First Look: Marcel The Shell's First Children's Book
Marcel The Shell is making the leap from overnight viral sensation to the subject of a new children's book, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me (on sale November 1). We spoke to Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp, authors of the book and creators of Marcel, and found out that there as so many more things we've yet to learn about the little shell. And we've also got ten lovely pages from the book.
Jezebel: Marcel The Shell's debut was an extremely successful viral video, racking up over 11 million hits on YouTube. What made you decide that the character would make for a good book?
Dean Fleischer-Camp: Well, Jenny and I both have a real love for children's literature; we actually read a lot of kids books. We always wanted to do something with children's literature. We did not make Marcel specifically for kids, but once it sort of got popular with young people it seemed like it would be a nice next step.
Jenny: I think although Marcel originated in film, the character can be put out there in many different forms of art. When it was suggested that some people were interested in it being a picture book, it was an immediate yes just because it's a world we wanted to be involved in, and also we read a lot of picture books. Like ones that we liked as kids and new ones, they're really refreshing and a like a peaceful, playful thing to read kids books as an adult.
Jezebel: So you read a lot of children's books as adults — what are some of your favorites?
Dean: I always loved anything by Roald Dahl, and I really loved Shel Silverstein. Oh! Harold and the Purple Crayon is like one of my all-time favorites.
Jenny: I really liked books like the Ox-Cart Man and Miss Rumphius, which are Barbara Cooney books. But then I also books that were more like me as a kid, like kids that had problems. There was one book called like I'm Telling You Now that was this beautiful watercolor book about this boy who did all these things that he wasn't supposed to do … but he was only curious, I love those. I loved the Courduroy books! There are so many.
Jezebel: One of the things that really stands out in the book is the artwork, by Amy Lind. Did your publisher hook you up with her or were you familiar with her work beforehand?
Dean: Our publisher set us up with a bunch of different ideas for artists and [Amy] just had a really great sense of light. We really wanted that photo realist oil painting style and that's not really a style that's practiced as much as it used to be.
Jenny: It's also really the only way we felt comfortable with making the art for the book. We didn't want it to be photographed because we felt that would just accentuate that it wasn't a film … We just thought, if we wanted to take it further and still make it Marcel, how would we do that? It's sort of honorable when someone has an oil painting of them. There's an oil painting of my grandfather in his Marine uniform hung in my grandparent's house and he was so handsome, and such a rich, beautiful painting of a time where he was really proud of himself. We thought it would be a really nice way to honor Marcel.
Dean: I thought it was really funny. Because oil paintings are such a proper way to honor someone with a rich history it's so funny to take this little scrappy guy who's a shell with one eye and sort of pay tribute to him [that way]. It's kind of like that oil painting of kramer.
Jenny: I think that's a media quote that you'll regret saying. It'll be all over the internet that our book is like a big, hardcover oil painting of Kramer? Who wants to read that?
Dean: That's the reason it's funny to me!
Jenny: Yeah, it's true. I think Amy did a great job on the paintings. They're based off of photographs that Dean took with our friend Dave Erickson and I feel like he doesn't say it, but he did a beautiful job on the photo shoot and actually lit it so that you can see the day transitioning to the night. What it came down to is that he's compulsive and Amy is so talented...she just did such a good job adding a richness to something that was already so special.
Jezebel: When I read the book, I have to admit that I read it in Marcel's voice, a credit to you. Was his distinctive voice part of why you decided to include it in the audiobook?
Jenny: Sure; especially [since] there are so many kids books have an audio component, we should. Plus I always wanted to read an audiobook.
Jezebel: I can already tell kids are gonna love Marcel; by now you must have been approached to turn him into a TV show.
Jenny: There's definitely more Marcel coming and yes, we are in the development process of a TV show. The future's open for him. I think we'll do as much with him as we can until either he changes for us or there isn't anything more to say. But for now, there's so much more to say. There's so much more about Marcel that we haven't even told you yet. I don't even know if I can say it! Marcel has some pretty amazing talents that he's really proud of and there will be a lot more.
Jezebel: Does he have friends? What are these talents?
Jenny: Marcel is really a good singer, but he doesn't think he's a good singer. He he knows that he's good for his shell but he doesn't think that he's good for, like, a person. He makes up a ton of songs.
Dean: He's enrolled at the academy with kids and he's the best in his class. So, he goes to school, he's being classically trained.
Jenny: And he has kind of like an opera voice but he does covers of Seal and No Doubt. He loves Seal. He gets so excited when he sings "Kiss From A Rose" that he can't even remember the words.
Jezebel: Do you think we'll ever get to see a live version of Marcel The Shell? Perhaps around Halloween at a Big Terrific show, singing "Kiss From A Rose"?
Jenny: (laughs) I don't know! I'm not opposed to it. My dream is to go on [NPR's] Terry Gross and be interviewed as Marcel, and be the voice so you wouldn't have to see me doing it. I'm kind of afraid that if people see me that they won't see Marcel anymore and they'll just be like "That Jenny Slate makes a weird face when she does that voice!"
Jezebel: Oh, never. Anything else we should know about the book before going out to buy it?
Dean: There's another one coming!
Jenny: If you look in the book, there are pictures of me as a little girl sort of hidden within the painting. The movie [in the book] has got Marcel and his Grandmother, whose name is Nana Connie. [She] will have a big part in the television show and in is in the second book, hopefully.
Dean: We shot it in our apartment in Brooklyn so there are lots of props that are from our real-life apartment
Jenny: Yeah, it is nice that it's our house. In the first picture you can't even really see Marcel, it's from afar, and that's looking into our bedroom. Also, Dean lettered the entire book. It's not a font, he physically lettered all of the inside pages!
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