New Voice: Interview & Giveaway: Dana Wulfekotte on Rabbit & Possum

By Traci Sorell

Today I’m pleased to shine the Cynsations’ spotlight on Dana Wulfekotte, a fellow Epic Eighteen member. Her debut picture book, Rabbit & Possum (Greenwillow, 2018), features the antics of these two friends hoping to share a snack but having to overcome an obstacle first.

I love Dana’s use of illustrated thought bubbles and her experience as an animator comes through in the book’s artwork.

Kirkus Reviews stated, “Friendship, loyalty, and determination come through in this well-paced exploit.” I couldn’t agree more.

From the promotional copy:

Rabbit likes to leap before she looks.Possum is a little more cautious.So when Possum accidentally gets stuck in a tree, he fears he’ll be trapped forever. Everything is ruined!Luckily, Rabbit won’t give up till she rescues him.With a little creativity—and a big surprise—she just might be able to save the day.After all, that’s what friends are for.

Dana, as an author-illustrator, how did your writing journey inform your artistic journey and vice versa?

It’s still funny to think of myself as a writer, because my whole life I’ve been focused on my art. When I first started writing Rabbit & Possum, and even going through the revision process with my editor, I sometimes felt like I had no idea what I was doing. But I think having all of that experience as an artist is helping me find my footing as a writer.

My learning process is also about how to make the art and writing work best together, and what to say in the text versus what to show in the art.

Please describe your illustration apprenticeship. How did you take your art from a beginner level to publishable? How has your style evolved over time?

Early sketch of Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte,
used with permission.

I’ve been drawing my whole life, but as an adult I’ve been working in animation since I graduated from college in 2005. I think that gave me an advantage when I took the leap into publishing, since I already had a background in visual storytelling.

The biggest hurdle was developing my own artistic voice. When you work in animation, you’re working on teams and you’re often asked to mimic all different kinds of artistic styles. When I decided to move into children’s illustration, I knew I would need my own unique style.

I also had a webcomic that I worked on with my best friend for many years, but it had a look that wouldn’t really work for a picture book.

I started drawing almost every day again, filling up sketchbooks and doing drawing challenges like Inktober while also working full-time at an animation studio. It took about a year or two from there to develop my work to the point where it was publishable. Even now that my style is more consistent, I’m very indecisive and I still experiment a lot with my process. 

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

The best moment was definitely getting the message from my agent that I had gotten an offer on my book. It was a real turning point in my life and making children’s books has been the most creatively fulfilling work I’ve done so far. 

When I was little, I saw “Beauty and the Beast” and decided that I wanted to be a Disney animator when I grew up. As I got older, I realized I didn’t want to move out to California. I’m too much of a cranky East Coaster. So now I get to tell stories and make art for children while living in New York City, which is pretty much the best outcome I could have hoped for.

I haven’t had any truly bad moments in publishing, aside from the usual rejections and bad reviews that everyone experiences. It’s not that I enjoy those things, but they’re a normal part of working in most creative fields.

A spread from the Rabbit & Possum dummy that Dana sent out on submission.
Used with permission.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s illustrators?

I’ve seen so much good advice from other artists and I don’t really have anything new to add, but I’ll reiterate some things that I feel are important: The most successful artists I know are also the most determined and the hardest working. Some people may have advantages that you don’t have, but focus on what you need to do to reach your goals and don’t worry about anyone else. 

Similarly, don’t compare where you’re at in your career to other artists (I know this is much easier said than done, but nothing good ever comes of it!).

Cynsational Notes

Dana Wulfekotte is a children’s book author-illustrator and freelance animator. 

was born in Korea, raised in New Jersey, and now lives in Queens with her
boyfriend and two pet rabbits. 

Dana has also illustrated another picture book, The Remember Balloons by debut author Jessie Oliveros, that will be published in August by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

As an animator/designer, she has worked on various animation projects for HBO, PBS, Google, and many others. 

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Enter to win your own copy of Rabbit & Possum.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on April 5, 2018 and 12:00 AM on April 19, 2018. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about April 19, 2018. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

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