Happy Happy Book Birthday to Gela Kalaitzidis and her picture book debut
(Flamingo Books / PRH).
First things first, however. I’ve asked Gela to teach us how to pronounce her name.
Gela Kalaitzidis: That’s a perfect place to start. Many people seem a bit intimidated by my name. Gela is pronounced Gay-lah and Kalaitzidis, Ka-lights-see-this, sounds like “Can I see this”.
ED: Thank you!
( I admit I’ve been pronouncing it incorrectly so I will be practicing a bit here…)
Meanwhile here’s a little more about Gela’s (Gay-lah’s)
delightfully clever book:
Ozzie and Prince Zebedee are the BEST of friends. They do everything together, but things change when Prince Zebedee accuses Ozzie of cheating and Ozzie swallows up Prince Zebedee in one big GULP!
Listed in Barnes & Noble’s Best Picture Books of 2022
And check out this Kirkus review:
Time for some questions!
Q 1. Since you are the author/illustrator of OZZIE AND PRINCE ZEBEDEE, I’m curious which came first in this project—the illustrations or the characters or the story?
Gela Kalaitzidis (Ka-lights-see-this / “Can I see this”) : I would say the story came first. I actually wrote and illustrated something similar when I was around 16 years old. It was a longer story about a boy named Hugo who suffered from insomnia and while he was walking around at night, he ran into a dragon and a prince.
GK: Many years later I remembered that story and rewrote it. My critique group helped me see that the heart of the story was with the bickering side characters, and slowly the manuscript evolved to what it is today. I recently found the illustrations I made as a teenager in my father’s attic. I had completely forgotten how I drew back then, but seeing how much of the story I’ve been carrying around with me all these years was fun. That’s a pretty long production time, from 1989-2022!
Q 2. Where does Prince Zebedee’s name come from?
Gela Kalaitzidis: My oldest daughter had a friend in kindergarten whose brother was named Zebedee. I’d never heard that name before but it felt perfect for my main character. I should also mention that Ozzie’s original name was Ozymandias after Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem. And Zebedee’s cute looks are from my Godson. Inspiration comes from everywhere.
Q 3. They say every book is a bit autobiographical in some way. Are you more like Ozzie or Prince Zebedee?
Gela Kalaitzidis: I’m Ozzie. I’m like a friendly dragon until I pop. Then you have to stay away or I might swallow you whole. My mom used to call me Linda Blair from the Exorcist. She claimed I was possessed when I had my anger tantrums. But I’ve never cheated in cards.
Q 4. What medium did you use for this project? Do you have a favorite?
Gela Kalaitzidis: My favorite tool is watercolor Caran d’Ache pencils. For Ozzie & Prince Zebedee I went back and forth between traditionally sketching and coloring to digitally enhancing the images. Nowadays I’m staying away from the computer as much as I can. I find myself spending just as much time trying to recreate a hand-drawn look in Photoshop as it takes to achieve that style by working directly in traditional media.
Q 5. What tips or advice would you give to young Gela (dreaming, drawing, and reading back in Sweden), or other pre-published author/illustrators with stories they hope to share?
Gela Kalaitzidis: Don’t only dream. Get to work. Young Gela spent way too much time dreaming about the books she wanted to make, instead of making them. I also would tell myself that everything doesn’t have to be perfect from the beginning. Just like stories grow and change your skills as an artist improve.
GK: I wish I had reached out for help more. Nowadays I take art and writing classes, surround myself with mentors, and regularly meet with my critique groups. For me, it takes a village to make a story. I’m glad I found that village.
More about that village.
Q 6. How has your career as a movie digital artist (wherein you’ve “made Robert Downey Jr. fly, Brad Pitt age backwards, and sank Johnny Depp in numerous pirate ships…”) influenced your work as a picture book creator?
Gela Kalaitzidis: When you work with Visual FX for movies you work in a team. You have a client, a director, a supervisor, etc. guiding the shots. From that, I learned that critique is never personal against you, it’s a way to improve and get the best out of your art. Sometimes I wish I still had a VFX supervisor checking my work on a big movie screen, circling areas to improve with a bright laser-pointer. I guess that’s who my talented agent and editor are to me now.
Q 7. What inspired you to take the leap from movie digital art to children’s books? How are these paths similar/ different?
Gela Kalaitzidis: My uncle is a famous picture book maker in Sweden, Jan Lööf. I always wanted to be just like him, but I got sidetracked for a couple of years making movies. Finally, what made me take the leap was out of necessity. My husband also works in the movies and it’s hard to raise three young children with both of us working weekends and late nights. Little did I know that making picture books takes just as many weekends, nights, and hard work as any movie production, the only difference is that you’ll have more control of your work hours.
Q. 8 What new projects are you working on now?
Gela Kalaitzidis: I have one book written and illustrated by me on submission right now, fingers crossed. Then I just received a request to illustrate a very talented artist’s story. We’ll see where that goes, but that would be a dream project of mine. I love to get the experience of collaborating with an author.
Thank you for joining us on the blog today, Gela.
To learn more about Gela Kalaitzidis and her work, see gelakalaitzidis.com
And follow her on social media: