“THE SECRET MAGICKS OF MAINE,” by Matt Watier, 2010, Xlibris, 48 pages, hardcover, $31.99, paperback, $21.99.
Maine is a pine-covered land where mud gremlins bury vehicles up to their axles and paint pot dwarves usher in crisp autumn days. It is an enchanted place, home of giant snow cows, birch dragons and mischievous lake sirens.
At least, that is the Maine that illustrator Matt Watier sees; and he shares this magic-filled world through his breathtaking artwork and clever tales in “The Secret Magicks of Maine,” a beautiful, self-published book that has recently caught the attention of readers throughout the state.
“It’s the collaboration of odd things mashed together into modern day fairy tales,” Watier said in a recent phone interview from his home in Washington, D.C. “It was definitely a project of love for me.”
Watier grew up in Union, Maine, where his family tree goes back to the founding of the town in the late 1700s. He says that many of the stories in the book were inspired by places and people of the midcoast, such as the tiny race of dwarves called “The Keepers of the Blue,” who work their magic in the blueberry fields Watier visited as a child.
This storybook is not a retelling of pre-existing Maine folklore. Watier has created a set of entirely new stories out of the magical elements of his home state, and he penned these modern myths with seemingly effortless imagination and wit. Throughout the book he weaves elements of Greek mythology along with traditional Maine legends.
Watier created “The Secret Magicks of Maine” several years ago when he was still living in Maine.
“I asked everyone what their favorite thing about Maine was — anyone I could find,” he said. “Honestly, I was probably a little bit obnoxious about it. I got crazy answers back from tourists, from locals, from snowbirds.”
He catalogued their answers, from “the morning dew” to “lobster rolls.” In the end he had a few hundred perspectives to sift through.
“I did a little mismatch and swapping and tried to write stories around the magical elements people mentioned,” Watier said. “It’s this magic that isn’t completely implausible, the kind of magic that could very easily exist around us without any of us noticing.”
For instance, “Perry Winkle pixies” were born after Watier talked to a little girl about how much she loved visiting Popham Beach and placing seashells to her ear to hear the ocean. He took her experience and combined it with a story told to him by a resident of Friendship Harbor who enjoys rowing in the ocean at night and watching the agitated algae light up around her boat.
In Watier’s “Perry Winkle” fairy tale, pixies collect sea crystals (the glowing algae) and place the crystals in shells for safe keeping (which accounts for the sounds heard in seashells).
“You can probably ask my girlfriend at some point, but I don’t know if I’ve ever grown up,” Watier said. “A world filled with magic seems like a better world.”
So, if Maine is so magical to Watier, why did he leave?
After graduating from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2001, he tried to return to Maine but had a tough time finding a design job. Now in D.C., he designs Web pages for Razoo.com by day and works on his multiple book projects by night.
A huge fan of children’s book illustrators Paul Howard and N.C. Wyeth, Watier prefers telling stories with “beautiful, epic paintings” rather than with “fluffier,” simpler illustrations. His detailed scenes, awash with color and light, have incredible depth and texture variation.
In college, Watier transitioned from oil painting to digital “painting” with a computer pen on a pressure-sensitive monitor interface.
“I’ve actually not touched a brush in 10 years,” Waiter said. “I still have tons of sketchbooks though and draw on paper. But being able to save what I’m doing is kind of awesome, and my apartment no longer smells like turpentine.
“There’s no cleanup time or prep time, and now that electronic publishing is so much stronger, doing art that will show up there in the same medium — there’s a lot of bonuses to that.”
All of the main illustrations of “The Secret Magicks of Maine” were created digitally, and he shares many of these works with an online social art community called deviantART at mattwatier.deviantart.com. Also on the site, you can see a progression of illustrations of “The Tin Fairy,” a book Watier plans to release on the iPad soon.
“One of my favorite things to do is making it look like it’s hand done through different textures,” he said.
In “The Secret Magicks of Maine,” Watier added in some of his more detailed hand-done sketches, giving the book the appearance of a mysterious science journal.
“It’s been pretty successful for such a small-run little book,” said Watier, who published the first edition in 2007 and the second edition in 2010. With the help of his father, Roland Watier, the book has made it into gift shops and small bookstores throughout Maine.
“My dad should probably get salesman of the decade,” Watier said. “He does a great job pitching it.”
The best feedback Watier has gotten for “The Secret Magicks of Maine” came from a family of seven that has purchased the hard-covered book three times because the children ruin it from constant use.
“That’s a pretty good indication this story was loved,” he said. “The parents had to memorize every page.”
Recently, they have found a Maine publisher interested in printing the next edition of the book, though Watier can’t divulge the details because no contracts have been signed. He’s pushing to have the third edition on bookshelves before Christmas.
“There are definitely some lost stories and art that didn’t make it into the book. Some of them didn’t really match the categories of the book and some of them were too long, and I’ve kept some of them for longer books.”
He plans to publish a separate book on Maine’s rock wall goblins and the changing of apples, and he has long been working on a book of dragons, inspired by Maine’s illusive birch dragon.
To purchase the book, visit mattwatier.com, where Watier can direct you to a Maine bookstore or take direct orders.