Sunday, 29 September 2013

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

defending the ending

The Selfish Giant has been out for a little while now and hasn't attracted all that much attention yet.  One thing that has been causing some controversy is my decision to cut the original ending.  I thought it would be worth my explaining that decision here as it wasn't taken lightly!
To begin with it is worth remembering that this story has been around in an unabridged form for well over a hundred years and no-one is taking that version away; this is just a new interpretation.   My reasons for omitting the original ending were these:

My primary reason was that I thought that there was only really room for one narrative arc to be told comfortably in this 32 page picture book format.  Even without the ending I found I had to leave out several spreads I would have liked to include were there more room.  The story of the Giant's quest to find the boy again, of the boy's eventual return and the Giant's death and ascent to Paradise felt like a whole new tale and I thought it would have needed many more pages to do it justice.

Secondly, my abridgement and illustration of this story focuses on the character of the Giant.   I feel his journey toward redemption is complete when he gives up his garden to the children.  It seems to me that being able to share the garden is a reward in itself and he doesn't need the further reward of Paradise later on.  In fact it has always bothered me that it is possible to see right action in this life as merely an investment in hope of getting something back in the future. 

Last and least, I am not a Christian and I found the explicitly Christian nature of the original ending made it more difficult for me to understand what is in fact an excellent text on one of the great strengths of Christian morality, namely faith in the possibility of redemption. I feel that this is a story that has relevance to all faiths as well as to no faith at all.  It is about death and rebirth, about empathy and love, prejudice and fear, about holding on and letting go and about learning to trust in one another.  I feel that those are themes which have meaning for all of us and are not the exclusive province of a single doctrine.

pitching a punch

I think Mr Punch is ready for a pitch.  Am visiting Walker tomorrow so I will see what they think.  It is an exciting stage to reach; this story has been rattling around in my head since 2003!

Here's a page from my sketchbook in 2005... still wrestling with it two years on:

These things sure can take a while.  Why can't we have six more hours every day and at least fifty more years to live?  I'm not going to have time to finish half the things I want to make at this rate!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

form follows function

I went to see the Punchdrunk production, The Drowned Man today.  It is a truly spectacular show and well worth seeing if you happen to be in London, especially if you have never been to a Punchdrunk performance before.  I used to work for them when they were starting out and still willing to use enthusiastic amateurs!

The format of the show is similar to that of past productions in that there is a central narrative, this time loosely adapted from Woyzeck (several different Shakespeare plays and an Edgar Allen Poe short story, The Masque of the Red Death, have been the bases of previous pieces).  This narrative then unfolds in a large space, a warehouse, office or industrial building, with different scenes being blocked into different areas of that building.  You are free to travel wherever you like.  The actors tend to be on set throughout.  You can follow one character, watching them whether they are performing with other members of the cast or not; you can hop from character to character or you can just explore the space, watching performers if and when they appear.  All the audience are masked and asked to remain completely silent.  The result is an experience by turns liberating, empowering, thrilling and  terrifying.  As I say, it is something to behold.

Now, having been to quite a few Punchdrunk shows before, I started to wonder about the use of narrative in this way and its aptness to the form.  One criticism that people have leveled at them in the past is that it can be mighty hard to follow what the heck is going on when you might be three floors away for all the key scenes.   That is part of the rationale behind using the kinds of stories mentioned above.  The idea is that if you are already familiar with the shape of the story you will know where you are in it and who you are watching, even if you haven't seen what came before and are going to miss what comes after.  Another way they have tried to tackle this problem is to loop the narrative several times within a performance.  That way you could follow say, Romeo one loop, Juliet another and hang out with the priest for the third.
These solutions are undoubtedly a help but they don't really confront the underlying issue, which is that those narratives were written for a different form.  They have to be heavily adapted and tweaked in order to fit.  I would like to see a play that was actually designed from the outset to be shown in this way.  The concept of repetition inherent in the loop structure could be made an integral part of the narrative as in myth of Sisyphus, for example.  Or perhaps the production could create a place for us to visit that was the story, a prison, for example, or the circles of hell or a labyrinthine bureaucracy... audience members could be given a form at the entrance and then sent from pillar to post for the rest of the show like the scenes in Brazil or the Twelve Tasks of Asterix ^-^

All forms of storytelling have different patterns that fit them best and these tend to be the ones that make use of the properties of that form. In picturebooks, for example, the structure of the book as an object lends itself to a linear narrative with a distinct beginning and end punctuated with points of suspense related to the turning of the pages...  I know that Punchdrunk are far from being the only company using installation theatre to tell stories but it will be really interesting following them over the coming years.  I hope in time they will give us some stories that couldn't be told any other way.

Christmas penguin

Here's a design for the Galapagos Conservation Trust Christmas card.  They wanted it with a penguin to go with their penguin appeal... and only ever so slightly Festive ^-^

... I just realised why that would be.  Can't imagine the religious iconography sells too well to all the Darwinists and Atheists who support GCT.  And winter scenes don't really work on the equator either.

House of Illustration fundraiser

I have donated my cover artwork for Five Children and It to the House of Illustration for their fundraising event.  You can bid on it in a silent auction on their website if you like!

Friday, 20 September 2013

inspiraton v perspiration, the eternal conflict!

  I went to an event for trainee teachers at Oxford Brookes yesterday.  S F Said spoke after me and gave a really great talk.  He is a very engaging speaker, which isn't always the case with authors and illustrators as we spend the majority of our time locked in dark rooms stooped over some tiny document or gazing, square-eyed into the computer screen.
  One thing he talked about in particular was the notion of inspiration in making stories.  He said he wrote his first full novel in his early twenties, powering through in the 'white heat of creation', and finished it in two months.  Convinced he was a literary genius, he sent the text to publishers straight away... only to find they didn't agree.  He got first one rejection, then another but was undeterred and kept on sending it out to everyone he could find until the manuscript had been rejected forty times!  Then he decided that he was simply misunderstood and would try again with a second book.  This one he finished in a month, further evidence of his God given gifts.  He sent the story out straight away... and was rejected again... another forty times!  His pain threshold is way higher than mine.  I usually give up and go sulk in a corner after about three rejections.  Anyway, at this point most sane people would give the whole thing up as a bad job.  But he didn't.   He began to study the craft of writing, looking in particular at any material he could find by the people he most admired and aspired to emulate.  There was one word that came up all the time that he hadn't really considered before.  The word was draft.

S F Said at Oxford Brookes

  Anyway, I won't spoil the rest of what he said in case any of you get the chance to go and hear him talk.  The point is that our concept of inspiration can be very unhelpful.  I spent a number of years waiting for divine brilliance to leap into my hands and never got a fraction closer to where I wanted to be as an illustrator or a writer.  Perhaps for some people it works that way but since I turned eighteen I've had to drag myself forward by doing as much homework as I possibly can.  Things almost never turn out right first time.  In fact, despite my best efforts, most of my life is spent drawing stuff I've drawn before or writing stuff I've written before, trying to get it to that point, always just out of reach, where I imagined it could be.  

Monday, 16 September 2013


Sorry for the radio silence of late.  I have been wracking my brains trying to solve the Mr Punch story.  Mr Punch is tricky because he is hilarious to write for and to draw but he is a family annihilator, which, lets face it, is one of the most despicable things it is possible to be.
As with many of my stories, the theme of this one is that of finding your true family and forging the bonds of family irrespective of the ties of blood.  The fact that Punch killed his last family puts a pretty epic damper on that theme.  I knew that at the very least Punch would have to suffer colossally for the story to be able to end happily but even so I still couldn't make it work.  The problem was that I thought Punch needed to reform to make a satisfying ending.  I had a talk with Viv about it and she pointed out that Punch was highly unlikely to reform... ever.
Today I think I finally worked it out.   First off I just couldn't have Judy and Punch's Baby be dead, so they make an appearance.  As does indeed happen in the world of Mr Punch, it is suggested that he has killed them many times, but being eternal beings (like Mr Punch himself), they just keep coming back.  Secondly both Judy and the Baby are totally rancid people... just like Mr Punch.  The last piece came when I realised that if Punch was incapable of change then he would need to find someone who liked him exactly the way he was.
The story has pretty much written itself now.  It has all the set pieces and plot points in place, a  beginning a middle and an end and several fully scripted scenes... now I will polish it up and see if anyone wants to buy it ^-^

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Morstrum Toad

It is my one hundredth post already.  How time flies... Here's something a bit different by way of celebration.

People who visited my old website might have seen pictures of a toad called Morstrum there.  This is the beginning of the story he comes from.  It fits into the world of the villagers mentioned in my post, story number one, along with the Priest's and the Herder's stories in Loaf magazine and the Sea Captain's story on Soundcloud (see the link in the sidebar).


  All was not well.

  Morstrum sat alone in his evening chair, as close as he dared to the fire.  He liked the light and wanted to be near it.  He profoundly disliked the other bit, the searing, crisping heat of it.  There were ancestors of his, not so very far removed, who had been toads.  He had a horror of drying his skin out.
  Above the fire a little pan of worms bubbled away.  Morstrum kept getting up to check they were not burning.
  Outside, all around was an enormous forest, the Great Mizzle, dense and dark and damp.  He couldn't get it out of his mind, thousands upon thousands of trees on his doorstep.  It was a world he didn't know, he realised, though he had been there many times before.  During the day the green of it was so intense that it seemed to dwell in the air itself.  It wasn't the same at night.
  Morstrum sat alone.  His possessions sat with him.  They were the things he had been close to, every night, for all of his life.  Tonight they brought him no comfort.  Mostly, they were in boxes.  A strange collection of new feelings was building up inside him.  It was the first time he had moved house.  He had not known until now, for instance, that he was afraid of the dark.  Though, in truth, the darkness seemed different here.  It was a Mizzle-dark.  Time passed slowly in its company.  Last night, Morstrum had gone to bed in his house in the village, blown out the candle and never given it a second thought.  Tonight, he had imaginings.  He had an imagination.  That was a disturbing thing to discover at his stage of life.

  The forest was, at one and the same time, so very alive and so empty.  He had thought it was what he wanted.  Already he began to have doubts.

 The chance to make the move had come quickly, in the matter of a month.  For years he had been tied to his home by the need to look after his brother, Grogan.  One by one he watched his friends grow up and leave the village.  But Morstrum would not leave.  Morstrum cared for his brother; he cooked; he cleaned; he had done so since before their parents died.  Despite all his efforts though, Grogan did not get better.  There was a time when Morstrum read everything he could find on the subject of health and disease but he found neither cause nor cure.  Whatever the sickness was, it was chronic.  It would not let them go.
  Eventually, one or two of the villagers took to seeking Morstrum's advice when they themselves felt ill.  As best as he could, he helped them.  There was talk of a doctor, a real doctor, who lived far away beyond the Great Mizzle, but no-one was about to make that journey with Morstrum on their doorstep.  And he embraced it.  He set himself up in business.  One afternoon he and Grogan painted a sign.  Beneath an image of a toad, deep in thought, it read simply, 'Morstrum, Doctor'.  They hung it above their door.
  Thenceforth, Morstrum's Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays were taken up with the ills of the village, notwithstanding the occasional emergency.  On Saturday he marketed; on Monday he did the housework.  Thus ran his routine.  His favourite day of all the week was Sunday, for every Sunday he and Grogan (health permitting) would don their tweed, outdoor jackets and embark for the Great Mizzle.  Once there they would gather the roots and lichens and mosses that Morstrum used in his cures.  They would also look out for mushrooms and worms and tasty things for their dinner.  Most of all though, they would stretch their legs and breathe the close, damp air.  It was wonderful.  Morstrum felt like a timeless and ancient thing, a simple toad of the forest.
  When the gathering was done, the two of them would wind their way home along the track, deeply soggy and contented.  That was when they passed the hut.  It belonged to a wizened old tree root of a creature.  Everyone called her the old Stoll.  Goodness knows what her name actually was.  She had known Morstrum and Grogan since their earliest days on this world.  She was kind to them.  If she saw them passing by she would call them in and they spent countless happy afternoons in the hut, drinking weird tea, listening to stories from long ago and drying out... just a little.

Then, one day, Grogan died.

At a stroke the rhyme and the reason drained from Mortstrum's life.  What kind of a doctor was he that he had not seen this coming?  He struggled on with his routine for a little while.  It couldn't last.  All of the familiar things had become tortures.  It was all so far away, he thought.  He couldn't touch it.  It wasn't real.  Morstrum took down the sign and locked his door and didn't talk.  He got so desperate that he took to gulping down his own medicines.  As far as he could tell, they had no effect.  This only served to depress him further.  For perhaps a month he lived like this.  Then, one night he woke up and he knew that if he didn't leave that house at once, there would be no more Morstrum.  The very next day he found out the news: The old Stoll was gone from her hut.

  It was Mortstrum's hut now.  In the circle of firelight he could see himself (his hands, his feet, his belly) and his packed up possessions and that was all.  They were the things he was used to.  He tried hard not to think about the other things, the things he couldn't see.  The worms bubbled on.  Morstrum got up to check on them.  The old Stoll's hut was far bigger than he remembered.  It had more than its fair share of corners.  The main room where he now sat was large in itself.  The firelight couldn't fill it.  There were other rooms though: there was the little hallway with a place to rest your stick and hang your coat; there was the bedroom; there was a room he expected he would use as a library; there was a too-big room for bathing and washing your clothes; there was a pantry; there was also another little room, a room he had no idea what he would do with.  He peered into the pan.  There were the worms, perfectly pallid and unspoiled.  What was that smell then?  Probably just his imagination.  He would have to get used to that.  
  The floor of the hut was laid with many wooden boards.  There was barely a gap between them. The boards were a pleasing sandy colour that gave the hut a cheerful look by day.  The firelight suited them too.  They were happy boards...  It wasn't really a hut at all, he thought.  He suspected that bungalow was the proper word, though it didn't sound so romantic.  Tasty worms, evening chair, all his possessions around him.  Things were good, weren't they? 

There was a knock at the door.

Morstrum froze.  His insides misbehaved.  He had a sudden sickening sense of himself on show, the only light thing in a world of darkness.  Sincerely, he wished that he had put up curtains.

The knock repeated.

"Yes?" Morstrum called. "Who's there?"
There was no answer.  Morstrum found that he was very afraid.
"Who's there?" He called again.
One of these boxes had a blunderbuss in it.  Should he get it?  He didn't remember which one it was in.  He imagined the view he would give the outside world as he scrabbled about trying to find it.  He picked up the poker instead.

"Who's there?" he called and louder.  He thought he heard footsteps outside the front door.  Morstrum's heart began to hurt him.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he backed away towards the nothing room.  It was dark in there.  It overlooked the veranda.  As quietly as he could, he closed the door and stole up to the window.  At first all he could see were the black shapes of tree tops against the sky.  Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he thought he could make something out among the plant stems in the garden.  Something was moving.  Something, a little form, was flitting to and fro.  It was dancing.  Was it dancing?  It skipped and twirled and ran about in the most particular way.  Sometimes it would freeze stock still or drop down to the ground, only to burst into frantic life a moment later. Now Morstrum became aware of a second shape.  This one was drawing closer.  Morstrum stepped back and gripped the poker yet more tightly.  As he watched, it stepped into the pool of firelight.
  It was a child!  It was a child far from any that he had ever seen, made from a stuff he did not know.  Its hair played about with the wind. In the flickering light, the little eyes shone.  As it came near it seemed half flying, so lightly did it tread.
  The forest!  It was the spirit of the forest come to life!  All the old Stoll's stories came flooding back to him.  So, the stories were true, he thought.
  Morstrum pressed his face to the glass and strained his eyes to see.  It was on the veranda now, peering in at the room where he had been.
  All at once there was another face an inch away from his.  Morstrum yelped and leaped back in surprise.  He tripped and hit himself in the head with the poker.  In an instant he was up again but the face was gone.  He peered out but the two little shapes were nowhere to be seen.  Morstrum rushed around, upsetting several boxes of ornaments in his haste.  He threw open the front door.  The blackness yawned before him.  From far away in the forest he heard the sound of laughter, growing fainter all the time.




Saturday, 7 September 2013

the world is your oyster or candlestick or hat or whatever

Observational drawing is good for you, right?  I certainly think so.  I have never been much into sitting in front of something for hours on end and trying to make an exact duplicate of it though.  We have cameras for that.  There are loads of things that you can do with a drawing that you can't do with a camera.  One of the most useful is the power you have to recombine elements you have observed into entirely new arrangements.  I use this all the time when drawing moving subjects like people or animals.  They are almost always going too fast to get as much information as I would like so I have a couple of tricks for collaging several together. If the subject is say, a cat, it might well be moving constantly but it will also be repeatedly hitting the same sorts of pose or taking the same sequence of steps.  If you have a few drawings on the go at once you can wait for each pose to come around in turn and work on the related drawing when it does.  With people, I often like to draw them in segments, taking a posture from one subject, a hairdo from another, shoes from a third etc.  This has the added bonus of making the people you ultimately draw unrecognisable should any of the subjects happen to see your sketchbook.  It also means you don't have to gaze intently at one poor fellow for hours on end.  Knowing you are being drawn is like having the sensation you get when someone is taking your photo stretched out over half an hour.
Another way you can use this idea of collage is one I have been using a lot lately.  I will go to a location full of interesting stuff or stuff that is likely to be relevant to what I am trying to draw.  For example, next week I have to make up some robots so I will go to the Science Museum.  When I am on site I will continue to work on my subject just as I would if I were in my studio at home but every time I get stuck for an idea, for a shape, for a decoration or a mechanical element, say, I will look about and take the first thing that seems to fit and draw that.
Here are two images for the Bell X1 album booklet that were drawn this way in the Horniman Museum:

I wanted to make a picture of a family begging in a doorway.  The characters are all derived from a stuffed elephant shrew they had in the collection.  For some reason I thought that would be just the thing.  The doorway is taken from one of the doors there and I made up the dress.

You might recognise this one as I've posted it before... they even made a t-shirt out of it ^-^!  This is much more of a hotch potch and I can't really remember where I got all the pieces but I can remember the sequence they came in.  I began by sketching the shape of a carousel from my imagination, then I filled it up with as many characters, creatures and textiles as I could find to fit in their main gallery downstairs.   I began by filling the roof of the carousel and the main source for that was this giant Ijele mask they have there...

Anyway, if you ever get stuck for stuff to draw or bored with slavishly sticking to exactly what you see in front of you, give this a try!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Jim's Lion - early concept drawings

When I first got offered the chance to do Jim's Lion I knew that I was most interested in drawing the dreams that Jim had in hospital.  I thought that there would be space for five dreams in all but only two of them were directly described in the text; the others were either implied or obliquely referred to.  That meant if I wanted to include them I would have to generate a lot of the actual content of the dreams myself. 
I talked a bit about this process in an earlier post but the first thing I did was to draw whatever popped into my head that included a boy, a lion, a hospital and a load of animals...

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

story number two

The second story I am developing is grown from a sequence I made many years ago, where a little boy meets a distraught Mr Punch.  It was on my website for ages so many of you may have seen it already... you can view it here.  I now have a rough version of what happened before that conversation and I've got a pretty good idea of what will come after... just searching for a satisfying ending.

It will definitely feature the policeman and the crocodile from the Mr Punch puppet shows... also Judy but she and the crocodile have sort of become one being:

Here is the rough for the first few pages.  If you click on the first picture you should be able to read it at a comfortable size... Let me know if you read it and want to know what happens next... If not I should probably ditch this one and work on some of the others ^-^!

Monday, 2 September 2013

giant week

The Selfish Giant comes out at the end of the week.  Here are some of the pictures and designs that didn't make it to the published book:

This is the story I was due to illustrate before I had to stop work for a few years.  The giant looked very different back then!  I still really like this design.  Perhaps I can use him in the story I mentioned in the last post.  Actually he looks a bit like the priest from the Loaf comics doesn't he?

Anyway, he didn't end up looking like that.  He has a big beard in the version coming out.  I was inspired by a photo I saw of the minimalist sculptor, Carl Andre, but I have been told he looks like all sorts of people, including me and my dad!  The truth is one balding man with a big beard will tend to look a lot like another balding man with a big beard.  When I saw the picture I thought, 'that's him, that's the Selfish Giant'.  I deliberately didn't look at the Michael Foreman version I had in Primary School in the eighties.  I didn't consider that I might have some deeply buried memory of what that character looked like!  

This isn't the actual photo I saw but it perfectly demonstrates Carl Andre's magnificent beard!

The 1982 version, illustrated by Michael Foreman... I hadn't seen this since second year juniors.  I think the teacher read it to us the day we learned how to work Big Trak, the programmable toy car ^-^

The first thing I drew when restarting  the project was the Giant's gargoyle, a hommage to wonky eyed stone lions the world over.  They are one of my favourite things.  Perhaps I should make a story about them... with similar universe rules to Toy Story... Gargoyle Story!

Here is a picture of the long suffering giant getting buffeted about by the North Wind.  I drew it from a different angle in the end but I still like this one.

 And finally (also somewhat ironically) this is the last Selfish giant picture I drew before putting the whole project on the shelf for six years... I see that I had already ditched the smooth chinned version back then.  Beards just are selfish... perhaps?