Published in February this year by David Fickling Books, Lionheart is Richard Collingridge’s second picture book. Here he describes the inspiration behind this cinematic adventure, from classic picture books to Lost and 80s films.
Four years ago, my debut picture book, When it Snows, was published. For this book I had created a very simple narrative, allowing the pictures to do most of the talking. The plot was purposefully quite ambiguous with the only obviously apparent resolution being the power of reading. This was nice, I thought, but in retrospect, I wondered if there was an expectation of more of an emotional impact from the story in relation to the atmospheric illustrations.
When I came to starting Lionheart, my second picture book, I had been watching a TV series called Lost (yes, I also didn’t like the ending). My favourite thing about Lost was the character development and especially that of one particular character – John Locke (named after the famous English philosopher). He had had a very hard life, where everything seemed to go against him, including being paralysed from the waist down. Despite all of this, he fought on until he was miraculously able to walk again.
It’s natural for us to be drawn to stories where the protagonist hasn’t got a chance, but due to their bravery and will power, is able to overcome their fear/adversities and succeed. I am an advocate of the philosophy that anyone can do anything if they put their minds to it. And so, the narrative inspiration for my next picture book was born.
The thought process was that in order to overcome something seemingly impossible, you need to be brave, and probably the most vivid image of bravery in iconography is a lion. Being English, Richard the Lionheart springs to mind straight away. So that was the protagonist(s) sorted out (although Richard was originally named James for a long time during the creation of the book)!
Then I needed to come up with the antagonist, or in primal terms, a fear. I went in differing ways with this at first, but eventually settled on the unseen fear: the monster under the bed, the shadow in the cupboard or the ghost outside your window. As this was a children’s book, the monster isn’t dwelt upon, only mentioned in passing, though we are constantly aware Richard is running from something. By the time it is finally revealed, Richard and the reader are brave enough to overcome it (I won’t mention how because it will give away the plot, but I think it’s really cool!).
With the plot developed, then came the visual inspiration. For the colour, I wanted the complete opposite of the de-saturated approach I took in When it Snows. The first image that came into my head was the yellow brick road in the Technicolor 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. However, after trying a few images out in this style I felt it was too limiting to use this type of colour palette in the whole book. I had also recently seen the film adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which was very beautiful and colourful. So in the end, I think the colour palette of Lionheart was a bit of a mix between both of the above.
As the story started to evolve, I found myself referencing different things. I had already done this in When it Snows, where there are references to The Polar Express and The Snowman (amongst other things). Maurice Sendak had just passed away, and I wanted to pay homage to him, especially to my favourite passage in Where the Wild Things Are:
a forest grew, and grew, and grew, until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world around.
While going back through the book it occurred to me that Sendak’s wild things seemed a kind of precursor to Jim Henson’s 80s movie puppets. I think most of us born in the 80s have particularly fond memories of the films that came out then, and we’re seeing this more and more now with the popularity of nostalgia films from this period, i.e. Guardians of the Galaxy (with its Sony Walkman and Troll doll), Super 8 (with its 8mm home video recorder) and eventhe new Star Wars gets its cheers from referencing the original trilogy (produced from 1977-83).
So in the end, Lionheart’s visuals were probably most influenced by 80s film, including The Labyrinth (Jim Henson’s Goblins of different shapes and sizes), The Princess Bride (Columbo telling a story to his grandson in a bedroom stacked full of toys), The Never Ending Story (Atreyu and his relationship with Falcor) and Indiana Jones (the unabashed adventure of it, the temple spread in Lionheart being a particular reference to this).
Overall I hope that Lionheart manages to convey the strong feeling of triumphing over adversity that is such an important need for all of us, often on a daily basis.
[On a separate note: The real Richard the Lionheart was born at Beaumont Palace, just yards from my publisher’s offices in Oxford. So, not that I believe in those sorts of things, but it was definitely fitting that Lionheart was born in the same place…]
Lionheart is published by David Fickling Books, 978-1-9102-0022-3, £11.99 hbk.