Illustrator Chris Riddell tells us about creating the artwork for Neil Gaiman's children's book Fortunately, the Milk.
How were you first approached about the project?
I was in Edinburgh at the Literary Festival and had an event with Neil on the 10th anniversary edition of Coraline, which I’d illustrated for Bloomsbury.
At supper, Neil mentioned Fortunately, the Milk, saying that it was one of the craziest, mad cap stories he’d ever written and I thought I could bring my serious, sombre illustration style to the party, so I told him I’d be delighted to take it on.
Was it a collaborative process, or were you left to your own creative devices?
Neil is fantastic at giving his illustrators absolute freedom to respond to the text. Having worked with him before, I knew I could jump right into Fortunately, the Milk and have a lot of fun (especially with the aliens!).
Do you adapt a different approach to creating art for Neil's creations compared to other projects?
I work very closely with the writer, Paul Stewart, so am very used to collaboration. With Neil, his texts are so accessible and vivid that I feel that my job as an illustrator is not to get in the way, but take my cue from the story.
Fortunately, the Milk is a time travel adventure packed full of zany characters and my job was to visualise them as accurately as possible and then let them loose on the page in the ways Neil had described.
Neil's books for children are often very popular with adults too. Does this affect the creative process in any way?
For me as an illustrator, the book itself is the most important thing – the design, fonts, paper, binding, page turns...as long as these enhance the reading experience, I don’t worry too much about the age of the reader.
Neil has a following of dedicated comic and graphic novel readers who are visually sophisticated and eclectic in their tastes, and have no problem appreciating children’s books.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? How do you create your illustrations, and how would you define your style?
I work with a designer, who lays out the text and supplies me with page layouts, which I then scribble all over in pencil. Once I’ve roughed out the illustrations on these layouts, I pencil out the drawings a third larger, and ink them in using a paintbrush. I like to work fast and in concentrated bursts, making sure my characterisations are consistent.
I’d like to think my style is in the classic tradition of British children’s book illustration; my influences include John Tenniel (Alice in Wonderland), E.H. Shepherd (Winnie the Pooh) and William Heath Robinson (Professor Branestaum).
I also work as a political cartoonist for the Observer, and hope this gives my work a contemporary edge. Neil has the main character in Fortunately, The Milk reading a newspaper so I made the paper the Observer, open at the page with the political cartoon.
Fortunately, the Milk will be available in September from all good bookstores. You can find more about Chris over at his website here.