The famous blue cat is gracing Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts and things are about to get a lot cooler. We spoke with James Dean, the creator of “Pete the Cat,” to learn a few things about the cat who wears sunglasses, skateboards and surfs.

The engineer-turned-artist became interested in art at a young age, often painting Snoopy with sunglasses or other cartoons with his father, a self-taught portraitist. He didn’t think he could make art a full-time job, so he decided to become an engineer.

“In 1997 I quit engineering for one year to see if I could make it as an artist,” Dean says. “I was blessed that people liked my artwork and it eventually became my career.”

Dean soon met and rescued a little, black kitten and named him Pete. His cat paintings began to flow – Pete drinking coffee at the table, playing the electric guitar or driving a VW Bus.

“I was already successfully selling landscape paintings at art festivals until I found Pete and decided to paint him,” Dean says. “Pete gets to do things I wish I could do all the time.”

He began selling these paintings in galleries and coffee shops in Athens and Atlanta and the artwork became wildly popular. He says he was approached several times about writing a children’s book and thought it could be a good idea in the future.

One day Dean was stopped at a traffic light (“Pete the Cat” is painted on the side of his car) by Eric Litwin, who said he wrote a song about “Pete the Cat” and wanted to send him a CD. Dean loved the song and decided to make the lyrics the story of the first “Pete the Cat” book, “I Love My White Shoes.”

The pair self-published in 2008, and sold 7,000 copies in the first year before getting a call from HarperCollins Publishers. They soon signed a deal, and Dean and Litwin wrote the first four books together.

‘“I Love My White Shoes” and “Rocking in My School Shoes” blew up,” Dean says. “We would read the books in classrooms and kids would get very involved, that’s when we knew.”

After Litwin and Dean split, Dean began writing “Pete the Cat” books with his wife, Kimberly. They eventually put their heads together and wrote all of the other wildly-successful “Pete the Cat” books.

“Writing a successful children’s book is a difficult process, the best kid’s books are for adults and kids,” Dean says. “Both have to be getting it on some level.”

T-shirts, pajamas, toys, songs and now a puppet show at the Center for Puppetry Arts – “Pete the Cat” is a hit with kids and parents alike.

“It was always a dream of mine to have a puppet show in Atlanta,” Dean says. “I am really happy with the fan excitement I’m receiving with the show. I have never experienced Pete in 3D, so it is going to be a new experience for me.”

Find more information about, Pete the Cat at the Center for Puppetry Arts here.

– Teresa Farkas

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