3D review - My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish Picture Book - Interview with Illustrator Marek Jagucki
What was your favourite children’s book as a child?
I think it was probably the Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves, in particular Mr Bump and Mr Tickle. I think it was Mr Tickle who could reach downstairs for biscuits without getting out of bed. That ability appealed to me greatly!
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
At the moment it’s ‘I Want My Hat Back’ by Jon Klassen. The illustration and design is really lovely and the ending, which I won’t give away, is darkly comic and took me a bit by surprise. Otherwise, for sheer audacity I like ‘The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business’ by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch. It’s a book about poo basically.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?
The great thing about children’s books is that you get to enjoy them as a child and then later, as an adult, you remember your favourites and read them to your own children. You get to enjoy them all over again but on a whole new level. I hope the books I illustrate have that generational appeal.
Did you always want to be a children’s book illustrator?
Not specifically, in fact I kind of drifted into it. From childhood I always wanted to be an artist of some sort. I grew up reading comic books and as a youngster I fantasised that one day I’d work for 2000AD, drawing the likes of Judge Dredd. As a teenager, though, I abandoned that idea and decided I was going to be a cartoonist instead. I’d always imagined, however, that it would be for an adult market and it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started illustrating specifically for children. Initially it was mainly marketing and packaging work but then I had a long stint producing jigsaws and board games, which was great fun. I was then commissioned to work on various educational courses for primary schools which surprisingly involved me illustrating stories and even comic strips. Finally, I became a dad and the house started filling up with picture books. At this point I decided I really wanted to be a children’s book illustrator and longed to work on a fiction title. Macmillan gave me my big break with the Zombie Goldfish series.
How did you become an illustrator?
I took art at A-Level and then, after a year’s art foundation course, did an HND in Illustration at Falmouth School of Art & Design. However, post graduation it proved very hard to find freelance illustration work, so I ended up working full-time as a graphic designer instead. This taught me a lot about design but importantly gave me the opportunity to produce a lot of illustration work and after a few years I had a strong commercial portfolio with which to try freelancing again. In recent years I’ve managed to focus almost entirely on illustration but the graphic design skills come in handy on occasion.
What is the biggest challenge in illustrating a book for young children?
I think it’s trying to appeal to the children on one level and on another producing something that the parents will enjoy too, as it’s often us who end up reading it. It’s also knowing when to rein it in a bit. In the Zombie Goldfish picture book I originally drew Fang’s idea of a fun game as making Frankie tight-rope walk over a lit barbecue.
Can you please explain a bit about your process of illustration?
In the early days I used to draw everything in pencil and then ink it in. This would then be scanned in, tidied up and coloured up in Photoshop. However, making changes was awkward and time consuming so I began to work entirely digitally using Adobe Illustrator instead. This creates vector (as opposed to pixel) artwork which can be resized and endlessly and quickly edited with no loss of quality. I build images up using overlapping shapes so my artwork is more constructed than drawn, if that makes sense. I also use a mouse rather than a graphics tablet. One downside to vector art is that it can look a bit flat and computery so recently, when appropriate, I’ve started incorporating scanned textures into my work to add a bit more depth. I’ll start a picture by roughly plotting the main features and rejigging it until I’m happy with the composition. Then I’ll add a basic level of detail and shading. Once the client is happy with the way it looks I’ll add any additional detail and shading effects and, in the case of the picture book, incorporate the textures too.
What is more difficult/rewarding about illustrating a picture book vs a novel?
It was a challenge to transfer the characters from the bold graphic style of the novels into a softer stye for the picture book but I had some really helpful art direction from Emily at Macmillan. It was an evolutionary process which let me try out a few combinations of things before settling on the final style. I was quite satisfied with the end result but I’m looking forward to building on it next time. I do love creating the black and white pictures for the novels though. Sometimes it feels as though I’m illustrating a comic book. Perhaps Mo could write a Zombie Goldfish graphic novel next. That would be awesome!