Crabs are not cute.
Not cute at all.
They are not cuddly and, frankly, unless they were incorporated into the delicious splendor of Crab Rangoon, I never gave crabs much thought.
Until a few weeks ago when I was approached by an editor at Islandport Press. She was looking for an illustrator for a book about a family of crabs who go on vacation to the beach.
Because seriously, where else would crabs go? Out for Chinese food? Not likely.
My friend, Lita Judge, passed my name along to Melissa, the editor at Islandport, suggesting, I suppose, that I seemed like the kind of guy who ate a lot of Crab Rangoon and, as a result, might be able to draw crabs very well.
The logic of it is lost on me, but somehow, my preoccupation with greasy Chinese appetizers won over the heart and mind of Melissa and I got the job.
So now I am faced with the daunting challenge of spending the next year in my studio, trying to make crabs look cute and lovable. My frequent research trips to the local Chinese food joint for Crab Rangoon have yielded little in the way of practical help in drawing crabs, but I will keep trying.
And now those snacks are tax-deductible.
My first challenge was not actually making the crabs look cute, but making the crabs work like humans. In the story, the crabs have all sorts of wacky adventures that require more of them than might be expected of your average crab. I needed to make them able to move like humans. To that end, I made the executive decision to play Darwin and evolve one set of legs off of them.
Quick marine biology lesson:
In addition to their claws, crabs have 4 sets of legs. I learned this, not from my extensive Chinese food research, but from looking at actual, unprocessed-for-consumption, crabs.
It occurred to me that eight legs would be getting in the way all the time, so I opted to create a family of rare six-legged crabs for the book.
The other immediate problem I faced–and I know this is a very species-ist, politically incorrect comment for me to make–is that crabs all look alike to me. Especially when they are looking like appetizers.
Maybe I haven't spent enough time really looking at crabs, but, if faced with a family of crabs, I would have a difficult time telling one from the other.
I assumed, perhaps rashly and selfishly, that other people might have this same trouble.
I opted to put clothes on the crabs to help readers identify which crab is which. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to make a really nice bathing suit for a crab.
I explained that I did know that. My response, that crabs also do not typically dress up like tourists and go on family vacations, was accurate, but held no sway with her.
The crabs could wear clothes, they could use cameras, they could purchase tacky souvenirs, but they could not have only three sets of legs. In her defense, Melissa saw the humor in this, but still did not relent.
I have since come to terms with the crabs' eight-leggedness. I still haven't been able to whole-heartedly embrace them as cute and cuddly, however.
Cute? Not really.
Perhaps one more tax-deductable trip to the Chinese restaurant will convince me.