The illustrator of “Johnny Kaw, A Tall Tale” will be in town Saturday to promote a new children’s-book version of a legend that originated in Manhattan.
Brad Sneed of Prairie Village will be at Manhattan Public Library at 2 p.m. Saturday. He said he had been given a brief history of the original tale while working on illustrating the new book, written by Devin Scillian, but did not research it further.
The tale of Johnny Kaw, a sort of Kansas Paul Bunyan figure, was first written by George Filinger and illustrated by E.J. Tomasch, both Manhattanites and professors at K-State, in time for Manhattan’s centennial celebration. It was published as a series of short stories in The Manhattan Mercury beginning in 1955. The stories told about Johnny’s outrageous exploits: taming tornadoes and making limestone fenceposts out of boulders with a cleaver.
The statue of the mythical man, which now stands in City Park, was erected in 1966.
Sneed said he wanted to stay focused on the writing by Scillian, and he didn’t want to be influenced by the earlier stories or images. He used Scillian’s story as his inspiration for the caricatures of Johnny Kaw in the new book. (Scillian was born at Fort Riley and now lives in Grosse Pointe, Mich.)
“Mostly, I was concerned with the words in front of me,” he said. “I didn’t want to look at any visual references to keep me from being influenced by them.”
Sneed said he was approached by the publisher to illustrate the book, and after reading the manuscript agreed to do it. He said he went through the manuscript several times, refining his own imagination in how he envisioned the local tall tale.
Although Sneed has never lived in Manhattan, he is a native Kansan. He grew up in Newton, about 100 miles southwest of Manhattan, and attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Sneed said he has visited Manhattan several times in the past while promoting other books at the library and local grade schools. He said he has also showed his original work at the Strecker-Nelson Gallery on Poyntz.
He said he looks forward to returning to Manhattan and wants to get a picture standing next to the Johnny Kaw statue in City Park while in town on Saturday.
While he is at the library, he said he plans to have a group discussion about the process of illustrating a book like “Johnny Kaw” and will show images from it.