Talester the Lizard
by John Himmelman
The Dial Press
For my Grandfather and Grandmother Himmelman
"There are great goings-ons these days...."
John Himmelman's Stories' Stories...
My first! Came up with the story during my last year of college (School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, NY) in 1981 for a course in children's book illustration. It was taught by Dale Payson. She showed it to her editor at Dial Press and... Callooh! Callay! - they gave me a contract!
Back then, all books were done with preseparated colors. Every color was created by combining separate pages consisting of shades of gray, each representing a primary color of red, blue, yellow, or black. When they are overlaid at the printer, they blend into a wider range of colors. I show you what I mean here. Truth is, you had just a hope and a guess of how it would actually look once it was printed! For this book, I used shades of black, blue, and yellow. (Kind of faded in these scans) No red.
This was not taught in college and Dale spent her own time, at no charge, teaching me how to do this. I am ever grateful to her for setting me on this path.
The story is about a lizard whose best friend is, unbeknownst to him, his reflection in a pool of water beneath him. When the pool dries up, he sets out to find him. It's based on an anole lizard my fiance Betsy (now wife) had given me when she went off to college.
Above is the introduction of Simspon Snale. Fourteen years later, Simpson got his own two books with E.P. Dutton. "Snale" was changed to "Snail", and the art was quite different! Simpson, by the way, is an honorific to Robert Emmett Simpson, a guy I worked the night shift with in a factory that built parts for space shuttles. Robert passed many of the boring hours drawing pictures of a snail he named Seymour. But more of this on the Simspon Snail page...
Talester the Lizard garnered some nice reviews and was my first Junior Literary Guild Selection. With my $3,000 advance, I bought a Suburu Brat and drove from my home in Commack, NY to Sausalito, CA, where I stayed a while with a friend. I returned east in the fall and moved to CT.
I was 22 years old and this book marks a pivotal life moment; School was done. Sights were set on a career direction. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to draw pictures for those stories. I was also embarking upon a new life in CT with my soon-to-be artist wife. Talester will always occupy a very special place in my heart.
I still wonder if I'd be doing this if she hadn't bought me that lizard...
"I know he's a lizard, but he looks so naked!
I remember my editor saying this about the picture on the right. She didn't want it changed, it was just an observation.
By the way, I was already drawing Talester (a name I made up for my new pet) long before coming up with a story for him - before I even thought I'd be telling stories. Here's one of many early, and crude, drawings on a letter I sent to Betsy in 1980 while she was away at college. Some girlfriends get love notes. Mine got pictures of lizards eating spiders...