Monday, January 3, 2011

Michigander Monday: Mark Newman

Our first Michigander Monday profile of the year is a remarkable one.  I'm very honored to have Mark Newman here today to tell us more about his and Mark Heckman's book and the story behind it.

Debbie:  Mark, tell us a little about yourself.

Mark:  I’m a writer and photojournalist with extensive credits in the field of newspapers and magazines. My expertise is in the area of sports and music. During my career, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a lot of famous people, everyone from sports figures (Magic Johnson, Bo Schembechler, Sparky Anderson) to film and TV personalities (Robin Williams, Ted Turner, Mister Rogers) to musicians (Ray Charles, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, U2, Ozzy Osbourne) to fellow writers (Ray Bradbury and James Michener). I spent several years at The Grand Rapids Press after earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University. For the past 15 years, I’ve been the editor of Griffiti, the official magazine of the Grand Rapids Griffins (the minor league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings) and I’ve served as the team photographer of the West Michigan Whitecaps (the Class-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) for the past eight seasons. Every day I wear a different hat, it seems. I also stay busy as a communications specialist for a couple of Michigan-based automotive suppliers.

Debbie:  Please tell us about your book.

MarkSooper Yooper is the story of environmental superhero Billy Cooper, who does everything in his power to safeguard the Great Lakes from his headquarters in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The book was illustrated by artist Mark Heckman, who was my closest friend and battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma until his death in May 2010. Mark was ill during almost the entire creative process of the book, which was inspired in part by his work with philanthropist Peter Wege (an ardent supporter of green issues who makes a guest appearance in the book as the character known as The Wedge). It’s a picture book designed primarily for third to fifth graders, but it’s written to appeal to adults as well as kids. I’ll admit that it has its share of puns. In short, it’s a breezy, entertaining look at a serious subject – the threat of invasive species. In the past century, more than 180 alien species have found their way into the Great Lakes ecosystem, disrupting nature’s delicate balance. We need to remain vigilant to the dangers on our doorstep.

Debbie:  Do you have other children's books on the horizon?

Mark:  Before his death, Mark and I talked about doing at least two other children’s books, which his wife Diane and I plan to bring to life. One is about the environment and the other will be cancer-related. We’re hoping to find a young artist who might be able to capture Mark’s spirit and style. In addition, I’m working on a non-fiction book that will showcase Mark’s artwork and the many unusual projects that we did together. It will be a treatise of sorts on the art of collaboration, and I’ll be developing an educational program based on the book with the goal of encouraging more creativity in schools. I think it has huge potential.

Debbie:  Do you have upcoming appearances?

Mark:  In conjunction with the book, I developed an hour-long interactive roadshow that Diane and I have been taking to schools since October. It’s sort of a show-and-tell presentation that details the story of the Great Lakes and the hidden dangers of sea lamprey, zebra mussels, Asian carp and other invasive species. There is no cost to the schools, thanks to the support of the Wege Foundation. In less than three months, we have spoken to more than 5,700 students and the response has been overwhelming. People love the book, but the school program has really taken on a life of its own. We’re continually getting invitations to visit schools and I expect that we will have a full schedule of appearances throughout the Great Lakes region for at least a couple of years. If anyone is interested in learning more about the program and/or booking an appearance, they can visit our website at and click on the Contact Us link.

Debbie:  Your favorite place in Michigan?

Mark:  Well, everybody should cross Mackinac Bridge and people should make a point of seeing Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or Tahquamenon Falls in the U.P. If you’re a hockey fan, you have to go to Joe Louis Arena, and there’s nothing like a fall football game in Spartan Stadium or Michigan Stadium (The Big House). I’m a huge record collector, so I should plug Vertigo Music in Grand Rapids, Flat, Black and Circular in East Lansing and Encore Recordings in Ann Arbor, three great music stores. Vinyl, you know, is making a comeback. A lot of young adults, after inheriting their parents’ LPs, are discovering the joys of 12” records and turntables.

Debbie:  Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Mark:  It’s hard to pick just one. I’m a big fan of ArtPrize, which celebrates creativity and encourages conversations about art. The whole city of Grand Rapids has embraced the event, which has become this phenomenal success story in just two short years. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is cool, too. And I love Opening Day of the baseball season, although I haven’t been to one since the Tigers moved to Comerica Park.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Mark:  Here’s something most people don’t know. Lake Michigan wasn’t always known as such. The early settlers called it “the Lake of the Stinking Water.” Legend has it that the less-than-flattering name came from explorers who caught a whiff of the strong sulfur smell of Green Bay and surmised that the whole lake must stink. Fortunately, the Algonquin tribe had a better name. They called it Michigami, meaning “great water.”

Debbie:  One last question:  some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Mark:  I’m going to take my clue from the residents of the Upper Peninsula. They prefer to think of themselves as Yoopers instead. Since I live under the bridge, I guess that makes me a troll.

Debbie:  Mark, we'll add you to the troll column!  Thank you so very much for being here today.  I hope everyone reading this interview will stop by the Sooper Yooper site to learn even more.


Lori said...

What a great interview :)
I'll definitely check out Sooper Yooper!

Julie Hedlund said...

These posts make me seriously homesick for Michigan. Too bad the Spartans and Wolverines engaged in a "who stinks the most" contest on New Year's Day. :-(