Robert Sabuda needs no introduction to pop-up book collectors. When you take a look at the photo above with Sabuda posing between playing cards, you might think he’s a magician. Well, he sort of is. He’s a “paper magician” and lets you bring paper to life with your own hands. The playing cards on the photo represent the decor of an amazing spread from his best selling pop-up book title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-up Adaptation.
Sabuda, who started as children’s book illustrator and author, fell in love with pop-ups for the first time when he was a kid. Waiting at the dentist’s office he got his hands on a pop-up book. He was amazed by the movable paper and pop-ups leaping right off the page. It seemed the perfect distraction for little Sabuda who loved candy but was scared of the dentist. Suddenly, a new hobby was born and Sabuda started collecting pop-up books.
“Everyone started giving me pop-up books as birthday or holiday gifts and soon I was able to make simple pop-ups by carefully examining these books.”
After he graduated from Pratt, Sabuda started with small jobs illustrating coloring books, writing his own stories and illustrated those as well. Sabuda, who always wanted to create a pop-up book himself, pulled out his old books and started where he left off as a kid, creating better and more advanced pop-ups. His first published pop-up book in 1994, The Christmas Alphabet, became a pop-up classic with successful spin-offs like the beautiful Christmas Pop-up book and the Christmas Alphabet cards collection.
Sabuda has become a big name in the world of modern pop-up books and is not only a favorite author among children but also among adults. Some call him “King of Pops” or “Mr. Pop-up”. Because of his technical way of advanced paper engineering, his books are highly loved among pop-up book collectors. We had the honor of interviewing Robert Sabuda and ask him about his work and vision.
BPUB – You’re known for your amazing Christmas books. Most of them have in common that you used plain paper and colors for the design. Seems to us that you love Christmas as a subject for pop-up books but have you ever considered a full color Christmas book with your own artwork and illustrations?
RS – That is an excellent question! For some strange reason, maybe because I grew up in Michigan when there was a lot of snow, I only ever really think about Christmas in terms of bold, graphic colors especially the color of white. I can’t imagine creating a Christmas book with full color, detailed illustrations but one never knows!
BPUB – As it comes to paper mechanics, do you think there’s a lot to discover or do you think that most techniques are already invented?
RS – Paper mechanics really only come in a very few different varieties but it’s the combinations of those varieties that can make something truly spectacular and unique. So I’d like to believe that someone, somewhere will always come up with some new, exciting combination that will thrill us all.
BPUB – Did you ever had to make painful concessions to make a pop-up workable for production?
RS – Fortunately, no. My philosophy is that if I can make a particular mechanism work, a good pop-up book manufacturer will also be able to make it work. Sometimes I imagine all the hand assemblers dreading a new book coming from me because it will most likely be very complicated!
BPUB – Creating advanced pop-up books under the pressure of a deadline must be exhausting. How do you and your team accomplish to manage it as a project and stay creative at the same time?
RS – Yes it is exhausting! In fact, when people, especially children, ask what is the most difficult part of creating pop-up books, I always say the deadlines. I think one of the things works best for us is trying to establish excellent time management skills. That doesn’t sound very creative or interesting but this single component can mean the difference between forging ahead to success or complete disaster.
BPUB – You give workshops about the basic techniques and you also share wonderful templates on your website but do you also give masterclasses about paper engineering or do you have any plans for the future?
RS – I’m in the process of completing the renovation of a very old, large horse barn on my upstate New York property into artist studios (www.10horse.com) so perhaps one of the classes offered there when we’re ready would be paper engineering.
“My feeling is, if there is one, single young person who decides to make pop-up books because of my influence and knowledge than I have done a small good for the world.”
BPUB – Do you think it’s important to share your knowledge with the next generation pop-up book authors?
RS – Oh, yes! I distinctly remember, about 20 years ago, being told by a crusty, crass, old-school paper engineer never to share my paper engineering secrets with anyone. I’ve always been a bit of a creative rebel so thought to myself “I’m going to do the exact opposite of that and share this wonderful world with as many people as I can.” My feeling is, if there is one, single young person who decides to make pop-up books because of my influence and knowledge than I have done a small good for the world.
BPUB – Is there a technique that you have invented yourself and is now being used in other pop-up books?
RS – Ah, that’s almost a trick question! I wouldn’t say that I’ve necessarily “invented” anything myself, but I’ve probably taken some basic paper engineering elements and turned them on their heads. I also have a great fascination with rotating and spinning paper so I try to spend a lot of time developing those kinds of mechanisms.
BPUB – Are there pop-up book authors or paper engineers from the new generation that you admire and would like to share with us?
RS – I think that Marion Bataille is just wonderful!
BPUB – You and Mr. Reinhart are beloved for your collaboration in some already classic pop-up book titles like the Encyclopedia trilogies. The two of you are top authors in this genre and the books you worked on together raise the bar on any level. Do you think that working together creates some kind of competitive vibe that brings out the best in both of you?
RS – I wasn’t raised in a competitive environment at all and try to avoid it at all costs. I’m always on the look to try and just make the best book I can possibly make.
BPUB – We have to ask and really would like to know, what is your favorite Reinhart pop-up book?
RS – Any one that also has my name on it!
BPUB – Seems to us that some countries still need to discover pop-up books. Do you recognize this and what do you think is needed to introduce pop-up books to those countries?
RS – I think there wherever there is love of books, especially non-traditional books such as pop-ups, you will find a place for pop-ups. I travel around the world a great deal and am always looking for pop-up books in foreign countries but am not always successful. I think it often depends on how much of a book culture exists in that country.
BPUB – Todays media is mostly digital and the print media market is under great pressure. Do you think this affects the future of bigger pop-up book productions?
RS – I do. I can say that traditional publisher here in the U.S. is definitely struggling but the experience of a pop-up book really can’t be replicated in digital format.
BPUB – What do you think about the independent pop-up book publishers movement on crowd funding platforms like KickStarter?
RS – I think they’re great and have contributed to several myself! There’s no reason the world of publishing has to be dominated by a few big publishing houses if there are enthusiastic people who want to make books.
BPUB – Do you have any “bucket list” subjects for a pop-up book you would like to create in the future?
RS – The series “Pop-up human history.” But that would take a looooooong time to create!
BPUB – What do you think of bestpopupbooks.com and the idea of a platform just about pop-up books?
RS -Thank you so much for creating it! It’s so exciting to see a great, new website launched for our community!
BPUB – Thank you Robert for your cooperation with this interview!
Our Robert Sabuda pop-up book video reviews: Complete overview
Special thanks to Wendy Sabuda!