Duluth cartoonist and author seeks to entertainChris Monroe worked around tools all day long while she was employed at Marshall Hardware in Lakeside several years ago. Using her artistic abilities, Monroe crafted a children’s book in her head about a monkey that was handy and could fix just about anything. Monroe’s son, Mickey, who was 14 years old at the time, helped her create a character and craft a story.
Chris Monroe worked around tools all day long while she was employed at Marshall Hardware in Lakeside several years ago. Using her artistic abilities, Monroe crafted a children’s book in her head about a monkey that was handy and could fix just about anything. Monroe’s son, Mickey, who was 14 years old at the time, helped her create a character and craft a story.
Monroe submitted a manuscript of the story to Lerner Publishing Group in Minneapolis and, eventually, “Monkey with a Tool Belt” was born and published in 2008. Through her work with children’s books like these, Monroe seeks to entertain people and make them laugh.
“She’s just that quirky and fun person, and you just wanna spend time devouring the details of her work,” said Zach Marell, creative director at Lerner Publishing Group. “She just reaches her audience at different levels because there is something unique about her work.”
Monroe is also well-known locally for her weekly comic “Violet Days,” which is published in the Duluth News Tribune on Thursdays. It is also published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and appears in the “Funny Times,” a national publication released monthly.
Monroe started “Violet Days” in 1996, but she has been creating comics in print for over 20 years. Monroe’s original comic strip “Invisible Fence,” which was published before “Violet Days,” appeared in newspapers throughout New Mexico, Washington, D.C. and Minnesota.
“I have always approached comics as sort of another direction for my art,” said Monroe, who grew up in Duluth. “It’s kind of similar to how comedians work in that they observe things around them and write about it or talk about it. In my case it’s ‘write about it and draw about it’.”
Drawing inspiration for her weekly comic by gathering ideas from her daily life, Monroe said the comic usually focuses on stories from her childhood, animals or celebrities.
“Sometimes getting ideas for the comic is the hard part,” Monroe said. “The most time-consuming aspect of all the things I hold is generating an idea.”
A collection of Monroe’s comic strips, “Ultra Violet: 10 Years of Violet Days,” was published in 2004 by X-Communication in Duluth. For the first time, Monroe was able to do book signings at Fitger’s and other places throughout Duluth where she was able to meet supporters of her work.
“It was pretty rewarding,” Monroe said. “It verified that I was doing something that was connecting with people. I was very touched by the fact that I had fans, and they came out and bought the book.”
Monroe’s became interested in art when she was a child, aspiring to one day attend art school. Her wish came true when she received her fine arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1984.
After completing school, Monroe designed advertisements for Global Village in Minneapolis for 15 years, which was the inspiration for her original comics. “That was a good way of getting my work out there and getting known,” Monroe said.
When she received a call about her comics one afternoon from the Jim Henson Company, which is widely known for the creation of the Muppets, Monroe’s career took off. She began freelancing illustrations of characters for a series the company was pitching.
During this time, Monroe illustrated the children’s book “Totally Uncool,” which was written by Janice Levy and published in 1999. Monroe decided to move back to Duluth and begin to write her own children’s books.
“Monkey with a Tool Belt” was published in 2007, and shortly after Monroe decided she could make the book into a series. Since then, “Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem” and “Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans” have been published by Carolrhoda Picture Books, a part of Lerner Publishing Group.
Monroe wrote and illustrated this series as well as the book “Sneaky Sheep,” which was published in 2010. She recently illustrated “Big Little Brother” by Kevin Kling and is working on writing another book.
“I think visually when I’m writing something, and I kind of write and draw at the same time,” Monroe said. “I let the pictures tell the story and really try to capture the expression and gesture of the character.”
The “Monkey with a Tool Belt” series has been printed in five languages – Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish and English. Aside from her children’s books, Monroe continues her weekly comics and also does much painting.
“The stories and style in her paintings just ring through to me as far as how she looks at life,” said Bruce Ojard, a Duluth photographer and friend of Monroe.
“For me the bottom line is to entertain,” Monroe said. “My goal is honestly to make people laugh, and I hope that they do.”
See Chris Monroe on the Children's Literature Network http://www.childrensliteraturenetwork.org/aifolder/aipages/ai_m/monroe.html
and Violet Days http://books.google.com/books/about/Ultra_Violet.html?id=iMGbPQAACAAJ