Today is Read a Book Day!
Here at Brown Bag, we LOVE books! Many of our shows started their lives as books, and in fact, we are lucky enough to have a few talented authors and illustrators in our midst. We spoke to Storyboard Revisionist Olly Blake, Illustrator and Layout Supervisor Qin Leng and Cartoonist & 2D Animator Adrienne Bazir, to get some of their insights and experiences in the writing world and also find out what their absolute favourite kids books are!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in writing and illustration…
Olly Blake: It was in college when I studied Visual Communications that I got interested in illustration for children's books. I did a book about my granddad called 'Brom's Motorcycle'.
I later got into animation as a career and I started out freelancing. In my spare time, I'd try and make time for my own projects to keep myself happy. I started working on Mud Puddles, which developed over a number of years.
I'd iterate and change the story a number of times before I was happy with showing it to the world. This is the first book I've self-published with the help of fundit.ie.
Qin Leng: I grew up in China and later moved to France, where I spent most of my childhood. I later moved to Canada, Montreal and finally settled in Toronto, where I started my career in film animation. Before long, I dreamed of getting my own work published and decided to look into picturebook making. In 2009, I illustrated my first picture book and have been busy ever since. I have published over 40 titles translated in multiple languages.
Adrienne Bazir: I've been making comics and publishing them online for the past five years. My stories all vary in genre, but they're usually about monsters, relationships, and agency. I don't often write kids' books, but the stories I wrote that come the closest are AAAAA and It's Almost Halloween!
What’s your favourite kids book of all time?
Olly Blake: I think it has to be 'The Hat Hunt' by Sven Nordqvist. It is such an inspiration for me, I love the perfect combination of story and illustration in this book. It is a very deep story and has many levels to it.
I think that what makes a good children's book is that it can be read again and again and that you can still pick out side stories and things that are happening in the illustrations that aren't in the text.
The illustrations are very dense, which is Sven Nordqvist's style. It could be that I have a certain nostalgia for this book also because I grew up with it, however, I can now see the genius behind it as an adult.
Qin Leng: My favourite kids book is actually a picturebook I received when I first moved to France, back in 1987: 'La Naissance de Célestine' by Gabrielle Vincent.
The author/illustrator's sensibility, her incredible control of the brush and energy coming out of each stroke really has shaped my taste for working with ink and my fascination with watercolor.
To this day, when I find myself uninspired and on a streak of terrible drawings, I flip through the pages of this old book and instantly get the creative juices flowing again!
Adrienne Bazir: My favorite kids' book of all time is 'Are You Scared, Darth Vader?' by Adam Rex!
Throughout the book, the narrator talks to Darth Vader himself and asks him what he's afraid of, while Darth Vader insists that he isn't afraid of ANYTHING. A relatively new book which I've only picked up last year. Darth Vader and kids' books are something I wouldn't have thought would work as well as it does in this! The art and composition in this book are also top notch!!!
What advice would you give to an aspiring author/illustrator?
Olly Blake: Read a lot of children's books.
Anyone can make a children's book, think of why you are making one yourself. If you have no attachment to the story or just think that children's books are easy to write, then don't do it.
Also, you should also get feedback from people early on. It can be hard to take critique, but I made tons of changes to my book all the time. If something wasn't working I was quick by the end to remove it.
Qin Leng: I think if you are confident about having a unique style, there is no reason not to go for it. For the longest time I doubted myself, thinking that I didn't stand a chance given I hadn't taken illustration courses. But the reality is, if your work is good you will get noticed. A publisher once told me that whether someone has ever published a picturebook is irrelevent, as long as that person has a compelling story or illustrations.
When I first started back in 2009, I submitted my portfolio to over 60 publishers across the globe. 6 months later, I received 1 positive response and published my first book and it was only a chapter book cover. Later that year, I landed my first picturebook project. And the year after that, 2 more….and now I am so busy I turn down more projects than I can accept.
Every day I am grateful to be able to do what I love and so relieved that I gave it a try 10 years ago.
Adrienne Bazir: My advice for aspiring comic artists would be to write as many stories as you want, and to not feel blocked because your story isn't “perfect”. Just write your stories so they're out there!