The Anthony Browne Interview

Look out for Anthony's brand new Willy title, Willy and the Dreamer
(Walker Books 9.99)

He talks about working on the new book in the following interview

1. Can you remember the first drawing/picture you were really pleased with?

Some detailed paintings of a dissected rat that I made for an interview for a course to study medical illustration. (I wasn't accepted.)

2. What is your art training background?

I studied Graphic Design at Leeds College of Art, (rather badly).

3. What is your favourite medium for picture books, and why?

Water-colours - just because I'm used to them, I suppose. I can work quickly with them, and they dry quickly. I tend to use them in a more controlled way than is usual - a technique I learned when I eventually became a medical artist.

4. Is all your work illustrative, or do you ever exhibit one-off works of art?

I have occasionally painted pictures for fun, but they always seem to tell a story.

5. How does a book begin in your mind? As a story, or as a series of images?

Most of my books begin as a strange combination of story and images. The only way I can describe this is to say that it's like planning a film, and working out the pages of a book is like deciding on the scenes of a film.

Your books often deal with feelings of isolation and sadness, resolved through a leap of the imagination. Is this a theme you consciously pursue, and does it have any connection with your own experience as a child?

It isn't a theme that I consciously pursue. An idea ofr a book seems to slowly force itself on me. I suppose it must have something to do with my own experiences of childhood, although I grew up in a warm, loving family and don't remember feeling lonely very often -- I certainly was rarely alone.

How long does the average illustration (for example one of the full-page pictures in Gorilla) take to complete?

An illustration can take anything from a day if it's small and fairly simple, to a week if it's larger and detailed. I rarely take any longer as my interest wanes if I spend too long on one image, although I sometimes think I'd like to spend much longer.

Before becoming a full-time picture-book author, you had other jobs. What were they and how would use your artistic talents if you were to suddenly lose the impulse to create children's picture books?

I was a medical illustrator in Manchester for 3 years; taught part-time at Leeds Art College; and designed greetings cards for the Gordon Fraser Gallery. I sometimes think it would be interesting to be a painter, so perhaps I'd try that.

9. When did you draw your first "primate"?

Well, strictly speaking humans are "primates" so it must have been one of the first things I ever drew as a child. The first gorilla that I remember drawing was for a birthday card which showed a huge fierce-looking male gorilla holding a teddy-bear, and in a way I've been repeating that idea ever since.

Have you ever considered producing a 'graphic' story for older readers - young adults, or actual adults?

My version of "King Kong" was fairly close to that. I was trying to make something in between a picture book, a graphic story and a conventional novel. Now I'm not sure what it was, or indeed who it was for. Bookshops certainly had a problem with it.

You like to partially conceal images in the backgrounds of your pages. Most of these are straightforward to detect, but are there any which the majority of readers seem to miss?

There are quite a few and I must admit I'm reluctant to give them away, but there is a gorilla that crept into a double-page spread of "The Tunnel" that has absolutely nothing to do with the story. (I usually include these concealed images to help tell parts of the story that the words don't tell us. It's this particualr aspect of my work that I find most fascinating.)

Talking of "The Tunnel", how did you create the sequential pictures in that book -- where the sister throws her arms around her brother's cold, lifeless form and hugs him back to life?

I wanted the story to be set in a very real world with very real children, so I photographed a friend's children in the actual poses.

Why does the zoo feature so regularly in your stories?

I have very mixed feelings about zoos. I wish they weren't necessary. But I think that I'm interested in the idea of cages and entrapment of all kinds and at all levels -- even my pictures are usually trapped within boxes.

14. Which of your books is your own favourite?

I have 3 favourites -- "Gorilla", "Zoo", and, amazingly, my new book "Willy the Dreamer". I say "amazingly because usually after just finishing a book I absolutely hate it. I can't bear to look at it at all -- all I can see are the faults, the bits that didn't come out quite as well as I'd hoped. This book was a joy to work on. It's a sequence of pictures which celebrate dreaming, some of my favourite paintings and... bananas. I think that maybe some of this enjoyment shows through. At least, I hope so.

Amongst contemporary picture book authors, whose work do you like or admire the most?

I like many British picture book authors and illustrators but my two favourites are both from the USA: the great Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg.

Anthony Browne will answer supplemetary questions at the end of the month.
To have your question considered for selection post it to the ACHUKA e-mail address.