FACETIME- Horning in: How Bob started Little Rhino Books
He's worked as a cartoonist in Paris. He once helped modernize Nigeria's postal system. His architecture is award-winning. He has three children's books in print. He's about to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. And he just founded his own publishing company, Little Rhino Books. At 61, artist and architect Bob Anderson embodies the principle, "If you think it, you can do it."
So when did he begin to think it? Anderson says he's drawn since he was four years old– he recalls copying a print his father had of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. He quickly moved on to jungles, though, which became his life-long obsession. "I've made a point of going to rain forests whenever I could," he says.
When he first met the woman who would become his wife in Paris in the early 1970s, they traveled by VW bug overland from France to India (where he had the temerity to reproach Indira Gandhi about jungle conservation). Later, a former architect boss remembered Anderson had always dreamed of going to Africa and offered him an assignment assisting with the redesign of Nigeria's post offices.
Artwork from that trip became the basis for Anderson's first book, Obo (Yoruba for "monkey"), published in 1999. Local publisher Hampton Roads handled the title, but Anderson says he realized he was selling most of the copies. "So I decided to do my second book myself."
Anderson had acquired printing know-how by publishing architectural project reports. Using digital files and a printer in Hong Kong, he had copies of When I was a Little Boy I was a Black Panther in hand before receiving even his first response to queries he'd sent to traditional publishers.
What Anderson did not anticipate were distribution issues. Many bookstores purchase titles only from approved distributors, he explains, and these distributors won't represent a press unless it has at least six books in print. "So our first goal is to have six titles," he says.
Anderson formally founded Little Rhino Books in late 2005 with the release of Africa: A Little Rhino Coloring Book. In addition to publishing his own eco-system series, Anderson wants Little Rhino to showcase work by local artists and authors, like fellow McGuffey Art Center member Russell Richards.
"The thing about Bob and Little Rhino," says Richards, "is all of his books are really well-conceived and look great."
Although Anderson currently devotes four days a week to architecture and three to artwork, beginning in March, he'll spend every day hiking the Appalachian Trail. Packing magic markers and a pad of paper, he anticipates creating a trek-inspired book to raise funds for Little Rhino.
"Once I become focused on something," Anderson says, "it almost takes over and takes on a life of its own."
Bob Anderson's books are available locally at the McGuffey Art Center, the New Dominion Book Shop, and Alakazam. During February, his original drawings for Africa: A Little Rhino Coloring Book are on display at McGuffey.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO