On the inside flap of Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks, its states that Calef Brown, its author and illustrator, “is a blue elephant.” I was about nine when I first became acquainted with this work, and struggled to understand how the elephant illustrated above the short bio could wield a paintbrush so effectively with its flat circular-soled elephant foot. But as there was no other explanation, I could do nothing but accept and move on to the hugely enjoyable array of bizarre rhymes and wonderful images on its pages. I can still recite any of them, and am still entertained by the glorious juxtaposition of creatures and beasts and contemporary North American culture.
Brown is actually not a blue elephant – he’s a graduate of the Pratt Institute and has worked as an illustrator since 1992. Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks, published in 1998, was his first illustrated and written publication, and more have followed, including Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers in 2000, and Flamingos on the Roof in 1996. Those titles are every indication of the eclecticism in his work which utilises paint, linear drawing, collage-like elements, and unconventional colourisation to very graphic effect. Along with children’s books, he produces editorial illustration and images for advertising, so don’t ignore the elephant, take a proper look!