• Posted on June 30, 2010

Fox On The Run

A funny thing happened on the way to a barnyard convention. A fox steals a chicken, and as one would expect, a chase ensues, but this is no ordinary poultry pilfering. There will be no KFC party pack on the menu tonight.

The Chicken Thief is an action-packed wordless picture book involving a cross-country chase through dark forests, steep mountains, and roiling oceans. The watercolour and chalk paintings are loose in detail, but rich in colour, providing a glowing background for the expressive line drawings of the main characters: the chasers-a bear, rabbit and rooster, and the chasees-a fox and a hen. One wonders why the fox went so far afield to find his hen, but being a fox, I’m sure he had a plan. A sly plan. But not even a fox could imagine the conclusion to this unusual story.

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  • Posted on June 20, 2010

Even Rabbits Get the Blues

OK. Let me just get it out there…

About 10 years ago I wrote a children’s story about a boy and his snit. The snit is disembodied from the boy; it’s an actual thing that he gets in and out of, and it gets bigger or smaller depending on the severity of the provocation. My intention was to illustrate the damn thing, but it never got past the ‘why don’t I clean out my closet’ stage of the creative process. Now, here is a book, Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood, which is similar in the sense that the rabbit’s bad mood is an externalized grey thing that follows him around, “lying in his living room, on his sofa, picking its nose and wiping its boogers on his carpet.” No boogers in my book, but you see my point. And…Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood is truly wonderful; funny…silly, and the illustrations are, well, the illustrations are done.

Delphine Durand is a French artist who has a particular and admirable talent for noses. Durand’s illustrations of pendulous probosci are what attracted me to her previous books, Beetle Boy and Peter Claus and the Naughty List. It’s a peculiar thing to possess such skill in the humourous depiction of noses, but it’s just one part of a larger gift for characterization. Her little creatures, beetles, dolls, children, rabbits, to name a few, are crazy funny and deliciously strange. Delphine is one of those artists whose stylistic influence is so strong you can see it creeping into other peoples work. But then, she keeps exceeding herself, as in Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood.

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  • Posted on June 12, 2010

Running Up That Hill

There are many obstacles on the way to my drafting table. As a result of a locally contained cosmic rip in the space-time continuum, unusually thick molecules have leached into the atmosphere, making the air almost impenetrable, effectively gluing my ass to the chair; movement of any sort nigh on impossible. The severe restrictions on mobility leave few options: reading, watching television, planning picnics with my cat.
Also, you know the horror movie gimmick where someone is trying to escape a bogeyman and the approach to the door suddenly telescopes out, making the door unreachable?
There are days when my drafting table seems a million miles away, even though it’s only a few feet from my chair. Artists face many challenges in their quest to put paintbrush to canvas, pen to paper, piss to copper Christ. It’s just part of the landscape.

In Tim Wynne-Jone’s On Tumbledown Hill, an artist is repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to paint plein air by 26 unruly monsters, who are, “much bigger than me and stronger, too, with arms that are longer and thicker through.” The monsters, depicted as children, play and fight and wreak havoc with the painters ability to create. This is a GREAT excuse. Wish I’d thought of it.

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  • Posted on June 03, 2010

A Picture of Canada

When the bookseller handed me a copy of Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman, I was disappointed. It was thick, and it had a moose on the over. Not that I have anything against weighty books, or Canada’s antlered icon, but it seemed cliché. A quick flip through the pages confirmed my worst fears: very few pictures. How could this be? It’s a book about illustration and it’s mostly text? O Canada.

Now that I’ve read the book, I am no longer disappointed. In fact, I am elated. Picturing Canada is an entirely engrossing history of the illustrated children’s book in Canada from the 19th to the 21st century. To put it in book terms, from the publication of Northern Regions: or, A Relation of Uncle Richard’s Voyages for the Discovery of a North-West Passage, and an Account of the Overland Journies of Other Enterprizing Travellers (1825) to Eh? to Zed: A Canadian Abecedarium (2001). Our love of rambling titles has remained steadfast for over 200 years.

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