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For the very first time, the British Book Awards celebrated Illustrator of the Year, giving a voice to the winner, Axel Scheffler. He had something strong to say, that reflected the fear and uncertainty many illustrators in Britain are facing right now.

I was so thrilled to be able to present this award, sponsored by The Quarto Group, whoever won it, because it's a sign that the bookselling industry is finally starting to take seriously the contributions illustrators make to the UK economy. And there's partly been an economic reason for this oversight: unlike for writers, there are no sales figures easily attached to our name - a shortcoming of book data - so our economic value tends to get tied to the success of the writers we work with, or the publishers overall. And our names, and industry's tracking of individual illustrator careers often gets lost. But Axel Scheffler is one person whom the nation can never forget, because the Gruffalo is so firmly embedded in the national consciousness, and in the hearts of children all over the world.

It was telling that the two people who got standing ovations just for going on stage were both illustrators: Axel Scheffler and Judith Kerr (Mog the Forgetful Cat, The Tiger who Came to Tea). It's the combination of words and pictures that have won people's hearts.

Because children's books are an art form, and are shared intimately by the light of bedside lamps, we tend to shy away from putting economic value on the work of illustrators; we naturally talk more of 'love' for illustrators than 'value'. All of the pre-existing illustration awards I know recognise these creative and nurturing aspects. But an important way of showing genuine love to illustrators is to help them build careers and flourish in their professions and not, through neglect, forcing even top illustrators to scrabble constantly for enough money to pay the rent, or having to worry that Immigration officials from the Home Office may show up at 5:30 in the morning at their houses to deport them because the government didn't have, or didn't choose to access, the right records on file (as we see happening around us).

So often illustrators do not have a voice for many reasons: lack of industry recognition, working in effect as 'ghost illustrators' without credit or book data inclusion, fear of being labelled 'trouble' and overlooked for commissions, fear of being singled out by the Home Office for deportation. Or simply for choosing to illustrate, not write and illustrate. It's not like we're doing something wrong: children's books are a leading UK export and our work contributes toward the education and overall well-being of children and children in relationship with their families and schools. We shouldn't have to be scared, but it's a big help when industry leaders champion the work of top illustrators and say, 'You make a difference, we value you, we're glad you're here'.

And sometimes we have something we need Britain to hear. You can read the full text of Axel's speech on the blog of one of his publishers, Nosy Crow:

Read more here...

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On Saturday, the 5th of May, Gosh Comics in Soho hosted a big fun day of drawing! It coincided with Free Comic Book Day, and people queued down the street in Soho to get free comics, but it was more than that; lots of families came to meet creators, sit around a table and make comics with us. My favourite part about it was getting to read comics that kids had brought from home - I got to see some real talent!

Photo by Mauricio Molizane de Souza for Gosh London

The brilliant thing about making comics is that kids don't have to wait until they grow up to be comics artists, they can do it right now; all it takes to self-publish comics is a photocopier or home scanner/printer.

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dinosaur firefighters: how we made it!

People often wonder how I get from having an idea to holding the real book in my hands. Here's how it happened with Dinosaur Firefighters!

dinosaur firefighters

The basic idea: Dinosaur Firefighters started with my editor suggesting the title, and its predecessor, Dinosaur Police was just the same. So I needed to come up with a story to fit it! I've gotten into a habit of running story ideas by Philip Reeve; we're often on the road to events and this time we were meeting up for a drink the evening before school assemblies the following day. We sat down and talked through possible storylines and came up with the basic plot. (Thanks, Philip!) He even sketched out some possible characters, a couple of which you might recognise from the book.

Character design: After that, I went back to my studio desk and started sketching out all the dinosaurs that might be in the Dinoville fire brigade. I like to post them right over my desk, so I can refer to them for continuity as I work.

I wanted to make Dipsy big and blue, and not obviously girly (I mean, eyelashes aren't really a big thing in Dinosaur biology anyway. You can read a bit more about the ideas behind Dipsy the Diplodocus in a previous blog post.)

Thumbnail roughs: The next step was figuring out how to fill each 'double-page spread'. (A 'spread' is what editors call the two pages facing each other.) In a lot of ways, knowing the exact number of pages simplifies things a lot, I just have to work out how to make the story fill these little boxes. This is when I think about the story's pacing, create a sense of story rhythm, and create build-ups to surprises when people turn the pages. Sometimes I write the text first and then do these, but this time I did very, very basic scribbles to help me figure out how to structure the story. (No one would be able to work out what I've drawn except for me.)

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drawing the house with chicken legs

One of the hardest things about getting older is that, when I go to parties celebrating creative achievements, hardly any of my friends actually want to get together to make stuff; we stand around and chat and hold drink glasses and nibble at canapés. Nothing wrong at all with that, but I miss everyone sitting around a table at the pub and drawing and laughing at what we've drawn. Luckily one of my friends is still totally up for coming to a party, sitting on the floor and drawing with me.

Here's @CFcomiX, who I met briefly four years ago when Philip Reeve and I were doing our Pugs of the Frozen North events up in Kendal for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He's a member of our @StudioTeaBreak drawing challenge group on Twitter (with his account overseen by his mum) and for years, he's managed to meet almost every single challenge!

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NEE-NAR NEE-NAR! Today's the big day, Dinosaur Firefighters to the rescue!

dinosaur firefighters

You can read here about the story behind Dinosaur Firefighters, and to mark the day, I'm offering a couple new things on my website, including this full-colour poster to print of the whole Dinoville Fire Brigade! Free, and perfect for libraries, schools and bedrooms. (Give a shout if you're a fire station and you're displaying it!)

Learn how to draw Dipsy Diplodocus, who wants more than anything to be a Dinoville firefighter!

And one more thing, a big Dinosaur Firefighters poster for you (or something you know) to colour yourself! (Available here in A3 and A4.)

Dinosaur Firefighters should be available in all good bookshops: start with your local independent if you can! Also Page 45 in Nottingham ships both the hardcover and paperback internationally, so you can buy it direct from them. Read owner Stephen Holland's amazing Dinosaur Firefighters review here!

Keep reading...

London's Gosh Comics in Soho will be stocking lots of copies (which I can sign for you, along with The New Neighbours this Saturday, 5 May, from 11am-noon).

TO BUY ONLINE: Here's a Page 45 link, a Foyles link, Waterstones link, Scholastic shop, and Amazon. If you're an independent shop and have a direct link to buy Dinosaur Firefighters on your website, please let me know so I can link to you!

I have several events lined up; find out if I'm in your area!

EDIT: Already one picture in of someone having fun with the colouring sheet! Thanks for tweeting this, Maria! :)


Sarah McIntyre

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