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Master of Fantasy

Artist Michael Hague brings beloved children’s book characters to life.

Hague enjoys illustrating children’s classics, such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Hague enjoys illustrating children’s classics, such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

©Michael Hague

It is a little bit like one of his favorite children’s book characters, Peter Pan. He, too, never really grew up—at least when it comes to his art.

Hague was born in California, where he and his wife, Kathleen, both attended art school in Los Angeles. Then, he got a job with Hallmark in Kansas City and was later recruited by Current, Inc., a greeting card company based in Colorado Springs, where he worked for many years.

His children’s book career really started in 1980 when he was tapped to illustrate an edition of the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

He says his love of art started with his mother, also an artist; it was the one thing that always captured his attention when he was a boy. “It was always my strongest suit when I was in school,” he says, adding that he never really considered any other career.

Early on, he developed his own distinctive style based on what he loved: fantasy. He is a devotee of Disney movies, fantastic tales (such as those of Sinbad, the sailor), Asian printmakers, and famous comic book artists. “Fantasy is what I’ve always done,” he says. “If I had an offer to do something that didn’t involve [an element of] that, I turned it down.”

Over the course of his career, Hague has illustrated fairy tales, Aesop’s Fables, and classic stories by writers such as Hans Christian Andersen. He’s created dragons and pirates, unicorns and fairies. He’s also done a number of Christmas-themed books for children. “Those were the things that sparked my imagination,” he says.

In addition, he has illustrated a handful of books featuring bears teaching children how to do things like count (Numbears) that were written by wife Kathleen Hague. In all, he thinks he’s illustrated “maybe as many as 100 books.” Frankly, he adds, he’s lost count.

For many years, all his work was done by hand in watercolors or oils, but in recent years, he’s added computer skills to his art. At first, he didn’t like the results. “It looked like computer art,” he says. As he grew more adept at using it, he discovered it did have some advantages. For example, he could establish a broad palette of colors and use them consistently throughout the project. “I thought it would save me time, but it hasn’t. I just spend my time doing different things. Most people can’t tell the difference when I use the computer, but I can. It’s subtle, though,” he says, adding if done properly, “you can get a beautiful color range.”

His all-time, most successful venture is still his first book, The Wind in the Willows, but his personal favorite is his illustrations done for an edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. He even has a first edition of the book, which someone once took backstage at a performance of the play in London and had all the cast members sign it. It’s one of his most prized possessions.

Although he’s now semiretired, he’s recently begun dabbling in comics and graphic novels. These are fairly dark, however, and quite unlike his children’s book work. One even garnered the attention of the motion picture industry, but he says he would not want to venture into filmmaking. One such graphic novel took two years to finish. “There are six illustrations on each page,” he says. “That’s a lot of work.”

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Michael Hague’s books are available online, at chain bookstores, and locally at Hooked on Books. The latter has or can get autographed copies of his books as gifts if you order them by Friday, November 27, 2020. The store staff will have your purchases signed, and you can pick them up a week later. Visit hookedonbooksco.com for more information, store hours, and locations.