December 10th, 2013

we're out: interview with philippa rice

I recently posted my Top 20 Christmas Prezzie Tips, and my big find at this year's Thought Bubble comics festival was Philippa Rice's new book, We're Out. Philippa's a huge hero of mine in her innovative approaches to storytelling and use of comics format, and I'm excited by the wide appeal this book has, to everyone from very young children to teenagers to grown-ups. Very occasionally a book will turn up that I end up buying over and over again and giving away as gifts because it's perfect for everyone, and We're Out is one of them.

Readers of all ages will find Philippa's work hugely inspiring, because it's made up of everyday objects, which come to life: bits of cardboard and paper, sticking plasters, plastic spoons, pieces of sponge. Even thought it's sophisticated storytelling and beautiful crafting, it also gives us the feel that we could go away and tell our own stories with the things we find around us. While the characters in We're Out do face perilous situations - dodging giant feet on the pavement, a torn limb, not being able to go home - there's a genuine, infectious warmth and joy to the book that I've seldom seen achieved so successfully in comics or picture books.

Philippa plays with dimensions in her book; the characters start out with cardboard Colin and paper Pauline listening to elderly Nanny tell stories about her journeys into other dimensions. They want to find out what it's like to visit the 3D world, and she urges them to get out there, and meets them when they arrive. At the very end of the book, it switches into 3D, complete with 3D glasses, suggesting a step into yet another dimension.

Of course, the book itself is 2D, but it makes the reader think about dimensionality, reminding me very much of a book from 1884 called Flatland: a Romance in Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott. I adore Flatland, but it's quite theoretical, and this book takes Abbott's more scholarly approach and elevates it to the realm of play and colourful adventure. Studying the two books together would make an excellent school project; I think all libraries should stock both books. There's also a powerful scene when Colin and Pauline try to get back into their flat comic world and find they can't; it reminded me of that scene in The Magician's Nephew, when the children jump into the pool in the Wood Between the Worlds and find they can't get back to their own world. This book is made of all the things I love! It packs in a lot of concept, but it works on so many levels; I think even children as young as two years old will love looking at the pictures. And the book's a nice friendly size, 16.5cm / 6.5 inches square, easy to hold and perfect for stocking stuffing.

After I saw Philippa at Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds last month, she kindly consented to let me interview her. So let's talk with Philippa!

Sarah: I love how you present your work at comics fairs, your table always looks so interesting and inviting with the dioramas you create. They remind me a bit of the peep box made by the little boy in Ezra Jack Keats’ book, The Trip. I used to love making those boxes, they were like peering into a little world. Can you remember what inspired you the first time you put together a diorama?

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