Remarkably Rexy is the only book I have both illustrated and written. What a struggle! What a labour of love.
Based somewhat on a true story about a much loved cat, Rexy served as a metaphor for a story about other people's vanity and neediness. At a certain point though, I wondered if it was more about adopting different personas, and even if it had became sort of autobiographical!
Billy the Punk
I tried to use colour to underline the 'emotion' or mood of the story. Billy walking to school is in a cool blue, to show his aloneness, or self-centredness. (Of course, other elements that emphasise this are the ‘from behind’ point of view, and the empty landscape). When he’s being yelled at by his teacher, the colour surrounding her is hot, angry, orange. The editor, Mark MacLeod suggested the cover concept. I did not like it as an idea. Now I love it.
Share a day with Cat and find out how exhausting and downright dangerous life can be. Also features Dog, Mouse and Bird. And much more! A simple, but highly animated, storyline - created as a book to be shared aloud. Unleash your inner Laurence Olivier! 2008 CBCA Book of the Year Early Childhood Honour Book.
Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept
Sir Alfred has a terrible secret. A secret that should never ever be kept. But who will poor little Sir Alfred tell? Who can he trust?
The startling theme of this book is the question, how would you teach a young child about sexual abuse? The text is unflinching – it directly shows that the danger is from someone known and trusted by the child, not a case of ‘stranger danger’.
I saw my job as illustrator was to interpret the predatory relationship, and to picture it through the eyes of the young child.
The drawings are somewhat caricatured, but the body language is subtly menacing in places.
The article below was published in The Age May 2012) A Children’s Book About Sex Abuse? Let’s Discuss By Martin Flanagan
The subject of the book is the sexual abuse of children and it is one that the author, Jayneen Sanders, believes is shrouded by a taboo. Sanders has published the book herself because, she says, no publishing firm she approached would take it. Similarly, few media outlets have invited to discuss it. Waleed Aly did on Radio National. I was invited on, to discuss a book for 10 to 13 year olds I’ve written about Anzac Day. I was unable to obtain a copy of Jayneen’s book before the program, but I did read a section of it that appears on the author’s website. Two things struck me about what I read. One is the extraordinary quality of Craig Smith’s illustrations. The first requirement of a children’s book is that it presents an alternative reality that a child can enter at a glance. The world he draws is medieval in flavour, but it doesn’t have dragons and warlocks. The hero of the story is a child called Sir Alfred, “a brave little knight”. His mother, Lady Susan, works as a cleaner in the castle owned by the rich and famous Lord Henry Votnar. Lord Henry looks after little Sir Alfred when Lady Susan is working. They play chasing games that end in tickling sessions. “But one day… Lord Henry started to tickle Alfred in a way that made him feel uncomfortable and sick inside… When Alfred asked Lord Henry to stop, he did not”. Lord Henry then binds Alfred by making what has occurred a secret – if Alfred tells anyone, his mother will lose her job and they will have no money and it will all be his fault. The story ends happily, largely through the wisdom of Lady Susan who intuits that something is wrong with Alfred and encourages him to tell the terrible secret that is making him “sad and lonely”. Lord Henry is banished from the kingdom, Lady Susan finds other employment, and Alfred learns that “no matter how awful or scary the secret, it should NEVER EVER be kept”. Throughout the drawings are subtly evocative without ever being overstated. The other thing that struck me about the book was its simplicity. At the age of 16, I witnessed the aftermath of a sexual assault by a priest on a boy aged about 12. Thirty-odd years later, I was, with others, called to court to give evidence and the priest was jailed for two years. The experience contained many lessons for me. While I was satisfied that justice was done in that case, I am now more, not less, wary about criminal prosecutions relying on memories that are decades old. I also found that the entire experience was almost impossible to talk about. Why? Because, as soon as the subject arose, people stopped listening and started broadcasting their own views. I was amazed by the torrent of assumptions I encountered – about the Catholic Church, about the priest etc. To open your mouth on the subject was to find yourself in a storm of opinion. I can only imagine that the victims of sexual abuse experience this in a much more intense and demoralising way. This book cleverly reduces the problem to what must be close to its simplest form. But , it, too, rests on a anassumption. While it may be the general likelihood that mothers will believe children who confide in them about such matters, it cannot be stated with absolute certainty, as this story suggests, that they all will, particularly if the family religion is involved.
Doctor Frankenstein’s Other Monster
Nigel Gray’s wonderful variation of the Frankenstein story is gently, sadly funny. But my drawings are surely not at all elegant. They have a rough, cartoonish sort of childlike quality, what I would call underdrawn. This apparently simple book is one of my all-time favourites. I enjoy the storyline, but I love the language. It is much fun to read aloud.
It is a retelling of the Frankenstein story. I don't expect readers will rush from this, then on to reading Mary Shelley's original 1819 'Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus' - but this story touches the same themes of alienation.
A Day in the Life of Me
When the book was just about to go to press there were a number of brand names, food packages and logos shown in both the text and illustrations. Copyright is a complex, unclear area, but it struck the editor and I that we had better seek permission from the various companies featured. All, but one, said NO! And one threatened to sue for defamation if the illustration as it was, was published.
Emily Eyefinger (series)
I thoroughly enjoy Duncan Ball’s clever, gentle storytelling. The stories (and drawings) have an old fashioned feel. Emily Eyefinger doesn't have 'attitude'. Or, if she does - I like her attitude. Doing the cover is always a highlight. Always start by drawing the finger, the hand, the arm, and go on from there...
Just You Wait!
In these illustrations I wanted to take advantage of the computers ability to have the outline drawing on one layer, and all the colour on another. (Usually ‘real’ painting eats into the linework). I would like to use this digital technique to illustrate in an old-fashioned crosshatched way. Working on screen like this is not fast. In fact, it is physically draining.
Spiky, Spunky, My Pet Monkey
In my experience genuine collaborations are pretty rare. But it is not uncommon to be on the same wavelength as the author. I do share Doug's sense of humour. He has a distinct visual sense of humour. His writing is full of images. We also share an enjoyment of toilet humour. The drawing of King Ludwig on the toilet was edited out of the final book, but the drawing ofJulius Caesar was not.
The Cabbage Patch Fib (series)
Dads are especially fun to draw, being usually wrinkled and whiskery. One peculiarity of this four book series is that they have been done over a fifteen-year period. So the drawing style varies. I think it is impossible to exactly match an earlier style. My cousin Bob (pictured in photo) was -sort of - the model for Dad in these books.
The Heebie-Jeebie Joke Book
Beautiful black and white. Felt like I was on a roll - every drawing a bit weird, but elegant in a way. But, best of all, it has one good strong idea after another. Sometimes witty, mostly silly - pure pleasure to draw. The Joke Book format allowed for this in a way that most storylines don't.
Troy Thompson’s Excellent Peotry Book
The drawings, doodles and collages were all done by Troy. Well, sort of done by Troy! Ms Kranke’ (the teacher’s) written comments on Troy’s exercises were all my work. Gary is a warmly collaborative author and open to suggestions. (I would dearly love to be an author, but I don’t seem able to write anything other than captions). I am particularly fond of this illo of the school urinal. (detail)
Whistle Up the Chinmey
This was my first large colour work, and I made lots and lots of misjudgements. Some I solved by repainting bits then glueing them on top. The artwork barely made it to the printer before starting to come apart. The recurring motif is trains and fireplaces. I'm not sure to what extent it's inspiration can be found in psychoanalytical theory. I based Mrs Millie Mac on my Mum.
Some more favourites
My books are illustrated using different styles and techniques - but there is a similiar approach running through them. Following are a few favourites with a note or two about why.
A full Bibliography arranged by AUTHOR is available here.
I Was Only Nineteen
I've had no direct experience of soldiering or military conflict - yet, throughout my life I have tried to sort out my thoughts about war.
As a child I lived close to an army barracks - Inverbrackie SA - where the training of the soldiers to fight in Vietnam was in full swing. The links between the local community and the army were strong. Because I was familiar with many of the soldiers living locally - playing sport alongside them - I could not help but think about their service in Vietnam.
An influence on my thoughts about army service was my father, a veteran of the Second World War.
The Windy Farm
Why would anyone want to live on a farm where the winds are so fierce that even the pigs are blown away? Fortunately, Mum is a clever inventor and can think of one very good reason. Windpower earns an income! (It sure beats eating the pigs).
Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns
Some five-star books never go out of fashion. Sister Madge's Book of Nuns is just as fiendishly funny as it was 26 years ago when it was first published. Written in comic verse, this book introduces us to Sister Madge Mappin and the other eccentric inhabitants of the Convent of Our Lady of Immense Prioportions. There's Sister Bossy, who gets her just deserts when she reaches heaven's gate; Sister Helga, who's grown antlers on her head; and Sister Stephanie, who rides a Harley and has a vulture called Charlie. All these crazy nuns are bought to life in great detail by Craig Smith's very funny and witty illustrations. It's all such irreverent fun. From Good Reading Magazine 2012.
My first book. Crosshatched in a long, careful and labourious way, using an ultra fine technical pen. In these ultra cautious illustrations I was struggling to work out when and how to apply formal design principles I'd recently learnt at Art School, including perspective and vanishing points.
Bob the Builder and the Elves
Bob the Builder moves through the book in a bewildered and slightly sad sort of way. The illustrations are deliberately underdrawn, that is, kept simple. Just concentrating on body posture and expression.
This book was drawn when my own children were very young. As a consequence of sharing books with my kids, the particular qualities that make a good children’s book were up for question. Careful, finicky, tight rendering no longer seemed very important at all.
I Hate Fridays (series)
Redback on the Toilet Seat
Making the main characters cane toads made this story a little bit different, even a tiny bit political, and the humour even more absurd. The army stuff, of course, alludes to the threat of invasion. So it deliberately looks like Australia's deep north around the 1940's.
Stanley Sticks Out
This theme of the story that I most enjoyed illustrating, was of the very suburban Claggerts loving being in nature. It seemed very familiar. The authors' portrayal of Stanley (the stick insect) as a showoff is hilarious. Interesting body language to draw!
The Giant’s Tooth
In drawing the giants I mostly drew from a low down point of view, to emphasise their giantness. That explains some of the wacky figure drawing. These drawings are a homage to my hero, the German artist Friedrich Karl Waechtar. And to Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement.
Toocool is a winner at every sport he plays. Early in the project, we (the author and editor and myself) thought that Toocool would always beat his opponents of course, but it would be in his imagination. For instance, when Toocool plays tennis he plays against the garage wall. The garage wall being a fearsome opponent like Lleyton Hewitt. With all the sports Toocool plays – 24 at last count – this idea was too hard to keep going. We realised he would need his mates to come over so Toocool could beat them.
Mum was late getting home - 'Where's Mum?' I remember quite clearly – when I was very young – the stomach churning dread of Mum not getting home. Though I feared car accidents rather than wolves or trolls.
The editor wanted the illustrations to sort of suggest a groovy ‘Mambo’ style approach. Two of my favourite illustrations are Grandma in the Mirror Maze, and the boys looking into the wavy mirror. I love mirrors! A third illustration in which Jason gets lost in the Mirror Maze has an excellent idea behind it – that Jason’s reflection can be seen from everywhere - but actually where is Jason? But my birds-eye view drawing of the Maze is too complex. Sometimes these things only become clear much later.