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‘Simpsons’ animator learned art of taking a chance

From Chelmsford to RISD, LA, ‘Simpsons,’ now a picture book

John “J.R.” Krause and his wife, Maria Chua, with their first children’s book, published last month. Krause came to children’s books through “The Simpsons” and graphic design.

John “J.R.” Krause and his wife, Maria Chua, with their first children’s book, published last month. Krause came to children’s books through “The Simpsons” and graphic design.

Spending his days with “The Simpsons,” immersed in Homer and Bart’s parody land of Springfield, award-winning animator and designer John “J.R.” Krause has developed a unique artistic view of the cartoon world.

The Chelmsford native, who designs props for the hit television series, took a turn in his career — shifting from animation to children’s stories — publishing his first book, “Poco Loco,” which hit stores April 30.

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Teaming up with his wife, Maria Chua, Krause created a wacky bilingual picture book. The story, geared toward children ages 3 to 7, tells a tale of an inventive and quirky waffle-eating mouse named Poco Loco who saves the day using one of his exotic inventions. The art, which was drawn out by hand before being transferred to a computer, consists of vibrant and zany illustrations.

“Animation is all about storytelling, acting, expression, establishment of characters, and all of that stuff that are aspects of creating a picture,” Krause says.

The images in “Poco Loco” are combined with bits of Spanish terminology, inspired by Krause’s daughters, now 5 and 7, who attend a language immersion program. The family of four takes weekly trips to the library and, Krause admits, a majority of his own education in children’s books has come from reading to his girls.

“Having kids was an education in picture books, [seeing] just how a child looks at it and discovers it and the whole collaborative thing of getting through a picture book,” he said.

Krause started his artistic endeavors at a young age, according to his mother, Betty Krause.

“He drew us this picture when he was 2 and said it was his daddy and him,” she said. “People always said he had talent along the way. In first grade, I took him to McDonald’s, his art teacher was there, and, even then, they told me he had a gift.”

Krause said he gravitated toward art teachers and classes, expanding his knowledge and skills right up through Chelmsford High. He enrolled in a number of summer courses and advanced classes and credits two teachers, Eric Hoover and Paula Brown, as his inspiration.

“John in particular wanted to become an artist. He and a number of his peers were so interested in art that you couldn’t teach them enough stuff,” said Hoover, a computer graphics art teacher at Chelmsford High who has been teaching for over 30 years. “One of my jobs was to convince him that if you’re good enough and you love it enough, you can make a living in the artistic field.”

That encouragement pushed Krause to enroll at Rhode Island School of Design, from which he graduated in 1990 with a degree in illustration.

“My career was through their guidance,” Krause said. “They helped me apply to art school, put together a portfolio, and ultimately got me on the path to where I am today.”

Krause admitted that jobs in his field were hard to come by. A friend and fellow illustrator got a job on “The Simpsons,” encouraged Krause to leave Massachusetts behind and take his shot in Los Angeles.

“The show exploded in the ’90s and there wasn’t a lot of staff in the field,” said Krause. “I went there, got into the show, and became a prop designer.”

Krause’s main work on “The Simpsons” consisted of designing and creating backgrounds and “anything that was not a character.”

“This show was unique because it has a lot of logos and details,” he said.

He said he typically worked on 12 episodes at a time in varying stages of production.

After working on the show for six seasons, Krause was ready to move on. Maintaining his position as a supervising props designer for “The Simpsons,” he joined different shows, including “King of the Hill” and “Futurama,” where he assisted in the majority of development and designed the “Planet Express” spaceship.

Krause also went into graphic design, working for top design firms including Evenson Design Group, which was responsible for, among other logos, the New England Patriots’. While working for Evenson, Krause put together a holiday promotion, which he credits as a jumping-off point for his picture book interests.

“[The promotion] was kind of a picture book spoof which we mailed out to clients,” he said. “While researching, I looked at a lot of children’s books and it was really inspiring — beautiful works of art.”

From there, Krause started his pursuit, submitting manuscripts for proposals. Amazon Children’s Publishing picked up the book and recently confirmed a second “Poco Loco” book will be published soon.

Before they became parents, Krause and Chua made an effort to travel, visiting India and Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Now he encourages their daughters to read and learn and try new activities around Los Angeles as a family. Referring to his exotic tastes for jellyfish and bitter melons, Krause says he promotes a little eccentricity to develop creative skills that could lead to new opportunities.

“Just be open to possibilities, try new things, and get out of your comfort zone,” he said. “My willingness to give Los Angeles a try without having been there led to a whole new life for me. You never know unless you try.”

Katy Rushlau can be reached at katherine.rushlau@globe.com.
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