Even as an adult, I like glancing over the children’s activities sections in the newspapers. In part because I may pick up new vocabulary that I can use in my English teaching, partly because I just like to learn new things (which also helps in teaching English to Japanese adults), and a lot because I like word games and things like sudoku. About one year ago, I found World of Wonder on GoComics, and I’ve slowly been working my way through the archives. These are great introductions to a wide variety of different topics, and can be just as entertaining to adults as to children. The illustrations accompanying the information in the topics are clean and easy to understand visually, even as page space shrinks in the newspapers. Laurie?
BC: Who are you?
LT: Laurie Triefeldt, Creator of the Sunday Educational Feature ‘World of Wonder’. World of Wonder is a fun educational feature created for newspapers and enjoyed by kids of all ages. Since 1999, WOW has run in more than 100 papers.
BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
LT: I was born and educated in Canada.
BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
LT: I consider myself to be an illustrator, designer, researcher, writer, author and crazy cat lady. I am not a cartoonist, but I hang out with plenty of them, and cartoonists seem to accept me as one of their own – I think this is because I draw my feature and it runs on Sundays. Another thing I have in common with the cartoonists – I have strict deadlines and it’s lonely work.
BC: How did you get your start as a crazy research illustrator?
LT: I have been drawing since I was a little kid. My mother bought me a chalk board, because she couldn’t afford to keep me in the amount of paper I would go through.
LT: I began a career in newspaper at the Windsor Star in Canada. I was an artist in the classified department, was promoted to retail advertising artist and eventually to editorial art director. I loved editorial work, and telling stories with pictures was exactly what I enjoyed most. After creating a illustrated time line on a grizzly murder I was hooked.
BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
LT: I enjoyed a newspaper career for about 20 years, until 2008 when the economy tanked. World of Wonder has been syndicated for 16 years and I recently renewed my syndication contract, so we can look forward to a few more years yet.
BC: What led up to your starting World of Wonder, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
LT: Way back… when I was an Art Director and Graphic Artist at the Courier Post in Cherry Hill (c1990) I was wishing for a way that I could draw more cool things than maps and icons. I knew I had to have a sellable niche and thought that an Education Page might be just the thing. I was able to sell the idea to my editors and the paper began to run a weekly Educational Feature called ‘BrainStorm’. BrainStorm was a hit with readers of all ages and regularly brought the paper additional ad revenue. However when I joined the Courier Post I signed an agreement that all properties I created belonged to them. When I went to work with Gannett News Service in Arlington, Va., I was not allowed to bring BrainStorm with me. (Boo-Hiss)
LT: So I created a new Educational Feature called ‘World of Wonder’. (Yaaa!) For a year, I made the page weekly and tried to self-syndicate with little success. When asked who else was running the feature, I was able to tell ‘WoW’s’ first paper (The Springfield Union News) that at the moment… ‘they had an exclusive’. (LOL)
LT: Friends and family began to question my sanity… Why was I working so hard on something that was not selling… They started to tease me, nicknaming my feature “World of Blunder“. (Big meanies.) But I was not to be deterred and was convinced WoW was a great feature.
LT: The big break came when I went to work for the Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ. Lisa Klem Wilson, VP of the United Media syndicate was visiting the Star-Ledger office one day, saw the WoW page and loved it. She invited me to a meeting in NY later that week and I signed a very long (and cruel) contract. Suddenly WoW was running in about 100 newspapers around the world. United Media syndicated the page for about 10 years and then passed the feature (and its contract) onto Universal Uclick. I recently signed a much kinder contract with Universal Uclick. (Thank you guys!)
BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
LT: I am probably most proud of my National Cartoonist Society – best of – illustration award. It means a lot to have your peers judge your work to be great. I also get a hoot that World of Wonder has been published in Macau for many years (the gambling mecca near Hong Kong – what’s with that!)
BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
LT: There are 3 World of Wonder printed books out there. One was published by The Star Ledger and Kean University and is called World of Wonder – this book is rare and hard to come by, it was a small edition, mostly available only in NJ. Plants and Animals, and People and Places by Quill Driver Press are World of Wonder compilations. I think you can still order them on Amazon.
LT: I also have 2 coloring books just out. The Elegant Tea Party and Boudoirs by Quill Driver Press. These books are definitely available from bookstores, gift shops and Amazon. (They make Great Gifts, Everybody!)
BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next WoW?
LT: I usually make the entire WoW topic list for the year ahead of time. I choose topics based on reader requests, teacher requests and curriculum, and my own interests. My nephews like to play a game where they try to think of a topic that World of Wonder has not covered… It’s not as easy as it sounds… I have covered more than 700 topics, but sometimes they come up with some great unique ideas. And because I have been making WoW for so long, I can revisit topics with fresh facts for another generation. I love it when readers ask me for a topic and I can accommodate them. Just this year a reader asked for a page on the Ninja…. I had never done one and it was great fun.
LT: One of the biggest considerations a WoW topic has to take into account is how visual is it. Every now and then I find myself struggling with a topic. I once did a page on sound… which did not lend itself easily to visuals. I also try to keep WoW happy and upbeat, I rarely approach topics that are sad or may be distressing to young readers. The feature is called World of Wonder after all.
BC: Have you done Wow pages on the National Cartoonist Society, the illustration award, the city of Macau or on gambling?
LT: No, I have never done a WoW page on the National Cartoonist Society (wouldn’t know where to start). No, I have never done a WoW page on the NCS illustration award (not much good at blowing my own horn). And… No, I have never done a WoW page on the city of Macau or on gambling. I don’t think gambling would be a very good topic for my younger readers – I wouldn’t want to encourage potentially bad behavior. I have however done a page on Hong Kong, billiards, cards and chess (those topics are kind of close).
BC: Are there differences in how you approach the drawings for the coloring books compared to WoW? Do you think the work you’ve done on WoW had an influence (positive or negative) on the pictures for the coloring books? Why do you think adult coloring books are so popular now, and does it tie in to your own emotional responses as an illustrator?
LT: My black and white coloring book art is probably heavily influenced by years of creating line art for WoW. Although WoW art is created in color, it does rely on clean outlines. The coloring book art reflects a love of detail and design that is also present in World of Wonder illustration.
LT: I think coloring books are so popular now because people have given themselves permission to get lost in a hobby that allows them to relax and make creative decisions. They have discovered that playing with colors is fun, it is not difficult and the final artwork can be very beautiful. For many, coloring allows them to achieve a Zen-like meditative state. I know that when I draw, hours can go by in what seems like minutes, while I happily focus on the drawing at hand.
BC: Do you have a tracking system for WoW? When your nephews try to pick a new topic, how long does it take to determine if it is new?
LT: I do have all the years, topics, and dates recorded and I update the list annually. However, I usually remember making a page, although not necessarily when I made it. So when a nephew asks have I done a page on tulips, I can respond no, but I have done a page on the poetic language of flowers and on wildflowers, and on poisonous plants, and on carnivorous plants, and on trees. (You get the idea).
LT: However, when Universal Uclick asks have I done a page on South America and when… I can tell them I have done several South American countries, but not the continent itself. I would have to look up the dates.
BC: Do you have any WoW horror stories?
LT: There was a time when I was a good six months ahead of my deadlines (because I had been making WoW for so long before syndication). Then, one night, working late, and overly tired…. I managed to delete all of my finished, unpublished World of Wonder pages… They were irretrievable and I was heartbroken. I have been working pretty much on deadline ever since. (Sigh.)
LT: I also lost a few finished and published pages while I was transferring files to secondary drives during a job change. Something went wrong and quite a few pages did not make it into my archives. I like to think that the syndicate has copies of these, but it is possible that someone might ask for an old page and I would not be able to provide it. (So sad!)
BC: If readers want to locate a specific topic that you have covered, is there a way to do a search for it?
LT: Nope, if a reader wants a specific topic they will have to find me and ask. I am always impressed by readers who go out of their way to contact me for one reason or another. Some folks want to point out an error or to disagree with a statement. Others missed a topic and want a copy to share with a friend or loved one. I value my readers and will always take the time to listen to them and address any concern or request they might have.
BC: Could you walk us through the process of making a WoW page? Say I suggest a new topic that you decide to use, like “large array telescopes and the Hubble Deep Field Survey.” How would you do the research? Do you have knowledge experts you regularly go to? What do you use for informational and illustrative references? How do you ensure that the information is factually accurate? etc.
LT: In the old days, if I wanted to do a page on ‘large array telescopes’, I would have headed to the library. Today the Internet is the source of much of my material. I have a subscription to the Online World Book Encyclopedia, and that helps me double check a lot of facts. The Internet also provides photo references for many of my illustrations – I have to know what a Bermuda Blue Angelfish looks like before I can draw it. Sometimes, but not always, I will contact a specialist for a particular topic. For example, when I did the page on (WASPs) “Women’s Army Service Pilots” I was able to find a WWII member who was happy to provide details and help fact check. When I did a page on collecting sports cards, I contacted several sports card manufacturers for their assistance. Pages on the Red Cross, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts also required contacting those organizations for information and permission to use some images. United Media and Universal Uclick have editors that check for grammar and spelling, and fact checking. But despite our best efforts errors do occasionally find their way onto a WoW page. Usually it’s a reader who points out the problem, and then we correct the fact for future reference.
LT: The process: First I research the facts and decide what is most interesting or important about a topic (I condense topics into a page that entire books have been written about) then I write a bit, and research some art. This process repeats itself as I design the page around the facts and illustrations. I am often forced to edit out a lot of facts, but a finished illustration is rarely omitted (they take too much time and effort to be left off).
BC: If your strip had a sound track, what would it sound like?
LT: Mmmmm… A whale song maybe (UOOOHYYYHEE-OOOOOHHHUUUU)
I usually have the TV news on in the background when I work, it seems to keep me company.
BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
LT: As a member of the National Cartoonist Society I have the opportunity to meet and hang out with many cartoon greats. I have had drinks with Stan Lee (Spiderman), Patrick McDonald (Mutts), Lynn Johnson (for Better or Worse) and so many more it is impossible to list them all. (I dare not share any dirt, in case they in turn, share dirt on me… LOL)
LT: When I was little, my sister and I pretended we were the dynamic duo (Batman and Robin) for years. Imagine my excitement when I had the great fortune to meet Jerry Robinson, who played a large role in creating Robin and the Joker characters. Jerry grew up in Trenton, NJ, (where I live now). I had dinner with him several times and he was always great to hang with. He passed away a couple of years ago and I still think of him and miss him very much.
BC: Do you have any stories (non-dirt ones) about Jerry Robinson that you’d like to pass on to your readers?
LT: Jerry liked to talk about the old days in Trenton. His father owned several movie theaters, you know the gorgeous huge ones with lots of gilding.
LT: Additional thoughts:
It has been a great joy and incredibly rewarding to share my love of art and learning with curious minds of all ages.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright © Laurie Triefeldt 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)
Poll: Do you like reading the educational, or “kids'” pages in the paper?