George Elliott

I have Always Loved Books

Many of my favorite childhood memories are of snuggling with my mom or dad on the sofa, while they read Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, Go Dogs, Go, Are You My Mother and countless other picture books that transported me into the magical world of pure imagination. I remember the pride I felt when I could “read” the stories back to them. I wasn’t reading at all, in fact. I was merely reciting the words from memory, but still, it felt good.

School kicked my interest in reading up a notch. I loved school. Knowledge was like treasure and I was a pirate, collecting it, burying it inside my head for later retrieval. I was that kid who spouted odd facts at odd times to anyone who would listen. I still do that, proving some things never change. When I started to learn the rudiments of grammar, structure, etc, I quickly realized writing was a means to express ideas. It was on!

I officially launched my writing career in 1973 at the tender age of 9 with the publication of a story. Okay, not so much a story as a string of words in a slightly less than random order and not so much a publication as a printing…in a small-town (population around 3,000 at the time) newspaper called the Herald Gazette.

The “story” was a creative writing assignment for my English (and everything else teacher) Christine Yahiro and it was really quite terrible. Miss Yahiro must have bribed or threatened the editor at the Herald for this ridiculous story to be printed.

My “story” was nothing of the sort. It had no logical beginning or end, no cohesiveness, no pathos, no character development, no humor, no…well, no anything, really, except wall to wall action from the rambling mind of an action-obsessed kid with the attention span of a fly. The story began, “Whistle, whistle went the little birdy…” then flew into a crazy random chase sequence that ended where it began, in the middle of nowhere. Sure, I was nine, but that’s no excuse. This was the worst piece of writing I have ever seen in my life, and I wrote it. Surely Christine Yahiro did not actually believe my story displayed a latent aptitude for writing. Surely she did not actually believe I had a shred of talent. Surely she did not actually think I would ever be published by a legitimate publisher.

Surely not, and yet Christine Yahiro must have seen something in that 9-year-old, hyperactive version of me. Maybe she saw something in me that, given enough time and practice, might actually make me amount to something. In retrospect I think I know what it was.

Determination.

That’s one word for it. Stubbornness. Obstinancy. Persistence. Willpower. Conviction. Stick-to-it-ness. Nevergiveupitude.

Miss Yahiro must have seen it in me before anyone else did. Before I even knew what the word meant.

Determination, I have discovered since, is a necessary quality for anyone who wants to be a writer. Determination motivates you and enables you to push through failure, again and again. Determination will fuel you to overcome rejection, and in doing so, inspires faith, confidence and eventually - with time and practice - competence. That 9-year-old version of me and the slightly less hyper 50-year-old version of me are very much the same when it comes to determination. The stubbornness remains.

Christine Yahiro was my teacher throughout grades 4 and 5. I remember coming to school one day and seeing a large graphic of a football field drawn onto the wall of our portable classroom. The field had lines delineating 10 yard increments up to 100 yards. (She obviously preferred NFL over CFL). The deal was: each student received a paper flag with their name on it, pinned to the wall at the one end of the field. Every time a student read a novel (picture books did not count), then wrote a book report, his or her paper flag would advance ten yards down the field. Often Miss Yahiro would surprise us by making us do an oral book report in front of the class, including question and answer time. This was how she made sure nobody cheated. If you had not really read the book you would invariably fail the Q and A. After ten successful book reports the student would score a touchdown then start again. A leaderboard was posted beside the field on the wall. Competition was encouraged in those days. I know, weird, right?

I spent a lot of time obsessively reading, writing book reports and speaking in front of the class during those two years and the experience expanded my brain and, I believe, the brains of every kid in that classroom.

Miss Yahiro fanned my interest in books and storytelling when I was at a very impressionable age. When I first saw my story printed in a real newspaper - a newspaper where my parents, my brothers and even complete strangers could read it – I lit up. I may not have realized it at the time, but the desire to tell stories had taken root.

If Christine Yahiro is still with us, I hope she knows she made a difference.

Yahiro is pronounced “Yeah. Hero.”

At age 13 my mother took ill and was hospitalized for what seemed like forever. I was in grade 8 and I was pretty sure my mom was going to die. I internalized my freak out and wrote a story about a little fish whose parents had been taken away from him by a fisherman’s net when he was a child. The little fish grew up a friendless orphan and blamed himself for not being able to save his parents. He lived all alone and angry in an old, sunken pirate ship and everyone feared him as the roughest toughest fish in the sea. When he was old, a tiny fish bravely approached him and begged for his help. The little fish was desperate – his parents had been trapped in a fisherman’s net and if no one could save them they would be taken away. The old grumpy fish sees himself in the little fish and decides to help. He almost fails but somehow manages to hero up and save the little fish’s parents plus hundreds of other fish, too. In saving them, the old fish saves himself.

It was a story of loss, pain, guilt, redemption, healing and reintegration. I called it Barker McGee. I illustrated the story and made a mocked up book complete with cover art and title page. The book was put on display in the school’s lobby in a glass display cabinet and after graduation I never saw it again.

He gave me 2 days to complete the test. I told him I would do it in 2 hours if he provided me with a desk and a pencil.

I went to Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School in Muskoka, then moved to Brampton and studied Illustration at Sheridan. I quit after a year and a half when I ran out of money and got a job as a background designer at Nelvana in the summer of 1985. I was working on George Lucas' animated series “Droids”. I had no portfolio so I stayed awake for 3 days and nights drawing robots, space ships, alien landscapes and alien creatures to make a portfolio. The head of the design department – a very talented illustrator and comic artist named James (Jim) Craig commented that my portfolio was a bit thin but if I wanted to do a design test he would consider me for the design job. He gave me 2 days to complete the test. I told him I would do it in 2 hours if he provided me with a desk and a pencil. He smiled and suggested I take the full 2 days but I said I didn’t want to leave the studio until I had a job. Jim nodded and pointed to a desk. I did the test in two hours. Jim took one look at it and told me I was the only one who had correctly interpreted the rough he had provided. The job was mine. I worked more than a hundred hours a week at first, earning 110 dollars per week yet I loved every second of it. I was eternally grateful to Jim for giving me that start. He told me years later that he saw something in me that made him take the risk and hire me, even though I was about as green as they come. Jim called it fire. Jim would have liked Christine Yahiro.

Animation work was unpredictable and when there was no work I would go to the Canada manpower center and tell them I would do any dirty job that no one else would do. I was never out of work.

I built my career and reputation as an artist in the animation field and freelanced doing illustration for ad agencies, publishers and newspapers. I worked like a madman and vowed to myself that no one would outwork me.

I opened my first traditional 2D animation studio in Brampton, Ontario in 1988. It was called Elliott Hare Artworks Inc. and it was a home based studio with my wife Diane, an artist whom I had met at Nelvana.

George Elliott

In 1989 I started doing freelance illustrations helping my brother Robert, on a children’s book series for Grolier publishing in Toronto. I was 25. Soon, Grolier hired me directly and I did seventeen titles for them.

In 1995 I opened a new studio in Toronto and called it Pictor Entertainment. Diane stayed at home with our amazing 1-year-old baby girl Jennifer. The new studio was approximately 4300 square feet and we did preproduction services for various Canadian and US studios.

During this time I continued freelancing with Grolier Publishing and Montbec – a Montreal based children’s book publisher.

In 1998 Montbec closed their doors and Grolier decided to move their Toronto head office to Quebec. The president of Grolier, Toronto - Robert Furlonger - did not want to uproot his family so he decided to stay and asked me if I would help him be part of a new publishing company. He wanted me to write and illustrate the first books. I said yes, of course, because the answer is always yes when you are a freelance artist and a publisher expresses interest in your work.

The new publishing company was called Little Thinker Books and I really hoped it would succeed. I liked the name a lot.

I got busy and the first manuscript I wrote was Barker McGee. That story had always been important to me, so in 1999, at 35 years of age, I recreated it in verse.

Around that time my animation studio in Toronto was between projects, and rather than laying off all my crew, I decided to hold a few artists through the down-time by having them work on book illustrations with me. I had designed all the characters for Barker McGee and drawn a bunch of undersea environments including the pirate ship and various coral reefs. I worked with David Bluestein, a local comic artist, new to animation, and Martin Smith, a fine artist and background painter to illustrate the book. David and I did the page layouts together, David did the inking and Martin did the painting. I was very proud of the printed book.

I did two other books in this manner. “An Aardvark Flew an Airplane” was an alphabet book in rhyme and “Digger” was a tale about a dog who had a special nose that could dig up treasure every time.

“An Aardvark Flew an Airplane” was illustrated by Roy Condie and written under the pseudonym, “David Dadson”. “Digger” was illustrated by Robert Rivard and written under the pseudonym, “August Barton”. In retrospect, it was silly from a marketing standpoint to do this but I was being cute, I thought. David is my son Matthew’s middle name, and he is “dad’s son”. Clever, eh? No, not really. And August is the month I was born and Barton is my middle name. Brilliant? Nope.

I received good book reviews of Barker McGee and An Aardvark Flew an Airplane but Digger? Not so much. It was a little too dark and serious in theme. 

All told, it seemed to me like a good start but unfortunately, Robert Furlonger realized a publishing start-up would require him to live on a low income until it achieved critical mass and substantial success in the marketplace. The company could not get government subsidies until it had 25 books in print and Rob, who was a smart businessman, felt the numbers wouldn’t work. He elected to retire from publishing while he still had his shirt. The company shut down in 2000 and that was that for my short career as a writer.

Still, I earned some great experience, learned about publishing a got a couple boxes of extra copies of my books. Best of all I got some good reviews.

Rob disappeared into retirement after that and I resumed my animation career. The same year Little Thinker Books shut down I renamed Pictor Entertainment, Elliott Animation, after we scored our first CGI animation production (Pictor sounded too similar to Pixar – another CG studio of impeccable repute). Elliott Animation co-produced 26 episodes of the hit animated series “Sitting Ducks” for Universal Studios.

Since then, as a producer, my projects have included 2D, 3D and Flash animation series for television, direct-to-video features, CD-ROM games and television commercials.

In 2002 when the book bug bit me again. I had a two daughters and a son by this time and my son, Matthew, was age 5. Matthew was a rambunctious kid and loved eating bananas. He ate at least four each day. I told him one day that if he kept eating so many bananas he would surely turn into a monkey. Matthew ate five bananas a day after that, until he burned out on bananas and moved onto his next food obsession.

That inspire me to write The Boy Who Loved Bananas. When the manuscript was complete I hired fellow animation designer, Andrej Krystoforski to illustrate it. Andrej had a whimsical child-like style that I liked and felt he would be perfect for the story I was telling. We worked together to layout the illustrations and text and produced a mock up (a dummy).

In 2004 I Fresh TV Inc. formed as a partnership between myself, Tom McGillis, Jennifer Pertch and Brian Irving. Fresh TV Inc. was formed as an intellectual property development, producing, financing and distribution company, whereas Elliott Animation was strictly a production company.

Here’s a brief list of animated and live action projects Fresh TV produced and for which Elliott Animation performed all the production services.

6teen logo
6teen – 93 episodes + 2 specials, 2004 – 2010

 
Total Drama TV Show Logo
Total Drama – 117 episodes + 2 specials, 2007 – present

 
Stoked TV Show logo
Stoked – 52 episodes, 2009 – 2013

 
My Babystiter's a Vampire TV Show Logo
My Babysitter's a Vampire – 26 episodes + 1 movie, 2011 – 2013

 
Really Me TV Show logo
Really Me! – 26 episodes, 2011 – 2013

 
Grojband TV Show logo
Grojband – 52 episodes, 2013 – 2014

 
Bunks – 2013 Ridonculous Race – 26 episodes, 2014 – 2015 so far…

Nearly 2 years passed while the dummy for The Boy Who Loved Bananas sat in a drawer. I don’t know why but I never got around to pitching it. Okay, I do know why. I didn’t have a decent query letter and everything I had read about submitting to a publisher suggested it was nearly impossible to get through. I was procrastinating!

Andrej got a gig doing illustrations for Kids Can Press and took advantage of his foot in the door and pitched the dummy to them. After that, Kids Can Press called me to offer a publishing deal. I was surprised, delighted and a little sheepish at having procrastinated so long. The book hit the shelves in 2005 and won the Ontario Library Association’s Blue Spruce Award in 2006. I was very proud of that award because it was voted on by Ontario children.

Thankfully no one referred to it as the BS award.

Upon winning the Blue Spruce I traveled to schools around Ontario and spoke to kids and teachers about writing, publishing and animation. It was a great experience and eye opening. Kids really are amazing and ask the best questions. Their energy is infectious and their love of story quickly washes away adult cynicism.

After the Boy Who Loved Bananas was published I wrote a story called Camp Fear for Chickadee magazine in 2007. Then I once again disappeared into the world of animation. Elliott Animation grew and shrank, then grew again as the markets went up and down and recessions hit. We survived them and I continued to write and polish manuscripts. I hired award winning author Kathy Stinson to edit my picture book manuscripts. I can’t say enough about her. Kathy is a great editor and writer and a wonderful person to work with. Red is Best and The Man with The Violin are just two of her more than 30 wonderful books. http://kathystinson.com/

I did not submit my stories to publishers nor try to get an agent but took great pleasure in writing, editing and polishing them. I promised myself that I would submit them…one day. I was procrastinating again.

Upon Kathy’s suggestion I expanded my word counts and started writing chapter books in 2010.

Finally in 2014, at the age of 50, I decided it was time to start submitting my stories. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and traveled to the summer conference in Los Angeles to learn whatever I could. I started doing research on writing query letters and getting an agent. It was intimidating, but the SCBWI was very encouraging and supportive. Lin Oliver – one of the original founders of the SCBWI – was an inspiration. Hearing her speak made everything seem possible.

In August I went to the SCBWI Ottawa conference and jumped into the fire by submitting several manuscripts for review. It was time to expose myself to a new level of criticism. I have a thick skin, though, so I was eager for it, not at all nervous. I consider constructive criticism to be a valuable gift. The responses I received were very encouraging and the criticisms were extremely helpful, honest and insightful. I was extremely appreciative to those who offered their thoughts. I remain greatly impressed by the quality of people attending these conferences.

One such amazing person was Laura Whitaker – an Associate Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books in New York. https://twitter.com/laura_gemma

Laura reviewed what I thought was a chapter book manuscript and suggested I rewrite it to middle grade. She was very complimentary of my story and voice but suggested my writing level was definitely middle grade. When an Associate Editor suggests you expand your story to middle grade from chapter book the answer is always yes, so I took the challenge.

Kathy Stinson was very busy at the time and I needed an editor that could work with me. I found Laura Edlund and began working with her. Laura Edlund is a former editor for several major publishing houses – and an excellent editor, also. http://lauraedlund.ca/

Encouraged by my feedback from Laura Whitaker and the SCBI critique groups, I got to work polishing, expanding, editing, rewriting my chapter books and in February 2015 went to the SCBWI New York conference with two novels in hand and 4 children’s picture books. I had a freak accident when the hotel room ceiling sprang a huge leak and dumped about ten gallons of water on the bed where all my printed pages were sitting. Needless to say, I wound up pitching only one picture book manuscript but it was very well received at the two table reads. One gentleman named Rick Alimonte contacted me afterwards and offered to introduce me to a NY agent whom he knew. I was blown away that a complete stranger would do this as getting an agent in the US is a big deal and very difficult to do. The introduction was made and the agent, Jennifer De Chiara, read my manuscript and offered to represent me. http://www.jdlit.com/

Rick proved to be a shining example of the type of people you meet in the SCBWI. These are people who are passionate about literacy and children. They are good people, period.

In my career I have worked as an illustrator, layout artist, key animator, storyboard artist, development artist, director, line producer and producer. I have been involved in more than 1000 episodes of television animation, numerous direct to video features, theatrical features, live action movies, documentaries, interactive content, video games and commercials in my 30 year career.  

As a writer, my children’s books include, Barker McGee, An Aardvark Flew an Airplane, Digger, Camp Fear and the Blue Spruce Award winning, The Boy Who Loved Bananas, published by Kids Can Press.

It’s a start.

Elliott Animation Inc. provides a full range of 3D-CGI animation, 2D animation and Digital 2D (Flash and Toon Boom’s Harmony) animation production services for major North American studios from its home base in downtown Toronto, Canada.

I have worked for Disney, Jetix, Nelvana, Teletoon, YTV, CCI Entertainment, MGM Animation, Universal Studios, Hanna-Barbera Animation, Sony/Columbia Tri-Star Animation, Klasky-Csupo, Virgin Entertainment, DIC Animation, Wildbrain Animation, Phoenix Animation, Epoch Animation, Alliance-Atlantis, Stretch Films, Bohbot Kids Network (BKN), Berlin Film Company,  Urban Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Moody Studios, CCI Entertainment, Ambience Entertainment, Amberwood Animation, and Breakthrough Entertainment

George Elliott is represented by Jennifer De Chiara of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.