BANGOR, Maine — When illustrator and writer Mark Scott Ricketts moved to Bangor, he knew one thing about the city: Stephen King lived there, which he said made him think it must be nice.
“I got here and fell in love with the place,” Ricketts said.
It was his wife, Mary, who chose to relocate to Maine, based on pictures she saw in a book about the state. Not soon after, the two decided to buy a house off the Internet and move from Chicago.
The iconic images found in the pages of the book that drew his wife to the state serve as inspiration for his two Maine-based books. But with a twist.
On Tuesday, Ricketts’ first children’s book was released by Islandport Press. “Adventures in Vacationland” features a young boy who travels through “vacationland” to find his aunt — taking on robotic lobsters, Scottish cows, a moose king and a boat captain in the process. Ricketts also authored the 2013 book “A Flatlander’s Guide to Maine,” an illustrated educational guidebook for vacationers.“People say I’m a little edgier, so maybe that comes from being from away,” Ricketts said. “People have a softer, more romantic feel here than I do. I like the flaws, but I like the sweetness, too, obviously. … Maybe I see a bigger scope because I come in with eyes wide-open, like a kid.”
Ricketts’ work has appeared in advertisements, graphic novels and comic books. He is the author of several Marvel Iron Man comics and seven graphic novels, most of which he illustrated. In 2000, he won the Klasky Csupo Screenwriting Contest, and he wrote the comic strip “Moose Mountain” for two years.
The Arkansas-born illustrator moved to Maine in 2006. Ricketts said he worked on romantic drawings when he first arrived in Maine, but over time he learned there was so much more to Maine than that and felt compelled to create a book like “Adventures in Vacationland.”
“I find out about the people, and I find out about the humor of the place. It just gets sillier, and it just gets wackier. Now we have these books,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts said he has drawn Paul Bunyan “a million times” since he moved to Bangor, but he didn’t begin working on children’s books until he brought the idea to Maine’s Islandport Press.
Ricketts said his new children’s book began as simply an illustration-heavy collection.
“It grew when the publisher said, ‘Let’s give it more story, story, story.’ It just got bigger and bigger and bigger. There’s even a fight scene with the lobster in there,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts started using a new digital medium five years ago. All illustrations in the book were created using a tablet computer with an easel-like screen. With different programs, Ricketts creates unique textures and brush strokes.
Ricketts has worked in a variety of graphics and illustrating jobs over the years. He began as a painting student at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. After he graduated in 1979, he moved to Chicago to play with his rock band. While there, he also worked as a comic illustrator for Playboy, then shifted his focus toward graphic novels.
In deciding to work on a children’s book, Ricketts felt like he was returning to his illustrating roots.
“I really started to love the children’s book illustration. I just think kids are really open. If you let your imagination run wild, they go with you. And sometimes they get ahead of you. I decided, ‘Hey, that’s what I want to do. I want to be there.’ I want to see kids brighten up when you show them illustrations.”
Sitting at a yellow, 1950’s style table in his studio, lined with books, Ricketts reads the introduction to his new book — his favorite part — behind large, circular-rimmed glasses.
“This is serious,” he exclaims in his best intimidating child’s voice, “Do not read this book or you will be punished. Big time. No Joke,” Rickett’s eyes get big. “This is your last warning.”
He turns the page. The story begins.
“Stuff just happens,” Ricketts said of his inspiration. “But I like to listen to people. I hear people say the most ridiculous things; I blow it even further out of proportion.”
Ricketts will be reading “Adventures in Vacationland” at Books in Boothbay: Maine’s Summer Book Fair 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, July 12; Sherman’s Book and Stationery in Portland 1-3 p.m. Saturday, July 19; and The Beyond the Sea Book Festival in Lincolnville 1-3 p.m. Sunday, July 27.