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Hardly Ever Never: Here Comes the Garbage Barge

Written by in Profiles

[by Matthew Porter] Have you seen the animated feature motion picture yet?! Okay, okay! So it isn’t a movie. Yet. The junk-filled, wacky, cracked, marvelous world created by Chris Sickels (Greenfield, IN) (with writer Jonah Winter of Pittsburg) has everything an animated films needs except for the underwriting of some major producer or director like… Tim Burton!

As everyone now knows, Here Comes the Garbage Barge was selected among The Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2010 among more than 2,000 submissions (That’s Top Slap Yo’ Mama 005%). According to one author of children’s tales, “Illustrators and writers of children’s books toil their entire careers and never make this list. Chris nailed it on his first try.”




The story idea originated with Jonah Winter. It was a stroke of green genius. As he tells it, “I was just sitting there one day, thinking about the garbage barge incident, when the proverbial light-bulb went on above my head [Insert Blinking Bulb]. It seemed like the perfect idea for a picture book. Still does! It’s funny. It’s true. It’s got garbage in it. It’s a great story. And it has an environmentalist sub-text. Plus, the words ‘garbage barge,’ together, just sound so great.”




As Winter saw it the green message was a fringe benefit. “Really, I just thought this would make for a very funny story that kids would get a kick out of. And of course, that’s absolutely the best way to brainwash them into believing the moral at the end of the story (‘Don’t make so much garbage!’). You’ve got to make things pleasant for people, especially kids, if you’re gonna save their souls. This barge full of garbage that nobody wants. What a great way to teach the undesirability of excessive garbage! (If I do say so myself…!)

After the story was written, publisher Schwartz & Wade Books of New York asked Red Nose Studio (that is the one and only Chris Sickels toiling away in the loft studio above his garage behind his house in Greenfield, IN), to animate the story.



Now, I confess I am a 4-H Club Award Winning Barnyard Fan of Chris Sickels, believing him to be one of the most roundly creative people I have encountered over the years writing for Communication Arts, STEP Inside Design and, now, HOW.

It is my belief that Chris is Tim Burton Light—as in the opposite of Tim Burton Dark. Kind, humble and considerate, Chris started his career as a yeoman illustrators but fate introduced him to 3-model making and he ran with it. When you see a Red Nose Studio/Sickels creation, you are looking at the combination of many talents of one man (and his occasional six year old assistant, Owen Sickels):

1)          Conceptual Story Development/Storyboarding

2)          Sketching and Drawing

3)         Sourcing, Hunting & Gathering Materials {Dumpster Diving}

4)         Character Development

5)          Model Building/Sculpting

6)          Painting/Color

7)          Costume Design/Production

8)          Set Design / Building

9)          Set Lighting

10)          Photography

11)          Retouching

12)          Type, Titles & Text




After getting the written text, Chris began his long process of bringing words to life. It took about one year for him to finish his work, a schedule that allowed him to feed his real family on State Street in Greenfield, Indiana. Book projects, despite the glamour and the glitter at the Rubber Chicken Awards, won’t buy you a tug, much less a yacht. Chris picks it up from here…“When the editors brought me in on the project the story was complete and finished. I then contacted Jonah for clarification on the characters — which were factual and which were ‘made up’ being that the story was from recent history. I next got involved in the visual research, finding all sorts of newspaper coverage about the real Garbage Barge. For example, the character Gino Stroffolino is a composite of a couple of actual guys whom where behind the entire garbage barge scheme. Cap’m Duffy was the actual name of the barge captain although there were four other mates on the tugboat. Other than that, the editors really wanted to keep us separate, which, I gather, is the norm. Like so much of my other illustration work, I ‘hardly ever never’ converse with the writers.”

The inside of the book jacket ten image of how Sickels animated Winter story. You can also see a little movie Chris created that is available on YouTube. Watch it.




Now, have you hardly ever never seen anything more fantastic than this? And to think it is all accomplished in a studio above a garage behind a 100 year old house, one mile from the square, on State Street, in Greenfield, Indiana. To heck with Burbank, Studio City and Napa!


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    […] That tugboat on the top shelf (below) was featured in the children’s book, “Here Comes the Garbage Barge.” […]