September 30, 2014

Juno Pilgram: Zeug

"Zeug" means "stuff" in English and is about all the things we accumulate in our apartments. The more stuff we have, the more shelves and cupboards we need to storage all our books (I know this problem), clothes, vases, toys, shoes etc. And what's next? We try to sell all those things at the flea market or on ebay, but it's a lot of hassle to do all the stuff ready for sale and mostly you get very little money for it, right? Imagine your apartment would be empty, how much space you would have!

"Zeug" is written and illustrated by Juno Pilgram and published by Jaja Verlag this month. I like everything about the comic: the intelligent story, the black and white illustrations, the small square format, the layout of the front and back cover. Actually Juno Pilgram has a different prename and works as an editor at the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in Munich, in 2012 she took some time off and studied a trimester at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Read about her experiences here (in German). 

More fine books published by Jaja Verlag here and here

September 23, 2014

Emma Giuiliani: Durch die Blume

This is really a lovely book: "Voir le jour" has originally been published in French by Éditions des Grandes Personnes in 2013 and has now been released by Knesebeck in German. When you first open the leporello all you can see is black and white (except for a tiny ladybug), only by opening the flaps the sun starts shining and the flowers open their coloured petals. The very poetic text is about the different stages of life, the importance of sharing and the value of friendship and love. "Voir le jour" is the first book by Paris-based graphic designer Emma Guiliani.


The Spanish edition ("Ver la luz") has been published by Kókinos.

September 17, 2014

Catarina Sobral: O Meu Avô

I reviewed a book by Madalena Moniz ("Hoje Sinto-Me...") a while ago. "O Meu Avô" (My Grandad) is another novelty published by Orfeu Negro this year. It tells the story of a grandfather, his daily routines and habits and how he spends his time in a very relaxing way. The square format book is brilliantly illustrated (and written) by Portuguese illustrator Catarina Sobral who won the International Award for Illustration at the Bologna Children's Book Fair 2014 for "O Meu Avô ". The jury commended her "clear control of composition ... an ability to transmit profound sentiment with pure lines and primary colours ... references to 1950s graphic traditions interpreted with a contemporary slant".

Two more books by Catarina Sobral: "Achimpa" (2012) and "Greve" (2011).

Take a look at the whole range of renowned authors/illustrators published by Orfeu Negro in Portuguese, like Beatrice Alemagna, Madalena Moniz, Delphine Chedru and some more big names like Oliver Jeffers, Jon Klassen, Benjamin Chaud.

Catarina Sobral: O Meu Avô , Orfeu Mini, €12.00, Orfeu Negro 2014, ISBN 9789898327321


Catarina Sobral also made the wonderful book trailers for Orfeu Negro. I wrote about them before.


September 04, 2014

Interview with Axel Scheffler

Last month I met Axel Scheffler for an interview. The famous illustrator of "The Gruffelo" revealed a lot of details of his way of working and also spoke about the merchandising of his enormously successful children's books together with Julia Donaldson as well as the relaxed attitude of his young daughter towards his many bestsellers. More about the interview and his recent exhibition (along with several more images and the original German version of the interview) can be found here. As you might have noticed I really like those perky squirrels ... 

Mr Scheffler, regarding the immensely high sales of your books – do they mean for you rather more freedom or does the pressure from publishers and readers increase as a result?

AS: There's probably something to it. People realize this is from me, which of course is great on the book market. And when something is successful, the publishers want more of it. I would be in a position where I could say: I want to do something totally different. Actually I often feel like a machine that makes one book after the other, and then they always look quite similar.

Have you ever thought about trying out a different technique or a different style?

AS: All the time, yes! But nothing more happens. I think many illustrators have this wish. Especially since I have done so many books in the same technique I would love to try something else, but somehow it never happens. I do not have the time to give it a try.  In the past I drew a lot in sketch books, which looks different, and also made book covers for friends. But I have less and less time.

How do you work? Which colours do you use?

AS: I use Ecoline water colours, these are liquid inks in small glasses, not light-fast. Then I use different sorts of crayons, a bit of white gouache, and brush and pen. I do the black outlines with another water-insoluble ink and a pen. I paint everything with the coloured ink and brush, then I draw over it with the crayons in order to make the colours more vibrant.

How long does it take in average for you to finish a spread, from the idea to the final drawing?

AS: Top secret (laughs). When everything goes well, I need one day. Sometimes it does not go well, then I have to start again from scratch. It also depends on the number of details on the page. If half of the picture consists just of sky, then things go relatively fast.

Do you edit your drawings on the computer as well?

AS: No, I don’t do that. At least not personally. I can’t do this and I don’t want to be able to do it, because otherwise the publishers would say, do it yourself. Sometimes Photoshop is applied to my stuff, but then the publishing house handles this. Sometimes we have backgrounds like sky added by the computer, or small changes are made using the computer, or a figure is moved. But such things rarely happen.

Do you have a fixed contract which covers one book every year or are there new negotiations after each book?

AS: I don’t have a fixed contract with any publisher. I work now for several publishers in the UK - the reason is that the publisher, Kate Wilson, with whom I was working, has changed the publishing house and I was following her. Anything that has to do with the Gruffalo happens at Macmillan in England where they are constantly thinking up new variations: the Gruffalo for the very young, “Opposites”, or Touch and Feel Books. A pop-up book will be published soon. The books that I do together with Julia Donaldson are published by Scholastic, where we have published a new book every year for a long time. I think the two-year cycle we have now begun suits us both just fine. And everything that I do as a novelty, I do for Nosy Crow which is a new publishing house for books and apps in England. I work there again for Kate Wilson who is a friend of mine since a very, very long time.

Who has influenced your style? Are there any influences at all? Or have you developed your style on your own?

AS: Overall I do think that I have developed my style on my own. As a child I didn’t have many picture books. As a teenager, I discovered people like Tomi Ungerer and Edward Gorey. The stuff Tomi Ungerer makes in terms of humor and the many details that happen as a sideline, might have influenced me, I guess. However, I’ve never said that I want to draw in that way as well. But I see an affinity. Of course there are also people like William Steig, which I admire very much, and some of my colleagues, but there is no direct influence on the way I work. I've really worked on that on my own. I can’t say from where that came from exactly. (laughs)

Asked about your collaboration with the author Julia Donaldson, you once answered that there is actually no direct cooperation. You receive the text from her and start drawing, but she writes independently from you. What interests me: Does your interpretation of the figures which occur in her text actually match the notion of the author?

AS: Probably not. (laughs) The Gruffalo, for example, she imagined to be more like an alien, as a fantasy creature and not as a shaggy monster with horns. The witch in "Room on the Broom” she imagined to be completely different as well. She once used a beautiful picture: She said it's like planning a vacation. In advance you have a specific image in mind, then you get there and it's quite different, but still nice. That’s probably how it is. But we have done so many books together that Julia probably can already conceive what the outcome of my interpretation is. It is probably the best way for an author to submit their text and to say that it will be illustrated by someone else who adds their own interpretation.

You have a six year old daughter. Can you still work calmly at home?

AS: That's a very good question, a very legitimate question. All my colleagues who have children told me that with children, you will have to look for a studio outside the home. But I do all right so far, I've completed all books. Now she is a bit older and goes to school, so she is away half of the day. But if she is here, she causes quite a lot of distraction ... Before, I could sit down in the morning and follow a fairly regular working schedule from 9 to 6 which is now more difficult. In addition, I have to answer more and more emails and inquiries. I actually have less and less time for drawing.

What does your daughter think about your books? Does she have a favourite book?

AS: She doesn’t care much. When she was younger, she loved browsing "Room on the Broom". Now we’ve started to read the text books by Julia Donaldson which are also partially translated into German, like "Das Riesenmädchen und die Minipopps" and "The Dinosaur’s Diary" which I’ve also illustrated and which she likes a lot. She is now out of the picture book age already, and she never had one book she wanted to read again and again as some other children do. She knows my books, but either she is not the biggest fan or she doesn’t show it. (laughs) She has a very relaxed attitude towards them.

Meanwhile there are Gruffalo soft toys, bedding, backpacks ... Do you actually participate in the profit of the merchandising products and are you involved in their development?

AS: We, the author and I, have a share in the sales profit. We receive a certain percentage of the profit from the DVD sales as well as from selling merchandising products. We are not involved in their development. That is done by the company who made ​​the Gruffalo animated film. To get the merchandising rights was actually their condition for making the animation, because otherwise they could not finance it. Without getting those rights, the production companies wouldn’t do that. The rights are now at Magic Light Pictures who have produced all three animated films that are out so far. The licensing companies make our style guide that specifies how to use the images. We have arranged that they will only use pictures from the books and not the ones from the movies. So the Gruffalo is still my Gruffalo and not the animated one.

"The Gruffalo" is already been considered as a modern children's book classic. What makes a good children's book?

AS: Im often asked this question, but actually I don’t have a good answer. It must be well written, be exciting, arise interest, have a good story. For me, humor is important, and a certain warmth.

In Germany it is often said that children's books are just kids’ stuff.

AS: That is not my experience. When I do book-signings in Germany or the UK, I often meet adults who like our books and visit us, slightly embarrassed, in order to have these books signed. It is for me, of course, a great compliment when families enjoy the books together. There are also many parents who tell me that they read them to their children again and again and that this does not get boring because they always discover new details and the texts work so well. Of course there are people who think that children's books are just kids’ stuff, but in the rarest cases these are parents who actually read those books to their children or for themselves. Those parents have a high regard for children's books.

Your next project with Julia Donaldson – is it already in the pipeline?

AS: No, it isn’t. I've heard some rumors about what it could be, but actually often I do not know the topic in beforehand. In regard to "The Scarecrow’s Wedding", I did not know what it is all about before I had the text on my desk. Julia writes all independently. Probably I will work on the book next year, so it will appear in 2016.

Is there a book of yours about which you are especially glad?

AS: There are quite a number that I like a lot, and yes, when I see how popular the books are, I’m glad to have been making most of them and that they exist. I like the quirky books most, like "The Highway Rat", "The Smartest Giant in Town". I also like "Stick Man", where Julia’s text is somewhat more fanciful. Those books which play mostly in the real world are sometimes a bit difficult for me. I like the fairy-tale world more

Mr. Scheffler, thanks a lot for the interview!