Monday 22 January 2018

'Little Red Reading Hood'- a 'Q and A' with illustrator Ben Mantle, by Lucy Rowland.

For the last post of 2017, the Picture Book Den team put together a joint blog titled 'Our picture books, our favourites' where authors and illustrators shared their favourite self-penned or self-drawn picture books.  You can find the link here: 

I chose 'Little Red Reading Hood', mine and Ben Mantle's upcoming picture book with Macmillan.  For me, 'Little Red Reading Hood' is a celebration of libraries, reading, story and the power of imagination.  I believed in the text from the start but it's the illustrations that have really brought it to life with such magic!

The incredibly talented Ben Mantle has a background in animation as well as children's book illustration and he has kindly agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his work and artistic process.  Thank you, Ben!

1)      You are now a very well established illustrator, with self-penned picture books as well as books that you have collaborated on with other authors. Which projects do you generally prefer to work on?

     This will seem like a cop-out, but it is absolutely true, I really enjoy both to be honest and couldn’t pick between them. Working on your own authored book is special because its your baby, and you get to birth it and see it grow. It’s a lot of hard work figuring it out and writing doesn’t come naturally to me. But, when you get it right, it feels great! However, I love being sent a brilliant story and being able to jump straight in. To read it through and enjoy it like the reader will. Plus, I love adding something new to the story, to my own spin on a book. Both are really team efforts and I really enjoy the variety and the different challenges that come with them. 

2)      If you are collaborating on a book, what is it about a text that makes you want to illustrate it? Was there anything in particular about Little Red Reading Hood that made you want to take it on?

      I guess there are many reasons. I can tell on the first read if it is something I want to work on. Sometimes it’s the characters or the setting that make me want to work on a book or a funny/witty text. It’s also important to me that the text has room to allow me to add something myself, rather than being told exactly what should be on every page.
      With Little Red Reading Hood it was all of those. The Big bad wolf is a character that I’ve always wanted to draw and I really loved the idea of illustrating the woods that Little Red ventures into. The text zipped along at such a pace and made me laugh out loud, which is rare! Any book with line– “What a Barbarian! Wolf had tied up Mrs Jones the Librarian!” is a book that I want to work on.

3)      You used to be an animator, how do you feel that this has influenced your illustration work?

      It has definitely had a big impact. The artists that I really look up to are mostly from the Animation world. Disney artists Mary Blair is so good with colours and mood and Gustaf Tenggren whose work on Pinocchio, I just adore. I would also put Raymond Briggs, Bill Watterson and Hayao Miyazaki in the list too. The skills you pick up working on Animation are invaluable too. Thinking about character, world building, pacing, storyboarding, not to mention the observation skills that really help with posing and composition. I generally can tell an ex-animator in publishing because of these skills.

4)      Could you tell us a bit about your typical working day as an illustrator?

      My working week changes depending on what I’m doing and how busy I am. It’s something close to 9-6 in the studio and then a few hours in the evenings sketching or planning. I’m often working on several things at a time, so you have to be good at managing your time and be able to swap projects easily. My studio in the lovely North Laines of Brighton, surrounded by lots of pubs and cafes. I share the place with a whole bunch of other ‘creatives’. In fact, there’s now 3 of us who all work in Children’s publishing in one way or another, which is very nice. I tried working at home, which I know a lot of illustrators do, but I started to go crazy. I’ll either be working on my Cintiq (think large screen that you can draw directly on to) or at my drawing board, which I use to trace my rough drawings using either paint or pastel.

5)      Fairytales and twists on fairytales have been told and re-imagined many times. Is it difficult to approach a familiar story in a new way or do you see this as an exciting challenge? 

      It is both to be honest. You have a pre-conceived idea of what that world and its characters look like, which is helpful to some degree. It’s like thousands of illustrators have built a nice foundation for you to start. So you need to follow certain conventions so that it has some link to the original, but it often means spending more time finding your own unique take on it.  But that is also the fun! You get to break the rules and surprise people. That’s why I’m known as Ben ‘rule breaker’ Mantle.

6)      If you could illustrate and re-imagine any fairy tale, which would you choose? 

      Oh, now that is tricky! I’d be tempted to go with something dark. You don’t get much chance in picture books to do that. A proper Brothers Grimm, with nothing softened. Maybe, Hansel and Gretel. When I was a kid I had a version of the Beowulf, that I genuinely found the pictures in it terrifying. But, that was what made it so good, it was the anticipation of turning the page to something that creeped me out. I’m not sure if you would class it as a fairy tale, but Alice in  Wonderland would be real fun too. It chock full of brilliant, eccentric characters and already has that gothic darkness that would appeal to me.   

7)      If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be?

  Erm…I’d choose one of them that doesn’t get cooked or murdered. Who does that leave me with?  Maybe a background character. Tim the blacksmith in Hansel and Gretel. Never heard of him? Well, that’s because I made him up, but he lives a very quiet, idyllic life and never meets a witch or wolf or a beast of any kind. Okay, at a push, and if you’ll agree that he’s a fairytale character I’d go for Peter Pan. He never grows up and has to pay bills and he can fly! And looks great in leggings!

8)      What is next on the horizon for you?

      I’m working on some great projects at the moment, but I can’t really say much about them. But I am working on some new text ideas of my own, which I’m hoping to find time to work on next year.  And of course, I’ll be working on our next book together, which is another brilliant rhyming text may I say. I guess you wouldn’t call it a fairytale per se, but it definitely riffs off classic characters and settings. And, actually it’s funny that I said I would like to illustrate something gothic before, because although our next book is light in tone, the setting is darker. But that is what drew me to it, that the characters bring real colour and light to the book and I can’t wait to illustrate that contrast.

Thank you Ben! You can learn more about Ben's beautiful work on his website
And you can keep up with all his news by following him on twitter @BenMMantle or Instagram benmmantle 


Jonathan Emmett said...

"Little Red Reading Hood" looks and sounds like a great book, Lucy and Ben. And I already love the cover and title. I'll definetly be checking it out.

Lucy Rowland said...

Thank you Jonathan. I really hope you enjoy it 😀

Paeony Lewis said...

'Little Red Reading Hood' is such a clever idea, Lucy. I always adore finding out about the illustration side of picture books and I particularly like Ben's illustration in the blog post of Little Red reading at night. Looking forward to seeing all the book!

Lucy Rowland said...

Hi Paeony. Thanks very much! Yes, Ben's artwork is so magical isn't it? I feel very lucky that we've worked together on this book! Hope you enjoy it!