Many cartoons and children's books wrestle with the ups and downs of friendship by telling the story of kids and their animals: There's Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Calvin and Hobbes, Opal and Winn-Dixie, Fern and Wilbur. Artist and illustrator Maxwell Eaton hopes to add his own set of friends to that pantheon with his series of books featuring the adventures of Max and Pinky.
Max the character looks nothing like Maxwell the artist. With his bright red shirt and blue pants, the little boy is like a happier, better-adjusted version of Charlie Brown.
His sidekick, who also evolved over thousands of doodles, is a slightly subversive, marshmallow-obsessed pig named Pinky.
Eaton, who's in his mid-20s, began sketching the characters on bar napkins while he was working as a ski bum in Colorado. He had studied art at St. Lawrence University, but says his drawings then were "dark and charcoal and mechanical things."
"Kind of out of boredom almost, I was just doodling and I came up with this character... who finally became Max. I needed the pig to say something, and think something, and show a little sarcasm, observing these ridiculous things that Max was doing... and finally it was just 'Max and Pinky.'"
On a whim, Maxwell Eaton mailed his drawings to a New York City agent, who thought they were great. His agent then found an editor at Knopf who liked them even more. The first Max and Pinky book, Best Buds, was published in 2006. Their second adventure, Superheroes, was published in October 2007 — full of snow monsters and volcanoes. One reviewer praised the book for its "thick black lines and sublime sense of humor."
Eaton says the texture of Max and Pinky's friendship grew out of his own love for newspaper comics.
"I like to think of it as the Calvin and Hobbes generation; I grew up in first grade starting to read Calvin and Hobbes. That was a big part of my childhood, I think, and that's where I get a lot of the timing and the give and take between two very different characters."
In their finished form, Eaton's sketches are illuminated with the kind of bright, simple colors that you see in Sunday morning comics. Eaton is colorblind, but with the help of a computer — and an art director at Knopf — he was able to find just the right palette for Max and Pinky's adventures.
The next Max and Pinky story, The Mystery, will be published in fall 2008.
Brian Mann reports for member station NCPR in Canton, N.Y.