When I was growing up in L.A., Glendale was considered anything but creative, and it certainly wasn’t the least bit silly. Today, however, it’s home to many talented and creative people — people like painter/writer/producer/songwriter/cartoonist Peter Hannan. A clue to his genre came early in his career, with the title of one of his books: Escape from Camp Wannabarf. Peter is a master of the silly, the creator of the hit Nickelodeon show CatDog (and its songwriter, too) and the author of many children’s books, including the popular Super Goofballs series and the upcoming series, Wally, King of Flurb.
Trained as a fine-arts painter, drawer and teacher, Peter led the life of the starving artist until the responsibility of parenthood demanded actual cash income. He got work illustrating for magazines, newspapers and advertising, and that work, combined with the fact that he was now immersed in children’s books as the father of a young son, led him to try his hand at writing and illustrating kids’ books. Their success led to a movie deal, and though the movie never got made, in the process he got an agent, came up with the idea for CatDog, and suddenly was moving to L.A. Eventually he settled in Glendale with his wife, a painter and teacher, and their kids. His son is an NYU grad who’s now working as a video editor in New York, and his daughter, a Poly alum, is studying at the Rhode Island School of Design.
How did such a goofy, wildly creative guy end up living in Glendale?
When we first moved to California for CatDog, we lived in Santa Monica Canyon. Nickelodeon was paying for housing at the beginning, but when we thought about buying, we didn’t have the gazillion dollars we needed to buy there. Plus, I was tired of commuting, and we were looking for a house near Nickelodeon in Burbank. We fell in love with this big old Spanish house in Glendale, and that was that.
When your kids were younger, did they inspire your work, or would you be doing it even if they weren’t here?
Yes, they’ve definitely inspired me. I originally did kids’ books to have something of my own to read to my son.
Are they embarrassed by your work, or terribly proud?
I think they’re mostly proud. At least they keep the bulk of their embarrassment to themselves. I just spoke at Rhode Island School of Design and, even though it was probably one of the few lectures ever that included a sing-along with a guitar, my daughter put up with it, and that’s saying a lot.
How do you express your more serious and thoughtful creative side? Or do you not have one?
Right now I’m writing and illustrating everything from little-kid picture books (The Greatest Snowman in the World, HarperCollins, fall 2010), to a series of middle-grade novels (Freddy, King of Flurb, HarperCollins, 2011), to a couple of illustrated novels for bigger kids (10 songs I Wrote That Almost Got Me Killed, Scholastic, 2011). I do paintings that are not exactly serious, but also not for kids. I’m also developing some new projects that are humorous but involve much more serious, complex subjects, for a young adult to adult audience. I love the challenge of figuring out different age groups and genres.
What inspires you when you sit down to work every day?
I’m inspired by everything: books, movies, art, music, family, friends, even random encounters with total strangers. What gets me going in the morning? A delightful blend of passion and need.
Do you think the printed children’s book will carry on, or will they all be on iPads and computer screens soon? Are you doing an app?
I really don’t know. I think/hope books will hang around for a while longer. But I love my iPhone, and I would love to do an app. Anybody out there want to hire me to an app?
What’s the coolest place in Glendale to hang out?
My backyard. The Brand Library is very nice, too.
You’ve got a free day to spend in or around Pasadena: What do you do?
Breakfast at Marston’s or Mike & Anne’s, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, the Norton Simon, the Pasadena Museum of California Art, Afloat Sushi (it might not be the best, but it’s the most fun), Vroman’s, a movie at the Laemmle… crash.