Prance Through Your Days Like Randy the Badly Drawn Horse: A Q&A with T.L McBeth
Folks, we talk a lot about instilling confidence in our children. It seems like a great idea. I mean, we don’t want our kids to walk around with bloated egos or anything, but it would be awfully nice if they tried new things, had the confidence to fail on occasion, and generally looked upon the world as an exciting challenge they’re willing to tackle.
Then you actually have kids and you realize it’s all hooey. Kids do as kids do.
I have two kids. One is often very confident and one, most certainly, not. So it was with great curiosity that I encountered this new picture book by picture book author/illustrator T.L McBeth. Would I like to interview him? Hm. Well, what does Randy, the titular character from the book Randy, the Badly Drawn Horse actually look like?
Awww. Lookit that punim. So much confidence! Okay. I’m sold.
Betsy Bird: Thanks so much for talking to me today. It occurs to me that when it comes to creating an original character, I honestly don’t think enough people understand that unwarranted confidence in one’s own self is comedy gold. Now here we have Randy, who comes out of the gate (so to speak) just brimming with self-love. What was the book’s origin?
T.L. McBeth: I think an important thing to note is that Randy was not designed or conceived to be in a book. He started as an off-the-cuff doodle created from a game that my wife and I play where she draws something and then I redraw it in my style. She drew a wonky horse and I copied him, which we had a good laugh about. He looked like a Randy so that’s what I decided to name him. A few months down the line, I was flipping through my sketchbook to find something to put on social media, and this goofy horse still made me laugh. After I put it on Instagram, my agent emailed me right away, adamant that there was a story we could put behind this ridiculous horse. I guess he just has a certain star quality.
BB: Horses are notoriously difficult to draw. Did that fact play into your choice of main character at all?
TLM: In a way, yes – a big inspiration for the story is the meme of the “how to draw” books where all the steps are easy and straightforward until you get the last step, and suddenly a perfectly-detailed and shaded illustration is supposed to appear. The joke is that Randy thinks he’s the last step, but he’s actually the step before. As a kid I was always really frustrated that my drawings never ended up looking anything like the final images in these books, so I think that’s something kids can relate to.
BB: I mean, I have to ask it. Is Randy actually badly drawn or is he just disappointed that he’s not as beautiful as his expectations? Is there anything in the story that suggests that he’s perfectly fine the way that he’s drawn but that, like a kid that gets made because a picture “isn’t perfect” his expectations are cranked up way too high?
TLM: This is a really good question.
I don’t think there is really such a thing as a truly “bad drawing,” especially if it’s something you’ve put effort and creativity into. The little girl who creates Randy see nothing wrong with him – to her, he is just as beautiful as a perfectly-rendered stallion, and she’s proud of him just the way he is.
In the book, Randy’s adventure eventually leads him to find the beauty in his flaws. I think we all need a reminder that something unique is sometimes better than something perfect, especially if you’re a kid who is just starting to learn how to draw, and maybe your drawings aren’t as perfect as you want them to be yet. For those kids (of which I was one), I think it’s important to learn that it doesn’t really matter if a drawing is technically “good” or not – what matters more is that you enjoyed the process of drawing and creating something new in your own style.
BB: You’re one of those fellas that have throw your hat into the ring of picture book comedy. One of the things that I’ve always liked about this or books like DUCKS! is that you have a good sense of comic timing. But how the heck do you develop something like that? What’s your method? What works for you?
TLM: First off, thanks for calling me a fella and the picture books I make “comedy!”
I think the style of my work has always lent itself to being funny, and when I started writing my own books, I didn’t have a lot of writing experience but I knew I wanted them to be funny.
I was an amateur animator when I was a kid, and I wanted to do that before I knew I wanted to be an illustrator. I have always been a big fan of animation, old and new stuff, and I feel like that’s probably where I poach most of my timing ideas. Over-the-top character expressions and poses play a big role in how I storyboard my own work to get the funniest reactions.
I also listen to a lot of comedy music (e.g., Weird Al and the like), and I watch a lot of funny TV shows. Sketch comedy is a big influence on my work, in the way my characters sometimes break the fourth wall or reference the reader. And I take detailed notes (aka, steal all the good ideas), from other funny picture books.
It’s a combination of a lot of things. At the end of the day, to be better at timing, figure out what makes you laugh and then figure out why. I hope this doesn’t sound too pretentious, especially when my main advice is to just watch TV.
BB: Will we be seeing any more of Randy in the future, by any chance?
TLM: Yes! I am actually finishing up the final art to Randy’s second book, which will be coming out in 2021. While I was making Randy’s first book, I thought to myself, “What would be the worst thing that could happen to Randy?” The first book is all about him, and clearly he’s a character who loves the spotlight. So I think the worst thing that could happen from Randy’s perspective is that he would have to share that spotlight with someone else. In the next book, the little girl draws a new horse alongside Randy, and as you could guess he is not very happy about it. I won’t give too much away but it’s kind of a “new little brother” type of scenario.
BB: What are you working on next?
TLM: I have a bunch of exciting projects coming down the pipeline! As I just mentioned I am finishing up Randy’s second book, and next on the docket is Randy’s third book! A big shoutout to my wonderful editor, Laura Godwin, for letting me make more books about this ridiculous horse for some reason.
And speaking of sequels, a companion to the first book I illustrated, Stegothesaurus, is coming out on April 20, 2021 – it’s called Triceratopposite and it’s an adorable story by Bridget Heos.
And there’s a lot of other stuff I can’t mention yet, but follow me on Twitter or Instagram for updates!
Instagram – @t.l.mcbeth
Twitter – @T_L_Mcbeth
GIPHY – @T_L_McBeth
Many thanks to Mr. McBeth, Madison Furr, and the folks at Macmillan for the interview.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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