Friday, 23 September 2011

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat is the debut book of children's illustrator Jon Klasson. I say 'debut', but Jon has a long and distinguished record as a childrens' illustrator. But this is the first time he's done the words as well as the pictures.

Now words are something of a professional interest of mine. (I'm also rather keen on pictures but create them only very occasionally and strictly as an amateur.) Anyway, I was interested to find out more about the relationship between the two in the creation of a childrens' book and was fortunate enough to be able to put some questions to Jon as part of the global blog-book tour marking publication. Here's what he had to say...

Jon, you've got a long and distinguished track record as an illustrator/artist, but this is the first time you've written your own words. What took you so long?

I've always been interested in books, but I went to school for animation and spent all my time since I graduated working at studios. Those are busy places, so I didn't really consider trying to get book work for a while. Also, books were always sort of on a higher plane. Animation artwork is largely temporary, in that it's mostly made in service of the film you're working on, so the idea of what you're doing going down on paper in a book for ever and ever becomes sort of intimidating. So when even just illustrating a book is intimidating, writing one is all out scary.

As a writer, the words come before the pictures as far as I'm concerned. And in your collaborations that may well have been the case. But which came first for I Want My Hat Back - words or pictures?

The words came first, although the idea started with the combination of the title and a character on the cover not wearing a hat. I think, for picture books at least, it helps to have a mostly visual premise that you can develop in the writing.

And which do you find easiest?

If the writing works, the illustrating for sure is the easier part. Especially in the case of this book, because the writing sort of suggests that the illustrations be simple. The animals are just standing there, and there's almost no scenery. It was really fun to be able to go with a tone that called for something simple like that.

Are there plans for any more books? Will the bear be back?

I'm working on other ones involving the same animals, but I'm not sure the bear will be the main character. I do like that bear, though. There might have a story involving just him later.

Without wishing to stir up trouble, what would you say you've learnt - both in terms of what to do and what not to do - from the authors you've worked with? 

My most fun experiences with illustrating other people's writing have come when there was a bit of a visual hook in the story itself, which is a real favor to get from an author. I don't think it's lost on kids when a story needs illustrations instead of when it just happens to have them. My favorite books when I was little were always books where part of the story could only be told in the pictures. It makes for better illustrations, too, because they have reasons for being what they are instead of just stylish renditions of the characters or places. So writing with that in mind, if it's writing for a picture book, is something I'll hopefully always do for my own things.

Is it easier collaborating with yourself, or with someone else?

I think that depends a lot on whether the idea you have yourself is a totally complete one and you know exactly where you want to go with it. Then it's really great to get the chance to see it through yourself. But if you have just sort of a rough thing and someone to collaborate with that you're on the same page with and can talk with, that's probably the easiest of all, or at least the most enjoyable, because the pressure is off a little and you know you're going to get something neither of you expected.

The global blog tour (which began on Monday) has stops in England, Australia, America and Canada and here are the links to the other stops on the tour. Do take a look if you can:

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