SSTN Interviews Anika Orrock
SSTN: Today we are here with author illustrator Anika Orrock the author (and illustrator) of The Incredible Women of the AAGPBL.
Anika Orrock is an award-winning illustrator, writer, designer, cartoonist, humorist, and baseball devotee from the California Bay Area. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, on NPR and more. Orrock’s work is included in the Society of Illustrators 62nd Annual Exhibition and Book and has been commissioned by ABC, Disney, FiveThirtyEight, the National Pastime Museum, Merrill Lynch, American Express, the International Women’s Baseball Center, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association, Major League Baseball organizations and international sports publications, as well as a variety of musicians and record labels. In 2018, she provided the cover and interior book illustrations for “SOCKS!”, A Christmas Album by JD McPherson”, the acclaimed album released by New West Records. You can see more of Anika’s work on her website: www.anikaorrock.com Or follow her regular work on
Anika, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.
Thank you so much for your interest and for having me!!
Please begin by telling us about your book, The Incredible Women of the AAGPBL. This is such an eye-catching book filled with your artwork and stories about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Where can readers get a copy? Please tell us about the limited edition copies you also have available.
Well, thank you so much for the kind words. Incredible Women is the story of what most people know as the inspiration behind Penny Marshall’s classic 1992 movie, A League of Their Own. But most people really ONLY know about the league from watching that movie! I wanted to share the full story of the league, which began during WW2, using the stories and words from the very women who played in it. So, after dozens of interviews, travels and research, I stitched together player’s stories, news & magazine articles of the time and more (then filled in the gaps a bit with my own writing) to form a narrative–or, the story–of the AAGPBL.
And then, of course, I had to draw on every single page, as I’ve always done 🙂
Of Note – We will be running an exclusive excerpt of this book next Tuesday (January 19) at 1:00 p.m. right here on SSTN.
Anika, your artwork is amazing. I love the way you capture people, emotions, and great scenes. Your style reminds me of the era of the AAGPBL, please tell us a little about how you developed this unique style.
Thank you so much! I appreciate that. You know, that’s a tricky question only because I’m not really sure about the how. I never set out to achieve a certain look or style. I suppose I can speak better to the why, which likely has everything to do with what I grew up loving–the things that still inspire me (or totally floor me). Before my grandfather began his career as a writer, he did quite a bit of work as a cartoonist. He continued to draw once in a while when I was growing up and I just LOVED watching him do it. His style was very much a mid-century editorial cartoon/comic strip/animation style. I also LOVED animation–older cartoons, like Looney Tunes from the 40s & 50s, UPA cartoons like Gerald McBoingBoing, and anything pre-1970 Disney. I also got lost in my grandfather’s Al Hirschfeld books and loved the Sunday comics, New Yorker cartoons, Charles Schultz and Charles Addams paperbacks, and anything drawn by Kley, Steinberg or Hilary Knight. I know retro is a look, but since I was a kid, I pretty much lived and loved everything 30-40 years older than myself–including TV shows and movies (I was not the “coolest” kid), so it was kind of inevitable. I’m just lucky that the subject of my book is of the same era!
Great art evokes emotions within each of us. While I enjoy so many of your illustrations, the one of the baseball stadium at night with the teams lined up is a particular favorite. I love the coloring and shading. What can you tell us about this work?
Thank you! Gosh…well, you’re right when you mention the power of art evoking emotion. There’s also quite a bit of emotion in creating art, be it sorrowful, joyful or anything in between (and beyond). To me, that is the most enjoyable part–finding ways to infuse or convey the emotion of a moment or story through line, shadow, color. There are so many grand and subtle ways to touch on the myriad of emotions that connect us as humans.
Learning that the women of the AAGPBL played the very first night game at Wrigley Field was so cool — and not a commonly known fact! The game was put on as an exhibition to recruit women to the WAC, which was pretty incredible. It was the first time women were allowed to serve their country in an official capacity. The power of that information and everything surrounding it at that time definitely went into that particular illustration.
There’s also the emotion of being in a place like Wrigley Field. For baseball fans, it’s spiritual. I got to visit for the first time just before I started illustrating the book and that definitely influenced what went into that particular piece. Stadium lights now are so bright, they flood an entire stadium. But I just love the look of night games in old photos — the stadium lights and shadows are so dramatic, they add so much to the drama and nostalgia of a game.
That particular game, however, there were no permanent stadium lights. Lights were set up behind the first and third baselines, so I can’t imagine they provided much light beyond the diamond and maybe a bit of the outfield. All of these things painted such a picture in my mind–one that not even the few existing photographs really satisfied. That’s where illustration is so fun. It’s like writing historical fiction. You can take all the historical information you’ve gathered–all the facts, photos and tidbits available, but then you get to fill in the cracks with imagination. You really get to transport yourself in order to bring a story to life.
How long does it typically take you to create each of your illustrations?
It’s really dependent on several factors. Sometimes I doodle something out in 20 minutes, sometimes it takes 8 hours or more. The crazy thing about this book is that by the time the manuscript was complete and approved, I had about 6 weeks to provide full-sized sketches, then about 11 weeks to turn them all into full illustrations. That may seem like a lot of time, but the book is 162 pages and 152 are illustrated! In order to meet my publishing deadline, I had to average 2 1/2 final spreads (That’s 5 pages) a day. Size didn’t always mean faster. Some of the spot illustrations took longer than full spreads, depending. At that pace, too, I would often wake up in the middle of the night and think of a way to make something I’d done better, so the first hour or two (or three) of every day was often spent improving completed illustrations. I would say the average time per illustration was about 4 hours (you can imagine how my rear end felt after those few months!). In general, I’m not fast at anything. That’s not something I should advertise, I suppose, but it’s true. I rarely have a problem conceptualizing or seeing an image in my mind of what I’m about to draw, but I’m always thinking and tinkering as I’m drawing. I fully immerse myself and will stop occasionally to research details as they come up. I always feel like I should speed up my process, but I don’t want to. I enjoy it, and that’s what it’s all about. If I’m not enjoying what I’m doing, it shows, and when it shows, no one will want to buy it or hire me, so that’s that!
Please tell us about the publishing process. Which task was more challenging, the researching, the writing, or the illustrating for your wonderful book?
Every single stage was equal parts rewarding and challenging. I love research and I think I’m fairly good at it — it’s like a treasure hunt or solving a mystery! But until this project, my research had never involved interviewing. Tracking people down (particularly older people who don’t often use email or the internet) and getting them to want to talk to me was sometimes challenging, but mostly just way outside of my comfort zone. I’m not socially awkward, I just hate cold calling people to ask them for something. Showing up to my first AAGPBL reunion not knowing a soul was also way outside of my comfort zone, but I’m so, so glad I made myself go through with it! I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to approach everything through that part of the experience, through forcing myself to be uncomfortable.
I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve never written anything longer than a 10 page essay! I knew I could do it, but it was challenging. The biggest challenge was choosing what from my research and interview materials to use, then piecing it together in a way that didn’t just read off like a list of facts, but was interesting, emotional, engaging and entertaining. This is not a scholarly work, after all.
Then of course, as I mentioned, all the sitting and drawing. I LOVE illustrating! But the marathon was physically very challenging––a lot of neck kinks and finger tingling. But every single challenge was a fun one. Even when it was grueling, I knew it was for a purpose–a good one. I knew from the get-go that it would all be worth it, so that helped.
Please tell us how your grandfather, Ray Orrock, inspired you and your career path.
Boy….it would be more challenging to explain any way in which he didn’t inspire me or my career path.
It’s interesting, I never consciously used my grandpa as a template or set out to do anything he did, but at pretty much every turn, I’ve found myself just naturally following in his path a bit — and loving it!
Ray Orrock started out as a cartoonist and would often contribute weekly illustrated baseball news or cartoons to the local paper where he grew up in Napa, California. He earned a degree in Latin, Philosophy and Theology from University of San Francisco, married my grandmother and became a juvenile probation officer and father of five. I don’t imagine that’s what he always dreamed of doing, but I do imagine he was very good at that job. He had a way of talking with people — kids included. Not at or down at them. But he loved to write and would contribute weekly columns to a few papers and finally, at 41 years old, was asked to come on full time as a daily columnist. In his mind, he had hit the jackpot. Five days a week for 35 years, he wrote about whatever he wanted to write about and got paid for it! His columns were filled with humor, wit, warmth, history, interesting tidbits and enough useless information to make anyone popular at cocktail parties.
He also collected antique toys; an entire room in my grandparents’ home was filled with tin windups, trains, everything you can imagine. He loved baseball, animation, cartoons, great comedy, books, libraries, music. I mean, if I were to list everything that I really love or that interests me, it would probably be very similar––if not identical––to my grandpa’s list. Everything about him influenced me because I adored him. He was interesting, fascinating, fun, funny and appreciative. Who wouldn’t adore someone like that?
That was my education and that was my example. Without saying it or imparting any sense of doom, he really lived and relayed the knowledge that life is just too short to get too hung up on anything and too short not to be kind.
I love that… life is too short not to be kind. Beautiful!
Of all the players from the AAGPBL that you researched, which one was your favorite? In addition, which player provided the story that you found the most inspirational?
Choosing or naming a favorite is impossible! Several are my favorites for different reasons, mostly based on my experiences with them. I truly enjoyed an irreverent evening at a hotel bar in Cincinnati with Katie Horstman and Dolly Vanderlip, who are close friends to this day. Interviewing them didn’t feel like an interview at all, and it kind of wasn’t. I just put my recorder on the table and let them talk. They relived everything and told the best stories!
I also really enjoyed talking with sweet Marge Callaghan, who passed away at the beginning of the year at 98! I spoke with her over the phone – she was in Canada and I was in a creepy motel room in Rockford, Illinois for research. We talked for over two hours and she was just as sweet as could be.
I think one of the most enjoyable and inspirational players I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with is Jean Faut.
She’s incredible. She’s the only professional baseball player, man or woman, to have thrown two perfect games in a career. But she was also a total genius on the mound. She could memorize and calculate and recall. She wasn’t just a tremendous athlete in the physical sense, but very much so in the mental sense, which is apparent when you read about her experience in the league with a jealous husband.
When we write and research, we learn. What was the biggest lesson you learned in writing this book?
Oh, wow. I learned SO many lessons. Many of them I didn’t realize I had learned until after the fact. Interviewing for the book has been one of the most illuminating things about the process. It’s not often as creators we’re given time to sit and reflect on what we’ve done, let alone critically and conversationally. It’s really a gift!
It sounds really simple, but I might say the biggest takeaway was just proving to myself that doing something of this scale is totally possible, and that if I could pull this off almost entirely by myself (with the generosity and help of players, archives and great editors, of course), then I can really do anything, because I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into. There were moments along the way where I thought, “if I could see this moment or had any idea how much work this would be, I might not have done it”. Not because it was a negative experience, but because when we can only see or imagine the work or the long road ahead, we can very easily paralyze ourselves into not taking the first step. In doing that, though, we lose sight of the fact that everything is about the journey and the process, not the outcome. Time is going to pass no matter what, and the older we get, the faster it passes.
If I had shown myself only the work ahead and told myself it would take over 2 years, it would have felt overwhelming. But so what? Here we are and I could have either had this experience and a book to show for it, or not.
There is such a thing as a good kind of tired.
Do you have other works in process? Please tell us about them.
I do, but unfortunately I can’t talk about some of them just yet. People keep telling me I should already have my second book in the works, but I just needed a break! And publishing a book two days before the pandemic shut down the US was an interesting twist in all of this. Needless to say, I’m only just coming around to the idea of a second book, though I’m not positive yet what it will be.
Right now, I feel I have to just use what I do for good. I’m creating to lift and inform at the moment because it just feels like the right thing to do. I’m also taking some time to assess and restructure so I can focus more on editorial and other book work. I LOVE baseball and will never tire of it, but it’s not the only thing I’m interested in or want to illustrate or write about. I really enjoyed an editorial project I just did for FiveThirtyEight – they had me draw each of the presidential and vice presidential debates. I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did!
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
I am very interested and intrigued by the history of the Negro Leagues ––particularly of the women of the Negro Leagues. Not just the players, but owners and managers whose names are largely unknown. I’m really excited about a new biography of Effa Manley, coming out in January by Andrea Williams––particularly because it is LONG overdue for a Black woman to tell Effa’s story. There are a few books about Effa, all written by older white men.
Getting stories out into the world and making them known is so important, but we have to ask ourselves who should be telling them and think critically about who is telling them. Not because it’s politically correct, but because a story is inherently different depending on who is telling it, and the best stories are authentic stories, stories the author identifies with and is invested in.
There are so many wonderful stories in the history of the Yankees. Personally, I have always been intrigued by Billy Martin, Casey Stengel and Lou Gehrig, to name a few. Coming from San Francisco, though, I’ve always been thoroughly intrigued by Joe DiMaggio. I just feel like his ghost is everywhere in the old haunts on Fisherman’s Wharf, in North Beach and where the old Seals Stadium used to be.
I would also LOVE to read more or see more told about Jackie Mitchell, the young woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during an exhibition game in Chattanooga.
There is a great picture book, Mighty Jackie, that I read to the students in my school every year. I love sharing the story of Jackie Mitchell.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
Wow! Well….there are so many I’ve seen in historical footage and in baseball writing. Willie Mays will always be my number one, and I never saw the man play.
But as far as players I’ve seen with my own eyes…as a Giants fan, I feel so lucky to have been a fan and living in the bay in 2010. That team was, for lack of a better word, magic. I saw Barry Bonds hit ball after ball into the water in McCovey Cove, but I never thought, “wow….there goes Barry Bonds, the best there ever was”.
I think the two figures in baseball I’ve seen play quite a bit that I feel that way about are Bruce Bochy and Tim Lincecum. Bochy perhaps for different reasons, but there’s an emotional draw to both of them.
Tim was a lightning rod – it was like the finger of God touched Lincecum for a few years, he was just something to behold. But he was also a kid! Humble, introverted, a lover of the game. The fact that he all but disappeared after that run somehow makes him even more legendary and beloved. I feel lucky I got to watch Timmy pitch.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Who was your favorite player?
Growing up? Ohhh, boy. I loved Will Clark and Matt Williams. Weirdly enough, I really liked Darryl Strawberry, but that’s probably because my 6th grade teacher loved him (she was a huge Dodgers fan) and I loved her.
What is your most prized collectible?
I’m going to assume this is different than most prized possession, because that would be totally different!
Collectible is a toss up between my small but deeply personal collection of signed baseballs (Willie Mays, Bruce Bochy, Vida Blue & JT Snow) & bat (Orlando Cepeda) and my original production drawing of King Hubert from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Right before I began junior high, a guy opened an animation art gallery/retail story directly between my school and home. My parents had just separated, so bless his heart, he let me hang out there EVERY DAY after school. I used those cels and drawings to really learn how to draw, myself – I’d sit and copy them. The cels were highly collectible and astronomically priced (for a kid, anyway), but he got some original Sleeping Beauty animation drawings in one day – what they used trace on celluloid. He let me put one on layaway. All of my birthday money, Christmas money, lemonade stand money–all of it went toward King Hubert for about 2 years until I finally took him home. I still have him!
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
This is harder than picking a favorite AAGPBL player! It’s actually impossible. Of course, the Beatles. But I love Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Soul– specifically from the early 50s through 60s. I also really love hip hop from the 90s & early 2000s, like The Roots, Tribe Called Quest, etc.
My dad is a musician and singer/songwriter, I really love his music. I’m also a big fan of the JD McPherson band. Disclaimer: my boyfriend plays in the band, but truth be told, I was a fan before we met. No gimmicks or trying too hard to sound “retro”. Whatever that warm sound is that you can’t help moving to, they’ve nailed it. But they’re also fresh. It’s a real shame live music is on hold for the foreseeable future, they consistently put on one of the best live shows out there.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
These questions are so hard!! Ha!
Favorite food, hands down: sushi. Best sushi restaurant: Kirala in Berkeley.
I LOVE pizza. Best pizza I’ve ever had was in Carrara, Italy. But my favorite stateside pizza (not including Chicago deep dish in Chicago) is the clam pizza from Golden Boy in North Beach, San Francisco. I absolutely love New York City, I’ve spent a lot of time there and I KNOW there’s a to-die-for NY slice out there, I just haven’t had it yet.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
I’m just tremendously grateful I get to draw and write and that people are actually interested in looking at what I draw and reading what I write. I can’t imagine a career being any better than that.
Thank you so very much Anika. This was great. Keep up the great work. The next time you and your boyfriend are in the New York area, please look me up. I’ll take you both out for some great pizza.