Well known as a cartoonist in particular for his comic strips for Viz, John Fardell made an immediate impression as a picture book creator with his debut title, Manfred the Baddie which won the Royal Mail Award. It was soon followed by Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High! which was shortlisted for the Booktrust Early Years Award. Fardell’s work is characterised by its quiveringly vibrant line and cross hatching, his deft handling of perspective and his edgy yet engaging humour. Here John Fardell explains the technique and thinking behind his latest picture book, The Day Louis Got Eaten.
First illustration: Louis and Sarah coming down the woodland path
This is the first page of the book. As is usual with my picture books, the text is fairly minimal, letting the picture tell all the detail of the story. It’s quite a hard-working illustration, in that it’s doing several things at once. It establishes the two main characters, and tells us something about their personalities and relationship; it establishes some items that will be needed later in the story, such as Sarah’s bike, her Swiss-army multi-tool, her tent, and Louis’ torch; it leads the reader into the journey of the story; and it shows a hint of the lurking danger.
I wanted to get this meandering woodland path looking convincing, so on one of my numerous sketching trips into my local woods, I found a section of path which curved in roughly the required way and made a quick Biro sketch from the right viewpoint. Of course I freely adapted the reality of the place for the purposes of my illustration (adding the entirely made-up house even as I was sketching), but I’m sure the final illustration benefited greatly from the underlying sketch.
The direction of movement is important in this illustration. The meandering path leads the viewer from the children’s pleasant-looking home in the top left, down into the woods (with the flowers giving way to less colourful undergrowth) until we reach the gnarled tree in the bottom right, where the furry paw is visible.
The left-to-right direction of travel is consistent throughout the book’s journey, (except in the book’s final illustration, when the children are returning home and thus travel across the double-page spread from right-to-left). Left-to-right is the direction we read in, of course, so having your characters travel in this direction makes good sense as you follow them through the pages of a book. It’s a rule you see used often in comic books, such as Tintin, as well as in films. (It’s a rule you can break and play with for different effects, of course, but one that it’s good to be aware of.)
Second illustration: all the monsters inside each other
This spread is really the focal point of the book for me. The prime inspiration for the book was the fascination I remember from early childhood with the thought of being eaten whole (a fascination I’m assuming other children share!) and here we see all the monsters inside each other, with Sarah crawling into each one to reach the smallest, inside which is her brother. (I decided to hold back the cutaway view of him till the next page, to add a bit of suspense.)
I’ve deliberately made this picture quite diagrammatic, and drawn cleanly with an absence of scrawly shading or gore. I want it to be slightly disturbing, but in a surreal way, rather than a gruesome one. In an earlier pencil rough, the monsters’ eyes had a rather blank-starey expression, which, as my editor pointed out, made them look dead and too frightening. In this finished version, I’m hoping that the monsters’ frowny eyebrows make them look funnier and a bit silly.
In my first pencil layout for this spread, I’d envisaged all the text being set in the sky, outside the biggest monster. Then I had the idea of putting each bit of text over the mouth and throat of the relevant monster, so that the reader would be drawn into each new cutaway illustration as they followed the text. I’m very grateful to Andersen Press’s designer, Beccy Garrill, for her skill and patience in making the curvy typesetting work just right.
Both these illustrations (and all the others in this book) were drawn with a combination of dip-pen and brush, using black waterproof Indian ink, on Fabriano 5 HP watercolour paper, and coloured with watercolour paints.
The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell is published by Andersen Press (978 1 8493 9015 6) at £10.99 hbk.