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Will Eisner Celebration: Paul Downs & Michael Yates

Lauren Kratz, Children's Librarian, Studio City Branch Library,
Authors Michael Yates and Paul Downs

Paul Downs is a screenwriter, animator, and educator. Paul's animation credits include the Ice Age franchise, Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who, Rio, Spies in Disguise, and the 2017 Oscar® nominated film, Ferdinand. Paul lives in Florida, where he teaches Story/Animation at Ringling College of Art and Design. Paul is also a huge Boston Red Sox fan, and you will usually see him wearing his team's baseball cap.

Michael Yates is a story artist and director living in Northern California. He currently works as a story artist at PIXAR Animation Studios, where his credits include Soul, Toy Story 4, and Cars 3. Michael has also been included in Foreword, a 300-page anthology by BIPOC in the animation industry given out free to school-age children to enjoy. Michael graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design, where Paul was one of his teachers!

Now Michael Yates and Paul Downs have teamed up together and their animator colleague Nick Bruno to create their debut graphic novel, Urban Legendz. Check out the Children's Chatting with Author's podcast episode with Michael and Paul.

Who encouraged you the most growing up?

Paul: Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have an entire family who encouraged me. My grandfather “discovered” my talent based on a still life I had done. He and my grandmother funded my art lessons until I was in college. My parents allowed all of the walls in one of our rooms to be painted white, so I could draw all over them. My Dad would photocopy my drawings onto acetate and buy model paint so I could create animation cels. My Mom ordered me a subscription to Entertainment Weekly when I was in the sixth grade (though I’m pretty sure she just wanted to win Publishers Clearing House). And my sister took orders at school when I opened a jean decorating business. They, along with so many others, saw my passion and fully supported my crazy ideas. They are the reason I get to do what I love every day.

Michael: Growing up I was encouraged mostly by my mom. She would buy me comics, art books, and art supplies. She was also my best and sometimes only audience. I would show her my art and always receive some form of encouragement. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.

"I admire authors who are able to challenge young readers. Authors who tell whimsical stories about fantastical worlds, yet remain grounded enough to teach us lessons."

Who do you admire and what would you recommend children to read?

Paul: I admire authors who are able to challenge young readers. Authors who tell whimsical stories about fantastical worlds, yet remain grounded enough to teach us lessons. Roald Dahl is my personal favorite.

How did you get into comics?

Michael: As a kid I would spend hours in the book store, sitting in the aisle reading comics. I was really into manga because I loved how the characters would go on long adventures that changed who they were by the end of a series. It felt like I was able to go on the journey with those characters. From there I started drawing my own comics, I wanted to be able to tell stories with my own characters. 

What’s your favorite imaginary creature?

Paul: My favorite imaginary creature has to be my childhood imaginary friend(s) Larry and Michael. We were inseparable. They went to school with me, played sports with me, and drew with me. They were always by my side and quickly became part of the family. My parents buckled them into their seat belts, fed them, tucked them in, and bathed them (even though they hated it). One morning, I woke up and announced that overnight, Larry and Michael had morphed into a single imaginary friend - LarryMichael. The two of us continued to be best friends for the next year, until LarryMichael slowly faded away. I’m hoping he found another kid who needed him/them as much as I did.

Books by Paul Downs & Michael Yates

Urban Legendz Vol. 1
Downs, Paul and Bruno, Nick