Chapter Book Photo Illustrator Alisa Mokler Harper
Alisa Mokler Harper is a photojournalist who works on the television production crew for ESPN’s X Games. She’s also a two-time X Games competitor, former U.S. Snowboard Team member and has recently co-created The G.G. Series, new chapter books, in which she contributes photo illustrations. I caught up with her at home in Colorado after the launch of the first book in the series, G.G. Snowboards.
In G.G. Snowboards, a lot of the dramatic tension revolves around the eight-year-old G.G. getting the nerve to try a halfpipe ride. Do you remember your first pipe? Hmmm… I don’t remember the first time I rode the halfpipe, but I do remember the first time they introduced the superpipe—which took it from about 12- to 14-foot walls to 18-foot walls; it was a BIG difference. We were all, well, scared. Everybody—all the pros—everybody was so scared. It was at the first contest of the season at my home pipe in Mammoth, but it was like nothing we’d ever seen before. I guess we finally got up the nerve to drop in and the more we rode it the more we got used to it. Now the pros ride a 22-foot superpipe… I feel like G.G. when I think about that!
As both an athlete and an artist, do you see correlations between how an artist and an athlete prepare for or tackle their work? A lot of visualization as an athlete, and a lot of visualization with this book as well… as to where to place what photos, and what was going to be needed to be suggested with each chapter. (Laughs) But, I wasn’t lifting any weights.
Alisa Mokler Harper throwing an air to fakie in the superpipe.
Chapter books traditionally use line art as illustrations. How do you think kids will react to the use of black & white photos in G.G. Snowboards? I hope well. I know it’s really different, and black & white photography is not generally geared towards children—it’s more geared toward fine art. But I think a lot of people underestimate kids and what we have done with these photos really respects kids’ intelligence. At first I wanted to make the pictures more like line drawings, but as I got into it I realized that just wasn’t going to work. We had to go with the photos as what they were. The photos had to evolve as the first book came together and though it was sort of a complicated process, I’m happy with what we got.
You create artwork for gallery installations for the adult market. Did your creative process change for your work as part of children’s fiction? Yeah, it changed a lot. I really had to think about not presenting things so literally, but presenting a notion or a feeling toward an idea. I wanted to show what a moment might feel like, but still let kids make up their own story in their heads. Not put it there for them.
You have two young girls. What do you think you might do differently if you had boys? I don’t think that I would do anything differently because, you know, I get my girls involved with sports and we do physical things that are traditionally considered boy things—like snowboarding, for instance. I’d have less pink around the house—that would be nice.
You work for ESPN’s television production crew for the X Games. People think of jobs in TV as sexy, and sports as cool. What are your days like when you’re working an X Games? Grueling. It’s so grueling. It’s long and competitive and lots and lots of computer time and office time and, you know, I can’t count the number of times people have told me, “You have the best job in the world!” Yeah, it’s definitely not as glamorous as most people think. It’s challenging, and I get to work with amazing minds that create an amazing end product, and so I really appreciate that. What do you mean by competitive? It’s a very competitive industry. There’s a lot of people who want to work in sports, and a lot of people who want to work in sports journalism. And if you’re not at the forefront of what’s going on, and if you’re not a thinker and a doer, there are 100 people right behind you who will take your spot.
Submitted by Marty Banks, Chapter Book Chat: A Writer Reviews Chapter Books, with occasional interviews and pertinent musings.