Connecting with the Creator of “Arthur”

Connecting with the Creator of “Arthur”

Marc BrownUntil the recent Ohio River Festival of Books, I knew little of author Marc Brown or his phenomenal “Arthur” children’s books, which have sold more than 65 million copies.

I knew they had been made into an Emmy Award-winning (six of them) series on PBS, but my primary reason for attending his keynote address was simply to hear what a bestselling author had to say.

A lot, as it turned out. Among the pictures he displayed was one of him with former first ladies Barbara and Laura Bush, who Brown accompanied to a book festival in Russia. Another showed him with Hilary Clinton; a third the goat at his home on Martha’s Vineyard, also named Hilary.

A Unique Experience

As book lover, I see reading endangered by the short attention spans and visual orientation of today’s always-online world. So it warmed my heart to hear Marc Brown encouraging parents to read to their children.

This night also turned out to be a unique experience. His show included slides of questions often posed by audiences at his appearances. He asked for a volunteer to read the questions before he answered them, selecting a precocious girl who appeared to be about nine years old.

She turned out to be a budding comedienne, often adding wisecracks or playing off Brown’s remarks to create snappy comebacks. So the 200 or so who crowded into the room that night heard repartee that will never be repeated.

Losing Your Job

Arthur by Marc BrownHowever, the point where I connected so closely with Brown concerned the story of how he came up with Arthur, an aardvark who started with a much longer snout than he wears today.

Turns out the night Brown conceived the character, he had just lost his job as the art director of a TV station. He showed photos from the station and recalled his idea for dressing up the weather girl in a goofy costume. The idea didn’t go over too well—it earned his pink slip.

I could relate. When I left a large corporation in Denver at the end of 1982, it was because (in several subtle ways) they made it apparent that if I didn’t quit, I would still wind up on the street. Deciding any mud that got tossed around would settle on me, I chose resignation.

The Right Time

Going out on your own is like having children: If you wait for the “right time,” it will never come. I had thought about starting my own business, but only in a daydreaming sort of way. I did so after contemplating fulltime employment, but too many moves seemed to go sideways and I wanted to go up.

That first year was brutal. Whoever thinks you have to “pay your dues” for one year severely underestimates the time. Try five years, and then everything might fall apart anyway. That’s what happened to me after the stock market crash of 1987 wiped out most of my business in a few months.

However, had none of this happened, I wouldn’t have wound up in the freelance writing and editing endeavors I love.

The past six years, getting your walking papers has become a common occurrence. If you’re among the suddenly employed, cheer up. Like me, and especially for Marc Brown, it may be the best thing that ever happened to you.


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