Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Troy Cummings

© Troy Cummings

Aug 15, 2014
Today we present Troy Cummings, author-illustrator of the NOTEBOOK OF DOOM early reader chapter book series, GIDDY-UP DADDY!, and a couple of upcoming picture books.

Be sure to enter his giveaway for the fifth book of THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM series, WHACK OF THE P-REX, out on Aug. 26. 

Tell us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.
As I kid, I'd draw comics all the time. (In fifth grade, I drew a comic strip called "Star Quack," about a duck, a goat, and a robot who flew around in a giant spaceship and mostly crashed into planets. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.)
I kept it up through high school and college, where I drew illustrations for my school paper. I worked for a couple of newspapers after college, and started doing freelance illustration on the side
At first, I did all kinds of work: newspaper illustrations, educational games, backdrops for an opera, and cartoons for a series of pet food books. But gradually, my work became more and more focused on kid stuff.

I had written a couple of manuscripts during this time, but still considered myself more of an illustrator than a writer. It wasn't until my daughter was born that I got more serious about kids books, and started shopping around for an agent.

Spread for GIDDY-UP DADDY! © Troy Cummings

And now, seven years later, I'm more-or-less writing/illustrating kids books full-time. (Yay!)

Tell us about the NOTEBOOK OF DOOM series. What was your inspiration? Did you have the idea to do a series from the beginning?

The NOTEBOOK OF DOOM is about a boy named Alexander Bopp who moves to a town full of monsters. Unfortunately, the grown-ups are unable to see the monsters, so it’s up to the kids to save the day as they try to uncover the terrible secret of their town.

In the first book, the town is overrun by those wiggly dancing ballon guys you see in front of cell phone stores. They're called balloon goons, and they're stealing the air from anything inflatable: car tires, footballs, pool toys, air mattresses. But only Alexander believes they're actually monsters.
The idea was to write an early-reader series (easy vocabulary, low word-count, illustrations on every page) that feels more like a “big-kid” chapter book (lots of chapters, a mystery to solve, and an overarching story that spans the whole series.)

My inspiration was probably TV shows like the X-files (new monster every week!)
I had initially written a proposal for a book called THE FIELD GUIDE TO BACKYARD MONSTERS. It was sort of like a bird-watching guidebook, but with horrible monsters on each page, listing their habitats/diets/mating calls/whatnot. The monsters were all jokey, like Playing Mantis, Aunt-eater, Forkupine, etc., etc.

It was okay, but not really a story. Then, much later, I thought: what if a kid stumbled upon this monster book, and started seeing some of these monsters in his own town? And what if the book was scrawled in an old-notebook, handed down from 2nd-grader to 2nd-grader over the past few decades? And maybe some of the grownups in town knew something about this book, or had fought monsters back in their day?
It just sort of snowballed into a story. We still get to peek into the notebook several times in each book and read about some of these monsters. And at the end of each book, Alexander gets to add his own entry about the monster he and his pals have just defeated.

It’s been a blast to write and draw, but the best part is that kids send me monster drawings in the mail now. That is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
Can you tell us about your journey to publication? (Do you have an agent? How long was it from the time you started writing/illustrating to the publication of your first book for kids?)

I do have an agent—-I’m represented by Ronnie Herman. I signed on with her in 2010. She she sold my first book, THE EENSY WEENSY SPIDER FREAKS OUT (BIG-TIME!) within a few months.
Before that, I had written and submitted a bunch of stories on my own, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I got some helpful rejection letters from a few publishers, though.

What projects are you working on now?
 I’m working on NOTEBOOK OF DOOM #5-8. (Actually, book 5, WHACK OF THE P-REX is coming out Aug. 26:-- Alexander's town will be attacked by a giant pi├▒ata dinosaur. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.)

© Troy Cummings

I’m also illustrating LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (by Tara Lazar) and SUPER TRUCK (by Chris Barton.)

What inspires you?

Old cartoons! My favorite is probably Rocky & Bullwinkle: super-funny drawings and stories, with gags for both grownups and kids. But also: 1950s/60s Warner Bros. shorts. Especially the background paintings.
I’ve got like a million favorite illustrators, but let’s say Mary Blair, Art Seiden, Miroslav Sasek, and Alice and Martin Provensen. Oh, and Peter P. Plasencia! (But it’s silly; I should really list 100 names here! How can you narrow down? IMPOSSIBLE!)
What is you typical process for doing an illustration?

1. Quick thumbnail sketch in pencil.

2. Larger pencil sketch.

© Troy Cummings

3. Then I move to digital — I block in the color in Adobe Illustrator, as a bunch of loose shapes.

4. I bring the shapes into photoshop, where I paint in all the details and textures.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators/ uthors?

Create something every day. EVERY DAY! Try to build your schedule around your writing/illustrating: Sleep, meals, day ob, exercise, friends, family, classes — you gotta do those things, but try to protect your bubbles of work time so that you’re making art every day. Even if you’re only able to write 100 words or draw one squirrel.

© Troy Cummings
Also: find someone to give you good feedback. (Ideally not someone you’re dating or someone that gave birth to you.)

Very good advice. What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I have a huge collection of 5's. Like, number fives.

It all started in college. I was at the city dump (for some reason), where I stumbled upon this big cool-looking metal five on the ground. I brought back to my dorm and nailed it to my door, telling everyone I lived in Room 5. Someone gave me another five shortly after, and it suddenly became a COLLECTION. 
The weird thing was, this collection turned all of my friends into thieves. They began swiping fives left and right: street signs, price numbers from big illuminated gas station signs, little table tents from restaurants, etc., etc. 

Before I knew it, I had hundreds of fives. Every color. Every size. Serif and sans-serif. From all over the world! (Ok, U.S. and Belgium. But still.) 

© Troy Cummings

I set up this big display case to house most of them. This worked out great until my wife and I went on vacation a few years ago... we came home to find that all of the fives had been stolen, and replaced with SIXES! (I eventually solved the crime: it was my friend Kelley. I still owe her for that.)

Sounds like a perfect crime! Where can people find you on the internet?

twitter: @troycummings

Thank you so much, Troy!

Troy Cummings has been writing and illustrating since he was a little kid. Among other things, he's the creator of GIDDY-UP, DADDY!, the tale of a man mistaken for a horse, and THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM, an early-reader chapter book series about a kid who moves to a town full of monsters.
In addition to books, Troy's illustrations have appeared on:
  • Animated backdrops for an opera
  • a package of fish sticks
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • iPad pop-up books
  • A poster warning people about germs
  • A poster warning people about a film festival
  • A cookbook for dogs
  • A thing for the humane society
  • A card game about hiking
  • Newspapers, magazines and greeting cards
Troy Cummings lives in Greencastle, Indiana with his nice family and mean cat.


  1. My oldest son wants to be an author-illustrator. Well, honestly, he already is one. He created an entire series of books out of printer paper about the misadventures of his brother's stuffed ducks. Fun stuff! The Notebook of Doom series looks right up his alley.

  2. I'm a big fan of Troy Cumming's art! I'd be so lucky to have him illustrate one of my picture books.

  3. Great post! It's always cool to hear the process of how a story is developed. Thanks for sharing Troy!

  4. *sigh* I keep loosing my comments. This was a wonderful time over here. Love your art, Troy.

  5. Thanks for letting us in on your process! Very cool! I can't wait to check out this series!

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  7. I'm a huge fan of The Notebook of Doom series. Need something to get your students inspired during a slow point in the year? This is my new go-to favorite.

  8. I was fortunate enough to meet Troy at an Indiana SCBWI conference in April. Not only is he a super nice guy, but he's amazingly talented. I loved reading about how he developed the Notebook of Doom series. His book The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out! is one of my new favorite picture books and I look forward to following his career.

  9. Hahaha!! I knew you wouldn't disappoint, Troy!

    Trust me when I say that he is just as hilarious in person, people (and now they'll all want you to perform, Troy).

    As the proud owner of most of his books, I have to say that you should definitely stock them in your library...never know when you'll need fire-starting materials for your woodstove. Kidding!! :)

    I hope I win the book because it's the only one I don't have in the series. ;)

  10. Great post! I have one of Troy's books checked out from the library. I'm ready to read!


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