Our guest: Ben Mantle is an award winning Brighton, UK-based illustrator and animator. Yesterday –August 4, 2015– he released two picture books: Beth Ferry‘s Land Shark (Chronicle, READ OUR REVIEW HERE) and There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed A Knight, by Penny Parker Klostermann (Random House USA).
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I remember as kids, me and my brothers would walk to our local library in Lillington (right), which has actually just been Grade II listed. It’s a pretty cool building built in 1959-60. It’s only small but had a really good kids section little tables and rug area.
I really remember enjoying books by Anthony Browne, specifically his gorilla series, with the main character Willy. The book that I read often was Willy the Wimp. I don’t know what it was about, but a small, scrawny character who seeks to make himself buff and heroic that really resonated with the small, scrawny 4 year old me!
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
This is easy. It’s Harry Potter. We’re both wizards… Ah, wait, I think I meant to keep this a secret.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
This one is hard, but like so many kids who grew up in the eighties, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (right) were pretty much a staple of any kids literary diet.
Bill Watterson (left) would be my first invite. I love Calvin and Hobbes, I mean what’s not to like. The art is beautiful. The ideas are great. And Calvin’s facial expressions are genius. Plus, Bill Watterson had a great moustache back in the day.
Harry Potter pretty much got me back into reading. I was a very active kid, always running around playing sports and for about 10 years I totally forgot the pleasure of reading so J.K. Rowling would have to be there for that reason.
I grew up on Disney films, so Walt Disney would be then next guest. He would have some good stories to tell for sure.
Christmas is a big thing for me, and Christmas hasn’t began until I have watched the triple bill of The Polar Bear, followed by Father Christmas, and then, of course, The Snowman, so Raymond Briggs (right) is a must have guest.
Let’s finish with Richard Scarry.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I would say honesty. It doesn’t really matter what the book is about, but it needs to feel like the author/illustrator believes in what they are saying
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Characterisation is really important to me. So I would hope that if anyone picked up my books that they could see that. Having said that, I’m not sure if I get it right every time, but that’s the joy of doing a creative job where there is more than one finite answer.
My background is in animation and so, visually, I tend to treat my books as if they are being filmed through a camera. This allows me to think about the composition and lighting of a scene that can help to create a mood.
I think I would have to be Peter Pan. Who doesn’t want to be able to fly, sword fight, never grow old and look awesome in tights?
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Ha, honestly I would change almost everything I saw in my books. That being said, I am not one to go back and revisit a project and I think that you improve with every book you do anyway. That’s part of the process. I would however, just push myself to get the rough drawings done a bit quicker so I can spend more time on the final art.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Never eat yellow snow.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
When I first get a text, I read it through lots of times. Then I just sit and sketch. I’m not at this stage thinking about layouts or detail, but just trying to jot down what my editor at Macmillan refers to as ‘moments’. The key parts of the story that stand out as you read through give you a good indication of what needs to be shown visually.
To begin layout of the book, I often start with small thumbnail drawings, that I then scan in and enlarge them to the correct size and start neatening them up. I do this because I often think my original sketches are more fluid and uninhibited by detail. Next there are a few stages of printing out, re-drawing, tidying up until everyone is happy (designer and editor).
In order to then paint the final art, I print out the roughs, which have been tidied up by now, and use a drawing board I converted into a lightbox (Ok, not so much me, but a guy who is actually handy with tools) I trace the rough shapes with watercolour, adding in a little shade/texture at the same time. I paint each bit separately as this gives me more flexibility, as well as knowing that if I make a mistake, I haven’t just ruined everything! Having said that, I love the mistakes you get with paint, especially if, like me, you haven’t used it for ages. I then scan in all the painted assets and piece them together digitally in Photoshop, where I adjust colours and add the detail. Whenever I’m out and about I tend to take lots of photographs of various brick work, wood grains, marble and lots of other things so that I now have a good library of textures that I can use to add extra depth to my pictures.
Even when writing the book, before I begin thinking about the words, I start by drawing the main characters and sketching out little vignettes of potential scenes in the book. There’s nothing like getting to know how a character looks and moves to help you figure out how they will react, and hence what kind of story you are telling. Then I start writing, which in reality means hitting my head against my desk until my editor steps in and helps me!