Match made in heaven between author and illustrator

Drawing by Olivia Mangione that will be featured in  “The Creep.” // Photo courtesy of Olivia Mangione

By Chris Butcher

Two creative minds, Western graphic design major, Olivia Mangione, and local author, Annette Balcom, have teamed up to bring their newly published children’s book, “The Creep”, to life.

The book tells the tale of a young teacher, Miss Potts, who befriends a creature known as the Creep, who helps her out of some trouble with her class. 

The book depicts a simple theme, that today’s society has misplaced the value of kindness. Balcom said she was devoted to writing this book because of her desire to encourage compassion among children.

“Kindness is a lost teaching and kids need to know to be nice to each other, to teachers, friends and classmates,” Blacom said of her conviction for the book. 

Balcom said she first conceived the idea for this story in 1986. At that time, she was a reading specialist for the Kent School District and her students encouraged her to write her own stories. However, it wasn’t until she moved to Bellingham in 2017 and started taking classes at Village Books on how to self-publish that she was inspired to finish the book and release it to the public, she said.  

With the support of a local business, Balcom finally saw her dream turn into a reality. When her contact at Village Books introduced her to Mangione, Balcom realized she had discovered her creative equal to illustrate the world she had written.

Local author Annette Balcom shares a favorite page from her new book “The Creep.” // Photo by Chris Butcher

Even though she had interviewed numerous other candidates for the position, Balcom knew after meeting Mangione that she had found the right talent to capture the vision of “The Creep.” 

“Olivia stood out because she was so positive. Positive personality, positive energy and I could tell she was really responsible,” Balcom recalled.

Even before graduating, Mangione has taken giant steps with her career and in building an impressive résumé.

Mangione said her journey as a visual artist began when she was eight years old. Her father acted as a major inspiration by exposing her to comedic storytelling and cartoon drawings. 

“He would make up stories for us all the time, so I liked to draw the stories he made up,” Mangione said. 

Through her father’s knowledge of the arts and drawing workshops, Mangione found a mentor she could look up to and teach her to refine her natural capabilities.

Since discovering her passion for drawing, Mangione has continued to advance her skills as an artist by taking classes taught by Paul Kearsley within Western’s engineering and design program. 

 “I loved to draw before, but I had always done it for fun. So, it was learning actual techniques from that class to be able to apply and to make communication clear,” Mangione said.

Kearsley said he was happy to see his students succeeding. 

“It’s really rewarding to see students use the stuff we’re working on in class. The stuff we’re working on is super marketable and everyone has a need for visual communications,” Kearsley said. 

Publishing this book was something that pushed Mangione out of her comfort zone, she noted. Her typical artistic style lends to creating psychedelic characters in a cartoon-like nature. However, for this assignment she found herself designing fewer abstract figures and instead creating characters who convey realism within a fictional world. 

“When it comes to drawing or art, I like to go with any direction,” said Mangione. She said she’s delighted with how “The Creep” turned out.

The process of making “The Creep” was a unique experience for Balcom and Mangione independently. Even though this was their first project together, it likely won’t be their last. Balcom reiterated a mutual sentiment and hopes to work with Mangione on a future project she already has in mind.

“If [Balcom’s] willing to work with me again, I’d love to,” Mangione said.   

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