space to breathe and think

Here’s something brilliant about being an illustrator. I’m doing development for my Massive Book at the moment. It’s called The Collector as a working title but I think that’s about to change. The thing is – the story crosses between worlds, civilisations, even realities. So that means envisaging everything to do with these places. If I’m going to draw it, I have to work it out.

Costumes, architecture, racial groups, terrain, innovations for that place, technology, historical period… not just for one place but all those the main character visits. And that’s aside from considering what needs to happen in the story – the action sequences and poses, the dramatic angles and lighting, where the story needs to rest, where it needs to fly along. And how about all of the layering that may be relevant – is there a class system and how is it shown, what are the environmental issues and how are they being tackled or not, is there tension, evidence of inequality, what is the season, the weather, the pollution level, what am I saying in this book aside from depicting a series of events? What are my prejudices and assumptions as I draw all of this stuff and are they correct and helpful for the story? I am presenting images and places that are new – but are they also comprehensible and universal? Something that was great about Shaun Tan‘s book The Arrival is the way that a wholly imagined book (invented places, cuisine, animals, language…) strikes so many chords for immigrants who talk about how very accurate it is. One of the wonderful things about fantasy is the ability to access universal ideas and experiences and, by acting them out in a new space, strip away all of the distractions and baggage of familiarity. Then we can explore concepts like isolation, loneliness, fear, joy, depression, loss and hope…

It’s all pretty massive and for this book, it’s all relevant. And I’m not really intending on having many words (dialogue only) so it has to be shown pictorially. Quite a fantastic challenge!

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  1. Posted April 29, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Such an interesting post, Elise! I love your take on fantasy, its how I feel about it too – via the fantastical it’s often easier to deal with the truths of being alive.

    It sounds like we work very similarly with masive amounts of information in our heads – one of my great difficulties is whittling away all the excess information to reach the kernal of the story’s theme. Not easy when you have an entire world seething around in your noggin!

  2. Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Elise,
    The Collector sounds like a great concept. Now you’ve just got to make it happen.
    They say everyone has a book in them, but most of us keep them inside us for lack of the courage and determination to put the thing out there for all to see.(talking to myself here!)
    The Arrival is a wonderfully inspiring example, as is Celine, and her Moorehawke Trilogy. Press on!
    Good luck with it.

  3. Posted May 1, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Hi Celine, yes – I feel like I should be making the movie at the same time! I’ll only be missing sound by the end of it all. It’s funny about fantasy – I’ve had the occasional conversation with a parent who thinks fantasy is dangerous because it’s promoting unhealthy beliefs like wizardry and witchcraft and things that aren’t real. Putting aside my horror at their anti-imaginationism (and the desire to mention the conceptual similarities between miracles and magic), I found it odd to see what aspects of fantasy they latched onto. I explained the whole universal themes idea to one man, relating particularly to his teenage son. After a long and interesting (and very gentle) discussion I think he saw that perhaps the fantasy might be a useful thing after all. It’s subversive at times. So many kids would never read ‘issues book’ especially ones that are a little too close to home, but they’d read the fantasy equivalent. It’s a start.

    And PJ, sounds like you have a book you’re putting off! Perhaps the time has come. Need I offer a public challenge? An imaginary gauntlet waved menacingly in your direction? I’ve written picture books before but never anything like this – the scale and the personal commitment of it is huge. I’m actually feeling confident and excited about it though, rather than daunted. The project has gone through so many phases and permutations – feels like the right track finally.

  4. Posted May 13, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi Elise
    I accept your challenge, but I’d be betting on you to get your book out first.
    Maybe I should start with picture books too. Problem there is that I always end up writing far too much.
    All the best
    PS Mitten Kitten looks great.

  5. Posted May 13, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m meeting Shaun Tan here in Dublin next week.
    I’m hoping that he will inspire me to get on with doing my own thing.

  6. Posted May 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh lovely – say hi from me! I’m certain you and Shaun will give each other lots to think about.

    And hooray! I’d love to see the kind of story you come up with. The first of many I hope. I know what you mean about the too many words problem. I’ve discovered something that helps me… after I’ve done my first draft I make myself summarise each page as succinctly as possible (just the bare bones) and begin again – using the summary. Sometimes I do that several times over. It does tend to hone the ideas and strip back the language. My book will take ages so you have some time up your sleeve…

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