Jonathan Lopes – Children’s Book Publishing Interview

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Jonathan Lopes in his studio, 2014

I have known Jonathan a number of years as he is married to one of my best friends (author, Marcie Colleen.) I had the joy of attending their wedding just over twelve months ago in Gowanus (Brooklyn.) When I first chatted to Jonathan about his job, I realized how little I actually knew about the production of a picture book from manuscript to final print copy. I hope this interview expands your knowledge too about that aspect of the industry, as well as about my lovely interviewee and his gifts.

Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

I was raised in a suburb south of Boston, Massachusetts, where my family currently resides. But, I have lived the majority of my life in New York City. Urban environments have always been a source of creative inspiration for me.  I discovered this when I’d venture into Boston as a teenager.

Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey into becoming a key player in the publishing process in children’s books.

I first worked for a medical book distribution company and that job acclimated me with books, publishers, warehousing, inventory and distribution. A few jobs later I was managing the hand assembly and production floor for a commercial printing facility.  And, from there, with my printing and manufacturing foundation, I moved into book publishing.  It was an unplanned route, but one with very happy results.

What book do you still have fond memories of from your childhood?

I enjoyed the Richard Scarry books and also the Babar books.  As an adult, working on the Babar series when I worked at Harry N. Abrams was very special.

Published by Harry N. Abrams, 2004

Published by Harry N. Abrams, 2004

You have been a Production Manager for many years—with Abrams, Hachette, and now with Readerlink Distribution Sevices LLC, San Diego. At what point in a book’s production do you get involved and what are your main tasks?

My approach has always been to get involved in the book as early in its life-cycle as possible to learn about the expected challenges with the project, and to offer guidance to help avoid them.  The Production Department typically manages the printers and the book schedule and also offers guidance on the development of the format. I’ve managed cost quoting, quality assurance, schedule maintenance, budgeting, safety compliance, color reproduction, file set-up, ebook development among many other aspects of the process.  Additionally, Production ultimately bears the brunt of any delays that were introduced to the project along the way: Late art. Late manuscript. Late file delivery. File issues. Color reproduction issues. etc. Production is the last step before going to press so by stepping into the process early, we can assist with managing the trajectory of the project.

Please tell us one or two books whose layout/final product you are especially proud of.

The Ghostgirl hard cover series by Tonya Hurley.  The original hard covers had a die-cut and printing on acetate, along with printing over embossed foil.  These specifications, used all together, were a considerable accomplishment.  I was fortunate to work with a wonderful editor and an amazing designer on the format development of this series. The printer delivered a quality product as well.  A great team effort.

Which other members of the publishing industry do you work most closely with? Art directors? Illustrators?

Being in production and manufacturing I work closely with many areas of the Publishing Industry.  I work with the creative teams as well as the backbone teams such as Finance, Strategic Planning, Inventory and Legal, among others. I am the type of person who wants the full picture of the business I am in. Having this knowledge will help me understand how my contributions might be more effective.  So, I immerse myself in other areas of the business to help me attain this broader view.

I know you are a creative in your own right! What initiated your passion for creating Lego models?

I had moved to NYC as a musician shortly after high school and needed a creative outlet after sidelining my musical ambitions.  Lego had some kits that intrigued me in the late 1990’s so I bought a few.  Shortly thereafter, I decided that I wanted to design and build a highly detailed and realistic model railroad layout, from scratch, entirely out of Lego – without using any of their kits.  I’ve since built two layouts and both have been featured in magazines, blogs, newspapers and have gotten me some strong exposure along the way.  From there, people started asking me to design and build things for them.  It has now blossomed into a quite comfortable and growing artist-for-hire business for me.

What model are you working on at the moment? Could you share any of the process with us? 

Without giving full-disclosure, the project I am currently working on and delivering imminently has an N, Y, and a C, in it.  That’s the only tease I’ll give.  I do have a Jonathan Lopes Facebook page that I keep up-to-date as I deliver commissioned work, but otherwise don’t divulge my works in progress.  My overall design process depends on what the scope of the project is.  If replicating a building or vehicle, I may sketch it out on paper.  If building a large scale sculpture, like my recent Maisy Mouse and Candlewick Press Bear, I first sculpt them out of layered Styrofoam, by hand – similar to the method a traditional sculptor might work. I then use each layer of Styrofoam as a ‘build template’ for that layer of bricks.  If creating an original art piece, I’ll build many mock-ups and try many different techniques to come to the one I prefer most.  However, I do not use any computer-aided-design programs in my design process.  I prefer to design and build organically.

Candlewick's Maisy Mouse

Candlewick’s Maisy Mouse, 2015

Lopes 3

Brooklyn buildings beneath a replica of the Manhattan Bridge, 2013

Lopes 2

Urban Landscape version #2, 2011

What does your own studio workspace look like? 

Complete organization.  Countless bins and trays of Lego pieces sorted by color and shape.

What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

None right now as we just moved in and need to figure out brackets and hanging apparatus. (!)

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                  [JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world?

I’ve spent so much time playing softball in New York City’s Central Park that I’d have to choose that park.  I have logged many hours playing ball with friends and colleagues there.  Such fun!

You just moved to San Diego last month. Tell is three things you love about your new location.

The weather. The quality and pace of life.  The proximity to the urban centers, parks, and recreational areas.

Three of the things you loved most about living in Brooklyn, where you lived for many years.

The neighborhood I lived in. The architecture.  Living a car-free-lifestyle – I’ve never felt more freedom than being car-free.  The automobile: The true ball-and-chain.

First paid job after high school?

Bicycle Mechanic.

Will you get a bicycle in SD? Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

Coffee. Kind Bars.

You can follow Jonathan’s creations and displays on this page:

Thanks so much for sharing your passions and skills with us, Jonathan. I wish you continued success in your new job and creativity.

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7 Responses to Jonathan Lopes – Children’s Book Publishing Interview

  1. Fabulous interview, Joanna and Jonathan! It’s fascinating to learn some of what goes on behind the scenes in the book publishing business, and of course, I’ve loved Jonathan’s Lego art for ages! Thank you both.

  2. Joanna says:

    Thank you, Beth. I am constantly learning about this business and hope to bring more interviews about the various roles and jobs that go into bringing us a completed book.

  3. Tina Cho says:

    Interesting interview–to get the other side of publishing! Thanks, Jonathan. And I think it’s cool that you first make a “template” out of styrofoam, rather than using a computer program! Maybe some day you will get to put together Marcie’s book!

  4. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    Interesting interview. Book production, especially ones that don’t involve standard formats, fascinates me. I just found a book called “Open This Little Book,” a tiny book inside a larger book inside a larger book….by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Wondering just HOW they did that. Chronicle Books makes some very cool and beautiful books.

  5. Enzo and I look at Jonathan’s work on FB when Marcie shares it. We are in awe. Fun to learn more about his work.

  6. I’ve never heard of “production team” for books before. It’s like a whole different universe to me! Of course I am the most interested in Jonathan’s LEGO projects. I’m going to share this with my older son who will be happy to hear that you can make money with a LEGO hobby! 🙂

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