For the Dogs

Children’s book author and illustrator J.otto Seibold is very enthusiastic about his Mercedes-Benz. “I’ve converted to driving a biodiesel vehicle,” he says. “I haven’t been to a real gas station in months.” He goes on to describe the place in Berkeley where he gets his fuel—“it’s much more granola shack than Shell station”—and the reasons everyone should make the switch. “There’s the whole war-for-oil thing, it’s totally soul-enriching, and you’ll feel better about commuting to your job every day. And if you don’t, I will personally come over to your house and hug you until you do.”

Such are the statements coming from the artist who created, along with writer (and ex-wife) Vivian Walsh, the whimsical book Olive the Other Reindeer ($14.95, Chronicle Books), about a little dog named Olive who believes she’s—wait for it—one of Santa’s reindeer. That book, which has its tenth anniversary this year, was made into an animated television special by the production company of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, featuring the voice of Drew Barrymore. The book and cartoon became instant holiday classics.

A self-taught illustrator who these days works exclusively on his Apple computer (“they should really give me a free one”) in the Illustrator software program, Seibold (or Jim, as he’s known to friends) seems to relish saying whatever pops into his head. As he talks about his new book, Quincy the Hobby Photographer: The Complete Guide to Do-It-Yourself Dog Photography ($14.95, Harcourt), he says it’s his “response to William Wegman [and Wegman’s popular Weimaraner dog photos]. But it’s a much more bone-headed selling of dog images,” he adds. “It’s been the longest book in the making because I showed it to several publishers and then kept pulling it back. They all wanted me to make it cute, like a puppy calendar, because puppy calendars are flying off the shelves.”

For those unfamiliar with Seibold’s work, Quincy is a character who has shown up in Seibold’s Mr. Lunch books, which follow the adventures of another little dog much like Olive. In Quincy’s solo debut, he takes it on himself to instruct readers in his favorite hobby—photographing dogs—which requires him to don a “modern pro-thusiast” suit that includes a stylish toupee and hat.

To the proposition that Quincy is Seibold’s alter ego, Seibold answers, “Well, he’s really dumb. He thinks he’s so great, putting out this self-help book, but he’s totally unaccredited and he’s dispensing this advice, telling people to put their cameras on automatic. He’s overplaying his stature. He’s basically stepping out.” Quincy, like most of Seibold’s work, has kid appeal due to its mod silliness and adult appeal because it’s also quite campy.

Seibold, 46, shot all the photos—he is almost never without a camera, and is very serious about photography and dogs—and while most are on 35-mm color-slide film, a few are digital. To make his illustrations, Seibold uses a digital Wacom tablet that can lie flat on a table. He works in the kitchen of his San Francisco Potrero Hill home. “I use a laptop so I’ve almost achieved complete mobility when it comes to my work.”

And his work is everywhere. A few years ago, Nordstrom used the Olive the Other Reindeer story as its theme for the holidays—you could find Olive images on Nordstrom gift cards, in advertisements, and decked throughout the store. More recently, Seibold entered into a partnership with Target for its “Ready. Sit. Read!” program for children and parents. Seibold, who has three children with Walsh, created the artwork for “things like these elaborate freebies, like a cutout backpack full of stickers and flags that can be made into a bird or a rocket or both.” Next up, Seibold is working on the tenth-anniversary edition of Olive.

The real Olive, a Jack Russell terrier, has passed away, and Seibold now keeps company with a Chihuahua named Po Jangles and a Chihuahua/pit bull mix named Iggy Fantastic. “I tell people he’s half dog and half mosquito,” he says with a laugh. Sounds like a good beginning for the next book.