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I knew writer and illustrator Shaun Tan was going to be in London this summer, over from Australia, so I was pleased as punch when IBBY Conference organiser Ann Lazim asked me if I'd introduce Shaun before his talk. (IBBY stands for International Board on Books for Young People and it's a big global organisation dedicated to rooting out the best children's books from all over the planet and making sure they can find their way into kids' hands.)

I knew all the delegates would be more than aware of who Shaun is, so I thought I needed to do something a little different than just list his awards and stuff. The night before the conference, I made a short picture book-thing out of book packaging material. The conference theme was 'Crossing Boundaries: Translations and Migrations', so I picked out some of the made-up foreign language from Shaun's book The Arrival.

It's a perfect book for that theme because it puts you, the viewer, into the position of being a new immigrant to the country Shaun's created. You don't understand the language, the customs, the food, and as you explore, recurring images begin to present themselves as new symbols to you: a strange white tadpole creature on legs, paper birds, cryptic runes.

I talked my way through the booklet, opening its flaps, then at the end, unwrapped a little box with a paper bird in it, and... ha ha, launched it into the audience. This delegate caught it! Actually, mine didn't look much like a bird, more like an airplane.

So the lady made some clever little modifications and showed me at the end. Yay!

Here's Shaun talking about his book The Lost Thing. He described this scene: "like when you walk into a cocktail party and don’t know anyone".

If for some bizarre reason you haven't read any of Shaun's books yet, get yourself down to your local bookshop or library and start now.

A big cheer to Ann Lazim and the team who made the IBBY Conference happen! It was no easy feat, pulling it off at the same time as the Olympics and Paralympics, but they did a great job.

I took a peek at Candy Gourlay's notes from Shaun's talk. Candy's a writer (and author of Tall Story) but she started out as a cartoonist and journalist in the Philippines, and she's working her way back into illustration. You can see more photos from the IBBY Conference on Candy's blog here.

Whenever I used to run into The Gruffalo's Axel Sheffler, he looked a bit scared of me, so now we always grab photos of us looking more and more terrified.

So... bank holiday weekend almost over, event number two! Shaun Tan and Quentin Blake in conversation at Comica Festival! It was great to see one of the pillars of British illustration talking with Shaun, who's only lately become a household name, and who grew up reading books with Quentin's illustrations, including the Roald Dahl books (being quite disturbed by The Twits).

Here's the fabulous Comica Festival team, who are bringing comics to a wider audience: Paul Gravett, Megan Donnolley and Peter Stanbury. (Lovely shirt, Megan!)

The event was a sell-out, and we all packed into the St Alban's centre, a fancy modern extension tacked on next to the old church wall, the same place we heard the talk by Craig Thompson.

Shaun and Quentin both have huge respect for each other's work, partly because their pictures are so entirely different to each other's. Shaun's are heavily built up, 'sedimentary' he called them. He doesn't like starting with white paper, he first creates a base of collage and paint splatterings before adding layers of acrylic, then oil paint. Whereas Quentin does a scribble in pencil, then uses a light box to redraw the picture very quickly and simply in ink onto the white paper. ('Not tracing', he adds, 'drawing the picture again, as though it were the first drawing'.) He then paints with watercolour, which allows a lot of the white of the paper still to show through. Shaun recommended Quentin's book Words and Pictures for understanding his view of illustration, and you can read essays by Shaun here on his website.

We all had a great time at the end watching Shaun and Quentin draw subjects given to them by the audience. Here's 'gluttony of sausages'.

I didn't have the greatest vantage point, but here you can get a gist of them drawing 'Disguise':

Shaun briefly mentioned the project he's working on now, about an older brother and a younger brother, with a younger brother who's always doing things wrong. Based on his own relationship with his brother. Really look forward to seeing this one!

I've always been aware of Quentin's work. Reading Roald Dahl books was possibly the first time I ever read a book and thought, a person drew these pictures. I didn't really think about it before, I just assumed they came out of a machine or something. And funnily enough, I think it's because the pictures seemed very imperfect to me, a bit scribbly. Which made me look down on them slightly; I thought, I could do that. I remember reading through a paperback copy of George's Marvelous Medicine on a long car journey, carefully connecting all the lines that didn't meet up (how sloppy!), and colouring them in. It's only when I grew up, I think I really appreciated the liveliness and fun of Quentin's drawings, and appreciated his skill in making them. But I've always loved the Dahl books, and I think, even then, their pictures are a part of that.

I took some notes and made a couple sketches during the evening, but I couldn't see very well over the heads and I don't think the portraits are terribly good likenesses. Ah, well.

A few more shots from the evening:

I much prefer Joe Decie's sketches from the evening, which are more scribbly but better capture the two men. You can see the rest of the sketches over on Joe's Tumblr blog. (And check out his comics, they are brilliant!)

In the audience, writer and illustrator Layn Marlow:

A very happy Deadly Knitshade:

And writer illustrator Guy Parker-Rees:

I hope Shaun enjoyed his visit to London. He said in his Comica talk, "I do a lot about journeys because I rarely have them. I'm a stay-at-home kinda guy." And he talked about the vast amount of time it takes to run a small business, and the onslaught of e-mails involved in doing events. Oh boy, do I know about that. But I'm awfully glad he took time out to make the journey - thanks, Shaun! - and I hope he now gets lots of time back home to get stuck into his work.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Alison Mutton
Aug. 28th, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
I saw Shaun Tan at an open day for the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre last year (that's in Western Australia). It was June, but I don't think the poor organisers had realised the pull a name associated with the Academy Awards would have. It was great, in that it got so many people to the open day, and they pretty much had to discover the other authors there as well – but it was an enormous squeeze, no elbow room at all! The laid back talk was fascinating, though – even if it did result in some rather over-awed kids who seemed to be too well behaved to laugh at another author's description of how to go to the toilet in Antarctica. =P Eight-year-olds who don't giggle at the word 'wee' are slightly disconcerting!
Aug. 29th, 2012 06:26 am (UTC)
Ha ha, oh no! It's so off-putting when you say something that normally makes people laugh and they just sit there looking at you. Sometimes I get that where the kids have been drilled into being well-behaved, and they're TOO well-behaved.

That's great you got to see Shaun! I'm not surprised the event was very popular. :)
Aug. 28th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
The father of a schoolmate of mine was himself a schoolmate of Quentin Blake — known to his friends as 'Q', I believe — like in James Bond. IIRC my mate Rich used to get birthday cards from Q as a child, with little scribbled sketches in, and didn't realize till much later how unusual and special that was!
Aug. 29th, 2012 06:27 am (UTC)
How cool is that!!! :D
Aug. 28th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
I love the design on that little cardboard book thing you made. Also I need to read more Shaun Tan books.

And Man, Quentin Blake... I guess when I was a kid, I took him for granted, and it wasn't until I grew up that I realized how exceptional he was. But yes, half the fun of reading the Twits or George's Marvelous Medicine was the illustrations.
Aug. 29th, 2012 06:30 am (UTC)
Ah, you even had Quentin Blake books in France when you were a kid? Fab, I didn't realise his work had jumped the channel until recently!
Aug. 29th, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
Oh yes, we had all the Roald Dahl books with Quentin Blake illustrations !
Aug. 29th, 2012 09:34 am (UTC)
And hey, I just saw this the other day, and thought of you : not sea wigs, but water wigs !
Aug. 29th, 2012 10:41 am (UTC)
Ha ha, this is BRILLIANT! :D Thank you!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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