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"The book made me laugh, and I thought it was fun," the Brigham Young University graduate recalled in a telephone interview from his home in New York City. He said yes, not having any idea whether the series by an unknown author would be a success.
Now, along with Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, he has other requests pouring in, and the soon-to-be first-time father has also begun writing and illustrating his own children's picture books (his first, Roger the Jolly Pirate, came out last year).
"You couldn't ask for a better first gig, that's for sure," said Helquist, who dabbled in art but didn't study it seriously until he was in college. "I liked reading the daily comic strips, and that was my first exposure to art."
He grew up in Orem but fell in love with New York on a school trip and moved there shortly after graduating. He worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for seven years before realizing he had virtually forgotten his dream job -- illustrating books. Only a month after revamping his portfolio, his new agent landed him the Unfortunate Events contract.
The imaginative drawings spring from Helquist's brain and from ideas gathered from professors and fellow artists including N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. "It's a relatively back-and-forth process, but initial ideas, I come up with those first, so I have a lot of control."
But first, he has to read the books. Helquist gets the book manuscript about six months before it's published, and it takes him about two months to do the illustrations. People pry for information about what's happening next in the alliteratively titled series, but he keeps it a secret. "Every year about May, I look forward to the next manuscript. I think I get as involved as the kids do waiting for the next book."%% The Lemony Snicket series of books is gloomy and scary, which is exactly what appeals to kids. The Salt Lake Tribune's Frank Fisher asked several youngsters what they liked about the books: