Happy Crockett Johnson’s Birthday! Were he among the living, he would turn 117 today.
(Spoiler alert: he died 48 years ago.)
I had hoped to be able to offer an Official Announcement of some forthcoming Crockett Johnson projects. Instead, I can offer one unofficial announcement, one teaser, and one expectation.
Unofficial, but hopeful: Barnaby Vol. 5: 1950-1952 (Fantagraphics) will, we hope, be out in the fall of 2024. In addition to offering the conclusion to Johnson’s classic comic strip, this also has an afterword and notes by me, an introduction by comics scholar Susan Kirtley, and a foreword by an Oscar-winning director. I think you’ll enjoy it!
Teaser: In December, I hope to be able to announce the good news about a book, the working title for which was How to Read Harold: A Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson, and the Making of a Children’s Classic. There is good news! I just cannot share it yet. So, as they say, “watch this space.”
Expectation: The live-action film of Harold and the Purple Crayon was supposed to be released this past summer, and now has a release date of August 2, 2024. It stars Zachary Levi and Zooey Deschanel. I have nothing to do with this project, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.
I have also been thinking, lately, of how remarkable it is that a small book should have such an impact on my life and career. When, as a young child, I first met Harold and his crayon, I could not have guessed that, 50 years later, I would still be writing and thinking about Crockett Johnson. And yet, here I am.
Hoping that you will forgive the indulgence, here’s a catalogue of some of the ways that Johnson’s work has inspired or influenced mine:
- 1998: I launched The Crockett Johnson Homepage, which would become an important resource for learning about Johnson — and a resource for me, too. Johnson’s nephew (Harold!) contacted me via the website. I also met fellow Crockett Johnson fans (and acclaimed cartoonists!) Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware via the site.
- 2001: “‘Never Overlook the Art of the Seemingly Simple’: Crockett Johnson and the Politics of the Purple Crayon,” my first published piece on Johnson, appears in the journal Children’s Literature.
- 2005: Thanks to Maurice Sendak, Crockett Johnson’s Magic Beach is published by Front Street Books. He wrote a foreword to the book and I contributed an afterword.
- 2012: After over a decade of work, my double biography Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Evaded the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature is published by the University Press of Mississippi. Chris Ware created the cover! Every time I look at his beautiful cover, I can’t quite believe my luck. (Chris Ware!) The book’s Eisner Award nomination gets me a ticket to the San Diego Comic Con, which I attended for the first time in 2013.
- 2013: Thanks to Eric Reynolds (of Fantagraphics), my late agent George Nicholson (of Sterling Lord), and Stewart Edelstein (the estate), Fantagraphics begins what will become the first full reprint of Johnson’s Barnaby, all of which are designed by Daniel Clowes. The first volume features a foreword by Chris Ware. Subsequent volumes will have forewords by Jules Feiffer (vol. 2, 2014), Jeff Smith (vol. 3, 2016), and Trina Robbins (vol. 4, 2020).
- 2014: Since my work on Johnson led me to both Krauss and Sendak, the genesis of my PMLA essay — “Wild Things, I Think I Love You: Maurice Sendak, Ruth Krauss, and Childhood” — can also be traced back to my childhood fascination with Harold. And I wrote the American National Biography essay on Sendak (published in 2015) as a kind of posthumous thank-you to Maurice. He was so helpful in sharing his memories of Johnson and Krauss — my 2001 interview appears in Conversations with Maurice Sendak, edited by Pete Kunze (2016). Maurice even read and offered feedback on an early draft of the biography manuscript (!).
- 2015: My “A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teenager” is published in The Iowa Review. The issue includes essays from Jeanne Birdsall and Shaun Tan (who lent his art to the cover, and is featured in a full-color supplement in the issue). Amazing!
- 2018: “Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon,” my afterword to Harold’s Imagination: 3 Adventures with the Purple Crayon (published by HarperCollins).
- 2022: Even “‘Well-paid for a woman’: Gloria Hardman’s 50-year Career in Computing” — a piece about my mother — has its roots in Crockett Johnson, which is especially apt, since a childhood trip to the library (the Branch Library in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, I think) introduced me to Harold and the Purple Crayon. I explain the connection in this blog post.
- 2023: Correspondence with Syd Hoff about Crockett Johnson led to my writing the introduction to the republication of his first book of cartoons, The Ruling Clawss (NYRB Press).
- 2023-2024: Stay tuned! Announcements & books coming!
When Harold and the Purple Crayon landed in the pond of my life, I could not have imagined that ripples would still be coursing outwards.
So. Happy birthday, Crockett Johnson! Though we never met, I’m glad I’ve gotten to know you.
Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years
- Harold and Maurice (20 Oct. 2022). Maurice Sendak’s signed copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and the Rosenbach’s betrayal of Sendak’s memory.
- The Lost Film Footage of Crockett Johnson (20 Oct. 2021). The challenges of finding Johnson on film, and a still image that might be him.
- Barnaby Vol. 4 is here! (20 Oct. 2020). Barnaby, Volume Four: 1948-1949 was published in 2020.
- Barnaby, Vol. 4: 1948-1949 (20 Oct. 2019). More on this book.
- Harold and the Deluxe Edition (20 Oct. 2018). In the second of two birthday posts from 2018, an announcement! Harold’s Imagination, a collection featuring three Harold stories, plus an illustrated Afterword by Yours Truly… featuring a photograph of Johnson’s nephew Harold!
- Donald and the Golden Crayon (20 Oct. 2018). In the first of two birthday posts from 2018, an interview with the author and publisher of Donald and the Golden Crayon – the first book-length political satire inspired by a Crockett Johnson book.
- Crockett Johnson Tells the Story of Money (20 Oct. 2017). A look at the very first children’s book that Johnson illustrated – Constance Foster’s This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943).
- How to Read Harold (20 Oct. 2016). A short excerpt from a book I’m working on – How to Read Harold: A Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson and the Making of a Children’s Classic.
- Harold is 60. So is his purple crayon (20 Oct. 2015). On the occasion of Johnson’s 109th birthday, tributes to Harold from Lane Smith, Bob Staake, and others.
- Harold Around the World (20 Oct. 2014). Harold and the Purple Crayon has been published in many languages. Here are some of the covers.
- Happy 107th Birthday, Crockett Johnson! (20 Oct. 2013). A photograph of Johnson laughing, plus news of contemporary Johnson exhibit and talk.
- Crockett Johnson in New York: A Walking Tour, in Honor of His 106th Birthday (20 Oct. 2012). The childhood homes of Crockett Johnson.
- A Title Is to Read (20 Oct. 2011). Announcing the title of my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.
- Happy Birthday, Crockett Johnson! (20 Oct. 2010). Newspaper ad for Johnson’s Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (1944).