Kids’ stuff: Adult cartoonist now making children’s books

Kids’ stuff: Adult cartoonist now making children’s books
Two tales: Illustrator and author Neil Swaab holds up two of his books in his Greenpoint studio.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

He’s drawing a younger crowd!

An illustrator and author who once drew a filthy adult comic strip now creates fun, family-friendly books for kids, and will share his new work with people of all ages at the 10th annual Brooklyn Children’s Book Fair, happening at Brooklyn Museum on Nov. 11. Neil Swaab, who draws books like “Abraham Lincoln: Pro Wrestler” from his studio in Greenpoint, said the hardest part of transitioning towards kid-friendly material is finding the line of what is acceptable for their young, innocent minds.

“What things you can and can’t get away with, things you take for granted, like saying ‘darn,’ ” said Swaab, who lives in Queens. “That’s not a problem — except sometimes it is a problem. That’s been a learning process. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to be bad for kids. I’m very cognisant of what’s going in there.”

From 1999 to 2012, Swaab wrote and drew the alternative comic strip, “Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles,” about a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking teddy bear who rebels against society’s strictures. At the same time, he was also working in children’s publishing, and he eventually wanted to shift gears, he said.

“I had sort of been living a dual life. The longer I was in children’s publishing and that material, the more affinity I had for that stuff,” said Swaab. “The adult comics was just one part of my artistic expression, and there was this other untapped thing I wanted to pursue.”

Kid friendly: Max Corrigan offers advice on winning friends and influencing teachers in Swaab’s book, “The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election.”
Neil Swaab

Mr. Wiggles has not made an appearance in his children’s books, but Swaab keeps them interesting by putting some of his own personal flair into the stories — especially in the series he both writes and draws, “The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying),” which he will have at the book fair.

“I always try to put my sensibility and my sense of humor in the ‘Secrets to Ruling School’ ” series,” said Swaab. “There’s an anti-hero who wants to stick it to the Man in some way. There’s that bit of mischief in there, but filtered to a younger audience.”

Swaab also has some drawing activities planned to help kids at the festival get their creative juices flowing, he said.

More than 50 other authors and illustrators will join Swaab at the fair, including Lori Richmond, who will read from her new book “Pax and Blue;” Isabel Roxas, who will give a drawing demonstration using characters in her picture book “Let Me Finish;” and Jon Burgerman, who will present an interactive coloring activity from his new book “Splat!”

Brooklyn Children’s Book Fair at the Brooklyn Museum in the Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion (200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights). Nov. 11, 11:30 am—4 pm. Free.

Not for kids!: The title character in Swaab’s adult comic strip “Rehabiitating Mr. Wiggles” faces the consequences of his crimes.
Neil Swaab

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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