B is for Baller: Q&A with Illustrator Matthew Shipley

Writer James Littlejohn and illustrator Matthew Shipley’s upcoming B is for Baller: The Basketball Alphabet Book for Kids is something both adults and small children can enjoy – like Pixar and ‘90s Nickelodeon cartons. It features great illustrations and basketball history in an earnest attempt to teach the alphabet to kids.

I mean, who wouldn’t be excited about their ABC’s when Allen Iverson, Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain are featured?

The book, which is being self-published, has already generated over $15,000 in donations on Kickstarter and is set to be released in early September.

Shipley, from Moorestown New Jersey, but based out of North Carolina, took some time to talk with PopGates about the project:

Noah Perkins: What exactly is B is for Baller and how did the project come about?

Matthew Shipley: This all started with James – he had this idea. He has a son; he’s a huge basketball fan, so he started writing this book.

He and I went to the same college, but we had never met each other in person. But we knew some of the same people. He saw my work online – my illustrations – He contacted me with this idea, asked if I was interested. I’m a big sports guy – I thought it was an awesome project. From there we had to figure out how to do it; if we wanted to do it through Kickstarter.

NP: You said you were a big sports guy, what has been your relationship with basketball throughout your life?

MS: I’ve played for a longtime – I still try and play once a week – depending on how my knee’s feeling. I grew up a ‘6ers fan. Allen Iverson has been my favorite player for a long time.

NP: Why a ‘6ers and not a Nets fan?

MS: The majority of South Jersey is all Philadelphia fans. North Jersey is more New York or New Jersey teams. It’s kind of weird, but, that’s how it is.

NP: The Kickstarter was over $12,000 when I last checked – what’s your reaction to how well, or how into the project people seem to be?

MS: We had high expectations, but we definitely didn’t expect it to take off like it did. James and I had lots of back and forth about what we should make our initial goal. Knowing what we do know, maybe we would have done some things different – maybe had some of the goals higher. But, we are really happy with how it’s done. I have friends who have done Kickstarter and they ask me ‘what did you guys do?’ I think we just have a really cool product. Basketball is probably a big part of it too. Hopefully my illustrations have helped as well.

NP: How did you decide what players to include – and how did you conceptualize what to illustrate?

MS: James initially had the book written; there’s been some changes that we’ve made. We had to change some players and adjust some of the letters. There’s a good mixture with the letters of basketball terms and players’ names or nicknames.

I try to be as creative as possible and capture some cool compositions. I try to figure out a way to tie the word with the letter.

NP: Did you have a favorite person to illustrate?

MS:  The illustrations aren’t finished yet. I don’t know if I can choose, but, like I said, Allen Iverson is my favorite player. If that illustration doesn’t end up being my favorite I’ve messed up somewhere.

NP: I know you are self-publishing, how does somebody get the book, and when is it going to be available?

MS: Right now the Kickstarter is driving everything. The better the Kickstarter does the more we will be able to do after. Right now, the plan is having the books done and ready to ship in September. We are still trying to figure out some of the logistics, especially since it has blown up and done so well.

NP: How would you compare pick-up basketball in North Carolina to pick-up ball in New Jersey?

MS:  People in North Carolina are nicer.

Noah Perkins
Noah has had articles published by a variety of publications including The Bangor Daily News; The NENPA Bulletin; and Monthly Basketball (Japan). His column ‘Heaven is a Playground’ has been featured on ESPN Radio. Noah was also called a "thirst troll" by Tom Arnold once.