Classic tale with a SE twist

Zerbetz, Gilbertsen hold book signing for 'Little Red Snapperhood'

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

Ketchikan illustrator Evon Zerbetz had a moral quandary as she was working on her linocut artwork for Juneau author Neal Gilbertsen's children's book "Little Red Snapperhood."

She didn't want to put a hat on a fish.

"I had no problem putting an apron on the mom, but I didn't want to cover (Little Red's) dorsal fins," Zerbetz said. "Once the hat had a live element to it, I decided to make the tassel into a green squid, and then it became a character in itself. The squid could open doors and get into a little trouble, and that was the most fun part of the book."

The squid-hat is one of many small details in Zerbetz and Gilbertsen's book, released earlier this year through WestWinds Press, a company in Portland, Ore.

The artist and the writer will be at Annie Kaill's, 244 Front St., from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, for a book signing for the First Friday art walk. Zerbetz will display art from the book and a few Red Snapper-related hats she's made. Her sister-in-law, Harriet Zerbetz, will display Red Snapper-related hatboxes.

Evon Zerbetz also will appear at the downtown library, 292 Marine Way, for a slide show and book signing at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, and for a workshop, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Douglas library. Call 586-5324 to sign up.

Gilbertsen and Zerbetz have been friends for more than 10 years, stretching back to when they lived in Ketchikan. Gilbertsen won prizes for his humor poetry at Ketchikan's annual Blueberry Arts Festival, and Zerbetz approached him with the idea of collaborating on a book.

"I had always admired Evon's work," said Gilbertsen, a former commercial fisherman and college professor who now works for the state Department of Labor. "She gets a lot of movement into the linocuts. It's very unusual. I like the woodblock artistry and she gets so much detail in it. It's very playful and whimsical."

Gilbertsen had written a stack of "fractured fishy tales," and the pair decided to work on "Little Red Snapperhood," a spinoff of "Little Red Riding Hood." In 1999, they sent the text and a sample illustration to publishers. It was accepted by WestWinds Press.

The initial illustration, a cut of Red holding the octopi dinner and looking eye-to-eye with the wolf eel, will be displayed at Annie Kaill's.

"When you do off-the-cuff-type illustrations, things change over four years," Zerbetz said. "That's something I share with the kids, the real process that happens with illustration artwork."

Zerbetz counted fish for the Department of Fish and Game for 10 years before devoting herself full-time to art. Her love of fish is obvious in the fine lines and textures of her linocuts.

Zerbetz carves each design, even words, backwards into linoleum blocks, then hand-colors the finished prints. Each page in the book was shrunk from a 12-by-19-inch print. The book took her 12 months - six months full time and six months part time - to complete.

"The coloring process was more involved on these pieces," Zerbetz said. "There are a lot of layers on the paint, and a lot of layers of pencil to give it that sketchy, watery background."

Little Red is actually a yelloweye rockfish. Her mom is a tiger rockfish and her grandmother is a quillback. The book's wolf eel is modeled after a juvenile wolf eel. Zerbetz even invented characters that don't appear in the text. Three pipe fish follow Red throughout the book and sit down for dinner at the end of the story.

"I just came from schools in Craig and Klawock, and I was so impressed with their knowledge of fish," Zerbetz said recently. "I think that's why all grade levels like it, because Alaska kids know fish so well."

Gilbertsen and Zerbetz are working on a new book, "Billy the Squid," which they hope will come out in the fall of 2005. Zerbetz needed a title for a book when she was illustrating Little Red's grandmother sitting in bed. Gilbertsen came up with "Billy the Squid," and the idea for a new story.

"The poem wrote itself," he said.

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