Abiyoyo Story Arts

Michael's Story

begins with the sparkling sound of Pete's banjo.

Meet Pete...

Music on the family hi-fi

Michael was born June of 1956 in Iowa City where his dad taught American history at the University of Iowa. Pete Seeger's music played on the family hi-fi and Michael's infant ears soaked up the sparkling sound of that banjo, a musical instrument whose origin story goes all the way back to Africa's distant past.

MLK visits University of Iowa history department professors
In a small gathering taking place at a fellow faculty member's home in 1957, Michael's mom and dad met the Reverend Martin Luther King. He visited history departments at many universities to call on their support for his campaign to pass a national civil rights law. When Michael really understood what Pete's civil rights songs were all about, he had been singing along to "If you miss me at the back of the bus..." as long as he could remember.

The University of Pittsburgh
Michael's family moved to Pittsburgh, PA in 1960 when he was 4 years old. The University of Pittsburgh had hired his dad to develop a social history curriculum at Pitt, with an emphasis on labor history. The new discipline of "social history" broadened the field of history beyond just rulers and wars to explore the real life experiences and values of ordinary people through demographic statistical analysis. Michael's dad (Samuel P. Hays) wrote a social history of the early Progressive Era, published in 1957, called Response to Industrialism 1885-1914. Even today college history students read his text. His earlier PhD thesis, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency, told a social history of public lands policy in the Progrssive Era.

A young Friend grows up in Pennsylvania
Michael's parents had met each other at Swarthmore, a Quaker college near Philadelphia, PA. They joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to provide their kids with this unique tradition of religious education. Sunday mornings the family strolled through Mister Rogers neighborhood (Fred Rogers lived near by), past the Tree of Life Synagogue, to arrive at the Friends Meeting House on Shadey Avenue. Friends Meeting provided workshops and training in non-violence. They practiced how you could respond to a bully without hitting back. Quakers helped inspire Dr. King to practice non-violence. MLK invited delegations of historians from across the country to witness his 1965 rally in Montgomery, AL. Michael's father and his colleagues traveled to Alabama to take part in this historic event.

Jack Kirby's Black Panther comic book
Artist Jack Kirby's original Black Panther comic book character

Jack Kirby's super hero art
Michael enjoyed drawing medieval knights and Marvel's new comic book super hero characters. Looking back, it's hard to beleive the artist Jack Kirby created all of these original superhero characters: Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Black Panther. They all first came to life in Jack Kirby's drawings! Perhaps (unconsciously) Michael stole a bit of Jack Kirby's Hulk and Iron Man in his version of Abiyoyo's character. Before graduating from high school Michael enrolled in life drawing and calligraphy at Carnegie Mellon University, whose campus was just a ten minute walk from home.

Rhode Island School of Design
At RISD Michael enrolled in courses exploring many different aspects of design–graphic design, architecture, industrial design, woodworking and illustration. He met students and teachers who were creating wonderful illustrated picture books. His house mate, David Wiesner (Tuesday, The Three Pigs) shared his interest in comics and helped draw his focus to the children's book illustration market. Michael studied with RISD instructors David Macaulay (Cathedral, The Way Things Work) and Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express).

A giant corporation hires Michael.
Just before graduating in 1979 with his RISD Illustration BFA, a recruitment team from General Electric Corporation reviewed Michael's portfolio and interviewed him for a computer graphics job. It just happened to be the 100th anniversary of Edison's invention of light bulb. What a surprise! The corporate headhunters really lit up when they saw a portrait of Thomas Edison gazing at his brilliant invention in Michael's portfolio. GE hired Michael full time to operate a state-of-the-art Genigraphics digital graphics system.


The first sketch of Abiyoyo
Michael produced his first sketches of Abiyoyo on his lunch break in the little office at the back of the computer room in the AV department of GE's corporate sales operation.

first sketches of Abiyoyo

He developed a book proposal for Abiyoyo, sent it to Pete Seeger and they began corresponding with each other. In response to Pete's critiques, Michael developed more sketches of the boy and the giant.

At about this same time Pete Seeger was organizing a movement to get GE to clean up the industrial waste which the company had been pouring into the Hudson River. Perhaps Abiyoyo was actually a giant industrial corporation.

Working in a giant city
Michael began illustrating young adult book jackets for New York publishers and moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1982. Book illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon (From Ashanti to Zulu, Why Misquitoes Buzz in People's Ears) lived only 2 blocks away. Their artwork had caught Michael's eye many years before and he called on them for professional guidance. Leo and Diane helped Michael get down to business as he created his full color Abiyoyo artwork.

Oak Park and Chicago
Michael moved to Oak Park, IL, just west of Chicago, in 1988. He began teaching children’s book illustration at Columbia College Chicago. He eventually moved into Chi-town and set up shop in a big city again. He's lived there ever since, teaching art and design and illustrating many children's books including a sequel to Abiyoyo. When he takes a break from drawing and painting, he loves pounding out a rhythm on his guitar and singing (sometimes really loud).

Meet Pete...

Abiyoyo Story Arts