The Hippo


Jul 20, 2019








Marty Kelley working on his next book in his home New Boston studio. Kelly Sennott photo.

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A boy and A Cape!
Marty Kelley’s latest book

By Kelly Sennott

 New Boston artist Marty Kelley has been drawing and writing in New Hampshire for 17 years — actually, more than that, if you count the stint he had at age 14 drawing comics for the Milford Cabinet — but it wasn’t until this year that he decided to ditch the publishing houses and complete a project himself. 

The result is A Cape!, an illustrated picture book about a little boy (think Dash from The Incredibles at age 5) who discovers the magic of a red-blanket-turned-cape. He kicks off his normal, everyday clothes and, behold: he can fly! He can lift couches! He can read minds! And he can freeze you with his super-freeze blast breath! 
His only weakness: getting his dad off the couch to play with him. 
Kelley created A Cape! with pencil and watercolors, which present themselves more and more as the reader turns the pages — the cape, in addition to the superpowers it lends the little boy, also magically turn black and white outlines to bright, colorful characters.
“I’d sent it to a few publishers — very few, only two or three — and they weren’t interested,” Kelley said during an interview at his home studio last week. 
But he knew kids would like it. Actually, he knew they already did.
If you’ve heard of Kelley, it might be because you’re a teacher or have kids; last year, he visited more than 100 schools for author visits. It’s how he pays the mortgage of his New Boston home, where he lives with his wife and teenage kids.
At these school events, he usually reads his latest work with images projected on a screen for kids to see. “My presentations change every year, but when I visit schools, it’s always about the writing process,” Kelley said. “I show them the revisions I do and the pages I’ve scanned from my sketchbook. … I’ll tell them, ‘This book got written half a dozen times, and this is why it had to happen.’ Teachers say they appreciate that I show this because most kids, once they write something once, they want to be done with it.”
He also, if he has time, shows them his unpublished projects, like A Cape! Before it was finished, he could see kids liked it, even if publishers didn’t. They especially enjoy the end, when the little boy finally convinces his dad to get his own cape and play along.
“Honestly, I think the kids like the fact that he’s running around in his underpants,” Kelley said. “When the kid finally gets his dad to play, the kids [at school] laugh hysterically. The teachers are like, ‘Aw, he’s playing with his kid!’ but the kids are all laughing because the dad’s in his underpants, too.”
Kelley felt strongly about the story, so after the rejections, he went the self-publishing route. After all, he’d been crafting books for years; he’d written and illustrated books like Summer Stinks, Fall is Not Easy, Spring Goes Squish! and Take Me Home!, among others, through publishing houses. He knew how to draw, he knew how to write, and he knew how to sell. And this way, he’d have total say. 
“I didn’t have to compromise with people. In [traditional] book publishing, there’s a lot of that. I think a lot of people don’t realize that about the job. Books aren’t necessarily what the author wants exclusively. There are editors and sales people involved. But this way, I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do,” Kelley said.
He raised the funds on a Kickstarter campaign, which helped him get his first 1,000 copies printed. At the time of the interview, they had just been sent to him.
He’s looking forward to this year’s school visits, which are normally accompanied by question/answer periods.
“They always want to know how old I am,” Kelley said. “And how long it takes to make a book. I tell them to guess. They say, ‘One hour? Two hours?’ … They’re usually floored when I tell them it can take two years. … It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy seeing 100, 150 kids just staring, enraptured by something you made. It’s really flattering.” 
As seen in the October 23, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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