CULTURE

Illustrator, cartoonist, author

If Mark Weinstein’s employer in Kansas City had let him take three months leave without pay to take a trip to Greece in 1997, the New York-trained artist might still be working in Missouri. But his employer refused, and Weinstein resigned and went abroad, where his life took a different direction. After meeting his future wife, Alexandra Kanellopoulou, in Hania, Crete, Weinstein eventually settled in Athens, where he works as a freelance illustrator. He talked to Kathimerini this week about how he got into illustrating and his latest book. Weinstein came to illustrating through a childhood love of comic books and later of comic strips. «My uncle had a drugstore,» he explains, «and he used to give me free comics when I went to the store with my parents. He started me off, I guess. I think he regrets it now!» Krazy Kat, Little Lulu, Polly and Her Pals, Peanuts and Mad magazine were among his favorites. The love of comic books led him as a boy to make his own comics and eventually to study graphic design at the Parsons School of Design in New York and embark on a career in illustration. «Right outside of graduation I was recruited by Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri.» He worked there for 11 years, but during the last five years Weinstein got increasingly fed up with the corporate environment and its illusory sense of being a big family, «except you’re not a family.» The refusal to allow him three months leave without pay was simply the last straw. At Hallmark he worked on greeting card illustration. The experience had its positive sides: «It was good because there were so many artists there,» he says, «plus they trained everyone on the computer. You learned a lot about the technical side of reproduction, which helps me here in Greece, I think, because sometimes – it depends on the company – they’re not all at a certain level, and I can offer suggestions that might help the printed piece be more like I want it to be.» Though Weinstein has illustrated a number of books, the latest – «20 Rules To Have a Safe and Fun Vacation and Not Drive Your Parents Crazy,» just out from Ellinika Grammata – is his first title to come out in separate Greek and English editions, and also the first book that he wrote himself. There are some more like it in the pipeline. Other publications for Greek publishers include several coloring and literacy activity books for Papadopoulos, similar titles for Ammos and Patakis, and two picture story books for Kedros. Two books on how to care for pets are forthcoming from Kedros. His illustrations for children employ lots of visual humor and are permeated with a sunny attitude to life. His animal figures lightheartedly reflect the antics and escapades of the children who are his intended readers. Brightly colored parrots in seat belts repeatedly ask, «Are we there yet?» A rhino with a mischievous grin dives right on top of an alarmed-looking mouse taking a swim, and a crocodile floats on its back with a whole array of junk food on its stomach, illustrating what not to do on holiday. While focusing on children’s books, because he feels his Greek isn’t yet advanced enough for him to work on adult material, Weinstein has also begun work on an English-language comic strip with a Greek flavor, featuring Prometheus. This gives him an outlet for another kind of humor: «the dark humor, which I can’t express in children’s books.» Puppetry Weinstein looks forward to doing more of his own books, and would like to do more puppeteering, something he first experienced with The Paul Mesner Puppets in the US. «In Kansas City there was a good puppeteer. I volunteered, and he eventually had me doing shows with him. That was fun because we would work together, and you could ad lib something and if he liked it, he’d keep it in the show. I also did a little set design at first. But I enjoyed the puppeteering; you’re hidden, so it’s easier, you’re not in front of anyone.» Has Greece has affected his work in any way, apart from the limitations arising from the language? «It’s probably helped in that it’s probably easier to get an appointment to see an editor. In New York that’s very difficult, if not impossible. The market is small, though, in Greece; there’s only 10 million people in Greece, so that limits the number of books you can publish.»