mostly from my imagination, so everything in my life somehow creeps in there, people I've known over the years," he said. "Sometimes, and I don't do it on purpose, but sometimes after drawing a character I'll see them and it'll remind me of someone that I knew at some point in my life."

Helquist used to spend hours in the Orem Public Library as a kid, which he says nurtured his love for telling stories through pictures.

"I wasn't a big reader as a child, but I loved books, and I loved to look at pictures, so I used to just pore through books, so I'm sure some of that has stuck with me and influenced the way my art ends up looking," he said.

Helquist started out as an engineering major at BYU but switched to illustration halfway through his college career. He graduated from BYU 11 years ago with a bachelor's of fine arts in illustration and headed to New York for an internship. He's worked there ever since, illustrating on the side — until the Lemony Snicket books came along.

Since then he's had a steady stream of illustration work and has written and illustrated a picture book of his own, "Roger the Jolly Pirate," which was published in April.

Helquist says though he's working on writing another picture book, he plans to keep illustrating for others.

"I consider myself more of an illustrator than a writer," he said.

E-mail: mdecker@desnews.com