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.
Our guest: Based in Toronto, author-illustrator Michael Duhamel just released his first picture book, Benjamin.
I think my answer is quite common when I say Robert Munsch! I had so many of his classic stories from Thomas’ Snowsuit to Mortimer and The Paper Bag Princess. I think my mom was secretly trying to reason with me to get me into my own snowsuit!
2. With which children’s literature character do you most identify?
Max from Where The Wild Things Are. I was a very imaginative boy and I like to think I still have those qualities today. I also have zero problem with wearing a wolf costume to the grocery store to buy eggs.
3. Who is your favorite children’s book author? Illustrator?
Again, I have to stick with Munsch. He is just amazing. His books have such character, humour and are easy to relate to.
As for a favourite illustrator I would have to say Chris Van Allsburg. His work in the Polar Express and Jumanji are absolutely stunning. I love his composition choices, attention to light and ability to suck you right into a scene.
I would want this dinner party to go off the rails really fast so I would invite Dr. Seus, Curious George, Robert Munsch, Max from Where the Wild Things Are and the thieving fish from This is Not My Hat.
5. What quality do you think is most important in good children’s literature?
Honesty. Children are really, really smart. They will question everything and if you don’t have your facts in order you’re going to lose the child.
6. If your own work has a defining characteristic, what is it?
I would have to say emotion. No matter what I create I tend to always tie it together with a human element of emotion. From sadness to happiness, I like my work to take you through them all.
7. If you were to die and come back as a character from children’s literature, who would you like it to be?
I would come back as the little boy from Oliver Jeffers’ Lost & Found. What a lucky kid to have a penguin show up unannounced on his doorstep but also have a heart of gold to try to return him home to the South Pole.
8. If you could go back and redo one thing in your own work, what would it be?
Oh, I don’t want to think about that since I reworked my book, Benjamin, three times! When you stare at your own work you can always find something to redo. It’s finding the line in the sand where you say, “I should consider sleep this week.”
9. What is the greatest piece of advice you were ever given?
“Know when you’ve failed and start again.” In art school we would get these really tough projects with short deadlines and be working late nights. I would want to be finished with the project but it just wasn’t working. I would keep trying to make it work and only making it worse. I can’t remember who gave the advice, but once I started over, it turned out great!
10. Describe your work process.
My process is primarily illustration-focused, as I like to tell my story through the art first. I have a portable art board that I will draw on from either the comfort of my living room or outside. I also prepare myself with a lot of reference materials already printed out. I’m a classically trained illustrator, so I love using pencils and drawing out my scenes and characters. The drawings are all based on the general concept for the story and it’s when I see the final art I start to see the words that will go with it.
When it came to the writing of Benjamin, it was pretty simple as the story is based on a true story. Once I have the pencil drawings I transfer them to the computer where I do the digital colouring.