In William Joyce’s gorgeous new picture book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, a team of bald, muscular green fellows battles an evil Spider Queen and provides comfort to a sick woman. Like other Joyce books — Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo (1988), A Day With Wilbur Robinson (1990) — The Leaf Men features richly detailed drawings with a dreamily intense text.
Hollywood has discovered Joyce — he helped design Toy Story and cowrote the script for the upcoming live-action film Buddy, a true story about a woman in the ’30s who kept gorillas in her house. Joyce’s paintings are collected by celebs such as Steven Spielberg, Bette Midler, and Harrison Ford, and he’s talking to Fox about doing a TV show called The Guardians of Childhood, about kid myths like the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and the Bogeyman.
Of his hairless Leaf Men, the 38-year-old Louisiana native says they were inspired ”by the Errol Flynn Robin Hood movie, Yul Brynner in The King and I, and Jolly Green Giant TV commercials. Also, Mr. Clean — you know, small, bald guys who are very strong. Looking at Mr. Clean, there was no doubt he was gonna clean up that stove.” The father of two tots, Joyce thinks there’s ”too much terrible television” for kids; he’s also happy to report that ”we’ve recently eradicated Barney from our lives,” and he is intent on giving tykes ”work that makes them take a leap of imagination.” Other projects in the works? ”Billy’s Boogers — it’s about a kid who gets hit on the head by a meteor and his boogers become all-knowing, wise ones that help him,” says Joyce. ”I wrote the first draft in the fourth grade.”