I sat down with British illustrator and comic artist Luke Pearson while he was in town for the Small Press Expo to discuss his recent work and his ongoing graphic novel series, Hilda.
Between the Covers: How has Soft Spot [the animation you’ve been collaborating on with fellow comic artist Phillippa Rice] been going?
Luke Pearson: Phillippa is the driving force behind Soft Spot. All the stop motion stuff is entirely her. I’ve been doing smaller bits within those episodes. We haven’t collaborated that much before, so it’s nice to have something that’s actually both of us. We’re both just kind of experimenting and playing around.
BTC: You’ve also joined the pantheon of people working for Adventure Time doing some storyboarding.
LP: I’ve boarded four episodes overall and I’m hoping I can do more at some point. They’re very time consuming because I’ve always done it freelance with quite big gaps in between. It’s quite hard to get back in that mindset.
BTC: You’ve spoken before about how you’re inspired by Scandinavian myth in the creation of your own series, Hilda, but I see a lot of original world building and myth making.
LP: The Scandinavian folklore is like a jumping off point really. So much fantasy in general comes from those same stories and people just twist them and reinvent them in their own way. What I was trying to do with that was portray them in a way that is closer to how they are in the oral tales, rather than sticking a grand mythology onto them. There’s tons of stuff in Hilda which is just made up as well. I think as it goes on, it’s evolving into its own thing and the place she lives in has less of a point of reference with a real world place.
BTC: Hilda exploring the world seems like a central theme. Are you also figuring out what the rules for that reality are as you go along, or is it building on something you already know?
LP: It’s not really building towards something I already know. There are certain things that I have had locked down in my head from the start, I’m not totally winging it. But I don’t have a big bible that I wrote beforehand with all the stuff in there. I think that would feel counterproductive. As time goes on my tastes and interests change, when I draw each book I want to feel like I can change my mind about things. I’d rather do that than be a slave to this thing I made up five, six years ago that maybe I don’t agree with anymore.
BTC: Do you consider your audience as you’re working? Do you censor yourself because you know you need to appeal to kids?
LP: I don’t censor myself because I know they’re not for really little kids. It wouldn’t cross my mind to do a super dark Hilda story. What’s the point? I would just do a different comic. I want it to be a little bit scary and weird. I think kids can handle more than some people can give them credit for. If there’s a scary thing in the story, I want them to actually be scared of it. I don’t want to just put some big, goofy monster in that everyone is acting afraid of but isn’t actually scary. I always aim to resolve things in a way that is comforting.
BTC: Your next book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is going to be coming out next year. Is there anything you can share about that project?
LP: It’s a bit different to previous ones in that it’s the first one where I feel like you probably do need to have read at least one of the other ones to get it. I’ve always been reluctant to do that in previous books, I wanted each one to be a standalone thing, but as I get deeper into the series it makes less and less sense. I feel like people enjoy the way the world is growing and it feels like a shame to gloss over all the other things. The start of the book will be the kind of things Hilda’s been getting up to. Hilda has so many magical-ish friends and tricky ways that her mom is getting slightly irate. She’s off on adventures all the time, possibly covering up how dangerous they may or may not be. It will be the first story where Hilda and her mum actually go on an adventure together.
BTC: I really like the way you’ve been portraying their dynamic. They’re obviously parent and child but they get along and it’s not stereotypical, you convey a more complex relationship.
LP: I’ve just naturally become more interested in exploring the mom character. She was just there in the first couple of books to explain how Hilda exists in the world, because she can’t live on her own. That character’s just been evolving to the point where, in this one, they’re co-leads. It’s tricky to do but I want the child reader to slowly pick up on the fact that she’s not just a mom, she is a person. It seems like in a lot of children’s fiction the parent is just a source of comfort or a source of antagonism and that’s it. They’re like a caricature. I like the idea of a kid empathizing and relating to the mom in a personal way rather than relating their idea of their mom. It’s hard to see your own parents like that until you get older.
BTC: Are you finding any of your own childhood emerging when you’re writing?
LP: I had a pretty comfortable, pleasant childhood but stuff does kind of come through. The last book all the stuff where she joins the Sparrow Scouts, that was kind of based on my experience as a scout.
BTC: Did you enjoy scouts?
LP: Yes and no, which I think I was trying to get across for Hilda. I like the idea of it and I did have fun at times, but I also didn’t enjoy it that much for not quite the same reasons as Hilda. I was just always very shy. I liked messing around but I always felt like I wasn’t very good at actual, legitimate scout stuff. As a kid I basically only enjoyed sitting and drawing and making stuff up.
BTC: What are you reading right now?
LP: I’m actually reading the Earthsea series for the first time. It’s really good. I’ve only read the first book so far but it’s incredible. I’ve had this boxed set since I was a kid, I think they were my mom’s. I’ve been carrying them around forever.
The next Hilda book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is due to be released in Spring of 2016.
If you already love the Crystal Gems from Cartoon Network’s hit show, Steven Universe, Volume One is a collection of short stories to enhance and enrich your interaction with the characters and their world. Writer Jeremy Sorese and artist Coleman Engle bring to life Steven and his space-warrior guardians Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl as they go on magic-laden adventures in the name of protecting the Earth and developing Steven’s budding magic powers. Including life-skills lessons and graphic shorts just for fun, the book includes wisdom about friendship, family and even a recipe or two!
The comics are light, lusciously colored and beautifully drawn. The mood ranges from laugh-aloud funny to softly melancholy and meaningful, taking advantage of the full artistic range of both the artists and the writers. Although familiarity with the animated cartoon will enrich the reader’s appreciation of these graphic shorts in context of their larger world, the book is a delightful introduction to Steven’s home of Beach City and a great read for kids and adult-sized kids alike.
Make sure to pair your Steven Universe experience with Gem Glow, or similar reads such as Adventure Time, Bee and Puppycat and Bravest Warriors.
The legends of Bigfoot and his cryptid relatives (Yeti, Chupacabra, etc.) have been around for centuries, but author/illustrator Kevin Sherry has put a new spin on this old standard. In The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet, Sherry tells the story from a Yeti’s point of view. Told in semi-graphic novel style with lots of illustrations, the reader is introduced to Blizz Richards, the Yeti narrator, and many of his friends and relatives. After receiving an invitation to a Bigfeet family reunion, Blizz relates how such reunions used to be held annually until his cousin Brian broke the code of the cryptid community and vanished forever.
Filled with silly humor, the story follows the plight of Blizz and his helpers — a goblin, an elf and an Arctic fox — as they try to find Brian and thwart the attempts of an evil cryptozoologist who wants to expose the cryptids to the world! While elementary aged children will undoubtedly enjoy the illustrations and offbeat story, Sherry has put enough subtle details in his drawings to entertain older readers too. The vocabulary can be a bit daunting, but Sherry does explain some of the more difficult terms (for example, cryptid is “a hidden animal whose existence has never been proven”). The first book in a new series, the story ends with a teaser for the next installment which may involve the Loch Ness Monster!
Kevin Sherry is a local Baltimore author who also founded Squidfire.com, an online t-shirt business.
At turns hilarious and poignant, Sisters marks Raina Telgemeier’s latest autobiographical graphic novel reminiscence of her childhood and adolescence. This family story is a companion of sorts to her earlier Eisner Award-winning Smile. The events of a fateful summer of her early adolescence are clearly depicted in episodic arcs which show the early days of two young artists. As the book opens, Raina, her younger sister Amara, and little brother Will are packing camping supplies with their mom as they travel from San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. This road trip doesn’t go quite as planned, of course, and the journey plainly displays a long-seething sibling rivalry between the two girls. In flashbacks, Raina’s initial desire for a baby sister quickly turns sour when Amara’s personality doesn’t match Raina’s expectations.
And there are other issues at play here as well – Raina’s father has been laid off from his job, and her parents’ relationship suffers because of it. A string of ill-conceived pet adoptions, culminating in a snake escape, adds another wrinkle of tension among the family members. But the concerns are limited compared to the amusing situations Raina finds herself in. Telgemeier’s signature vibrant line-drawings are deceptively simple, and her characters are portrayed with expressive detail. The full-color illustrations make for an appealing package which is easy to follow, given the non-linear chronology. Readers can easily empathize with the Telgemeier family and their frustrations and triumphs. Sisters is a quick, pleasurable read, and the book will become a sure-bet for siblings dealing with conflict.
Koji Miyamoto’s 13th birthday is quickly tarnished by the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a half-Japanese American during World War II, Koji’s life dramatically changes on that fateful day. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War is a graphic novel by Matt Faulkner which describes this ugly period in American history in heartbreaking detail.
Koji’s day begins innocently enough as he listens to the Lone Ranger on the radio while helping his mother with the dishes. When the attack is announced, he and his mother have to look up Pearl Harbor in the atlas. Koji immediately wonders if his Japanese father could have been flying one of the attack planes. His father had returned to Japan the summer before to take care of a sick family member. After a night of bad dreams, Koji heads to school only to discover he is persona non grata everywhere — at school, on the streetcar and on the street. As the government increases restriction on Japanese Americans, Koji’s innocence is lost forever when he is sent to a “relocation camp.” Outside of the camp he is ostracized for being half-Japanese, inside he is tormented for being half-white.
Faulkner’s novel is a powerful piece of historical fiction told graphically. Koji’s journey to adulthood under terrible conditions is beautifully detailed in color as he deals with discrimination, tough choices and growing up. Faulkner also neatly teaches the reader about a dark piece of American history, when over 110,000 Americans were made prisoners of war in their own country.
For more information on the subject, Faulkner has created a website - www.gaijinamericanprisonerofwar.com.
Beloved character Hello Kitty returns to delight in a third graphic novel Hello Kitty: Surprise! by Jacob Chabot and Ian McGinty. A compilation of 10 short stories, this nearly wordless book follows Hello Kitty and her friends on a myriad of adventures. Whether they are enjoying a day at the beach, finding a large, mysterious egg or going on a pirate adventure, each story has some sort of unexpected twist that will keep you wondering what could possibly happen next. Can a book really transport you to another place? And what will Kitty’s parents do when they come to Kitty’s rocking birthday party? Hello Kitty fans are sure to enjoy!
If you are looking for a picture book to enjoy with your little cat lover, look no further than Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That written by Victoria Allenby and illustrated by Tara Anderson. It’s daytime, and while the world buzzes around him, Nat the cat is enjoying his naps. Whether in dresser drawers or in front of doors, on the stairs or on chairs, this orange tabby can be found sleeping in all kinds of strange, albeit realistic places. Despite all that his black and white kitten buddy tries, Nat will not let the noise of the piano the kitten’s juggling act disturb him from getting a nice daytime snooze. However, there is one thing that Nat cannot sleep through. Can you guess what that is? To find out, you will just have to pick up this whimsical rhyming book filled with playful and fun illustrations.
It can be difficult raising a head-strong, impatient, stubborn and impulsive little girl. But what happens when that little girl is also a witch? That’s the challenge Salem’s parents face in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso.
When Salem’s spelling skills are questioned by a fellow student studying for the school’s spelling bee, she sets off to prove that she is a great speller. However, instead of spelling the word “dinosaur,” Salem turns Mrs. Fossil into a dinosaur. No one is supposed to know that Salem is a witch, and this mistake almost causes her to be expelled from school. What Salem needs is an animal companion, and Aunt Martha knows just the right one for the job: Lord Percival J. Whamsford, also known as Whammy, an 800-year-old talking cat who still has five of his nine lives left.
Will Whammy be able to instruct Salem in the fundamentals of being a witch? Can she really fly using a vacuum cleaner instead of the traditional witch’s broom? What will happen when Salem’s spell goes completely awry as she tries to ensure that she is crowned the new Miss Spelling Queen? And will all this be too much for Whammy to handle? Find out in the first installment of a delightful new graphic novel series. This fast-paced, humorous book is excellent for mid- to upper-elementary readers who will surely enjoy the simple green, black and white drawings reminiscent of Sunday morning comics.
In an alternate Victorian-era England, all towns have a resident monster whose job is to scare and thrill the residents, as well as to protect them. Stoker-on-Avon has a problem: their monster is suffering from depression and a general lack of confidence. Much to the townsfolk’s dismay, Rayburn hasn’t attacked in well over a year and a half. Rob Harrell’s graphic novel Monster on the Hill chronicles the efforts of Charles Wilkie, doctor and inventor, who has been dispatched by the town fathers to “fix the monster.” Timothy, the self-proclaimed town crier/street urchin, stows away in the doctor’s trunk in order to be a part of the mission.
Rayburn, a heavy-lidded, horned, winged, rust-colored creature, boasts no special skills or talents. He doesn’t breathe fire and he can’t fly. After diagnosing his problem, Wilkie suggests a restorative road trip to visit other town monsters to pick up some “tricks of the trade.” His old school chum Noodles, better known as Tentaculor, may offer just the boost he needs. This edgy, drolly humorous graphic novel will capture the imagination of a wide range of readers, much like Jeff Smith’s popular Bone series. Harrell captures a Victorian feel while sprinkling in modern anachronisms to good comic effect, as vendors hawk Tentaculor merchandise (like trading cards and Tentacu-Pops) after a recent attack. Older children who enjoy tales of adventure and dragons will enjoy the twist on the usual trope. Harrell’s wide-eyed villagers and thoroughly detailed monsters are enormously visually appealing, as is his choice of a bright, colorful palette. Readers will eagerly await upcoming books in this ongoing, all-ages series.
Classic fairy tales are enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to a number of imaginative retellings, both in print and on screen. Adults and children alike will want to read the original stories in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, first published in 1823, and reissued in a brand new collection. This volume includes detailed etchings of the period by noted English caricaturist George Cruikshank, supplemented by a half dozen color illustrations by popular artists like Quentin Blake and Helen Oxenbury. The German tales, handed down through oral tradition, were published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who called them “House Stories.” They were meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone in the house, not just children. This collection contains 55 stories, from the familiar “Ashputtel” (German for Cinderella) to the lesser known “Faithful John,” many of which contain creepy or unsettling elements—these are not the happily ever after Disney versions.
Author Adam Gidwitz begins The Grimm Conclusion, the third book in his popular series of retellings, by noting “once upon a time, fairy tales were grim.” He further states that the versions of the stories that most people know are “incredibly, mind-numbingly, want-to-hit-yourself-in-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-ingly boring.” The narrator of this novel follows Grimm characters Jorinda and Joringel as they become participants in other Grimm stories. Infused with a dark sense of humor, Gidwitz’s popular novels embrace the blood, gore and general horror of the original tales. As a former school teacher (and Baltimore native), Gidwitz knows how to enthrall his audience.
Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy presents a plethora of stories from various sources Grimm and beyond. Cartoonists represented include a veritable who’s who, some new to children’s storytelling. Each story is rendered in full color comic panels. Perennial favorite Raina Telgemeier (known for the graphic memoir Smile) takes on Rapunzel, while Gilbert Hernandez (of Love and Rockets fame) shows us his version of Snow White. Fairy Tale Comics is a visual smorgasbord for the imagination of readers of all ages.
Two very different cats play lead roles in new largely wordless books for young readers. International feline superstar Hello Kitty makes her graphic novel debut in Hello Kitty: Here We Go! by Jacob Chabot. After a quick introduction to her friends and family, HK’s global adventures begin. Making her way through locations real and imaginary, the jet-setting cat finds new friends, exciting places to explore and strange new creatures to assist her along her path. Each short vignette features Hello Kitty charming her way to adventure, fun and happiness.
Multiple Caldecott-winning author/illustrator David Wiesner’s new picture book centers on a tuxedo cat with the completely opposite mood from Hello Kitty. The amusingly misnamed black-and-white feline Mr. Wuffles! is a curmudgeonly creature with no interest in the toys that his owner brings him. Until suddenly, a new toy appears in Mr. Wuffles’ world – that of a small spaceship commanded by a group of tiny green aliens. Wiesner’s ability to realistically illustrate the movements of a lazy cat who suddenly becomes interested in the visitors is remarkable. The aliens’ ship is in need of repair after being batted around and chomped by Mr. Wuffles. They receive aid from an unexpected group of under-the-radiator insects who have also been terrified by the cat. Ant, ladybug and alien “speak” to each other through art to assist each in mystifying their feline tormentor and concocting an escape for the otherworldly creatures. In this short video, David Wiesner introduces Mr. Wuffles! and his artistic process.
Lovable each in their own way, these two furry, whiskered cats bring their adventures in paneled, graphic novel format, introducing young readers to visual literacy and expanding their imaginations.