Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with my favorite childhood author J. Otto Seibold.
If you don’t recognize the name, you undoubtedly know his work. He’s the man behind childhood classic books like Olive the Other Reindeer, Penguin Dreams, and the Mr. Lunch series.
Being that we are both California Bay Area boys, I asked him how his home’s environment has influenced his art.
“Well, I can tell you exactly how my environment influences my art, the sky is on fire right now,” he said in respect to the orange skies looming over the West Coast.
“You take a picture of Blade Runner and take a picture of the outside, put ’em side by side, they’re the same!”
He continued, mentioning his paintings inspired by the scenery of Oakland, CA, fire brimmed skies aside. He noted the tent encampments for the homeless, as they’ve served as a source for inspiration. “It’s the kinda thing you wouldn’t be seeing if you lived in Nova Scotia.”
I had seen these and had planned to inquire. “Well, I can tell ya more about them. The idea was to take these iconic brands and drape them in tents, which you’ll see just about everywhere in Oakland.”
These pieces were heavily inspired (he said stolen) from a number of other Bay Area artist friends of his.
Your favorite childhood author
Afterward, I asked about my favorite childhood book by him, Penguin Dreams. I was thrilled when he happily said “I’ll tell you anything you want about that book.”
“I don’t know if I can recall the exact genesis of [Penguin Dreams] but I know it had come from a character in Olive [the Other Reindeer], and little did I know there are no penguins in the North Pole!”
He continued to reminisce, “But there’s a quote in the back of the book from my oldest. She said ‘they fly in the water,’ and it just kinda went from there.”
The story’s protagonist, Chongo Chingi, was also an invention of his children.
Upon asking he said “The name came from my second oldest. I showed her a picture and asked her what his name was and she said ‘Congo Chingi!’ When we brought [Penguin Dreams] to Chronicle [Books], we actually had to convince them the name wasn’t racist!”
Sadly, all books co-written with his now ex-wife Vivian Walsh, such as Penguin Dreams, Olive, and Mr. Lunch are out of print. Copies can be found online easily, but snap them up if you see them! They’re a treasure.
I told him it was a shame it was only a virtual interview because I’d love for him to sign my copy. He joked “Want me to sign your screen? I can screenshot my signature and send it to you, you can print it out a paste it in.”
His sense of humor was excellent.
“Every year around Christmas time I rescue as many of my books as I can from Amazon, sign them, and donate them to a book drive. I’ll also see them every now and then at a flea market.”
Seibold talks about his new creative endeavor, Bubble Soap
I couldn’t be more hype for Seibold’s most In terms of recent endeavor, Bubble Soap. A story written and illustrated by my favorite childhood author.
Following protagonists Honey, a bear with a penchant for martial arts, and her sidekick Curtis the little donkey, they encounter zany characters in their happenstance.
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“The name came come from the song, ‘Just Like Honey’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain, which is a great song. But then some friends convinced me to change it back to Bubble Soap, so that’s the name I kept.”
Seibold is right now trying to sell Bubble Soap as a TV show and has a Patreon for it. On the subject of who he’s tried to sell to.
“Netflix said no… They said they had another show in the works. That it’s too similar to, but that’s impossible, there’s no way it’s too similar. So I’m trying to get it picked up by other streaming services. We’ll see what they say.”
Another project on the horizon is his outdoor soup art gallery! This was inspired by his college years, going to free nights at art museums, which traditionally serve wine.
“This is the first time I’m publicly announcing my outdoor gallery, where I’ll have my paintings displayed in the front yard. And as people walk around, they can get free soup, instead of wine like museums usually have.”
Unfortunately, Covid has delayed this. He joked about trying to do it virtually but noted that it is only delayed until further notice.
Barry McGee was an artist and friend of his that came up in our email conversation previously. In Seibold’s backyard shed, he has a collection of McGee’s stickers, lifted from Lyft bikes.
McGee is known for his surrealist style and is definitive in the Bay Area’s art scene. About McGee, he said:
“I just take them off of bikes if I see them, I don’t care if anyone sees me do it. I just hate to see corporations use his art, so I take them home, put them on my shed.”
When not working, Seibold can be found playing music, as he has a drum kit and guitar in his creative space. For him, his work and play tend to be one and the same. What a goal.
Unfortunately, our connection was cut off before a proper end. I wish y’all could hear the “rich intonations” of my favorite childhood author’ss voice, as he was hilarious and a joy to have.
Any guy who doesn’t care how he’s seen in “corporate woke culture” and will light a J during an interview is cool in my book. It’s great to see the people who influence you as a kid turn out to be awesome in real life.
Check out my favorite childhood author and his work. Plug that Patreon, friends.