IT’S NOT EASY to describe Hark! A Vagrant to someone who hasn’t read it. The webcomic by Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton is perhaps best known for riffing hilariously on historical characters from legends like Napoleon Bonaparte and Julius Caesar to more obscure and underappreciated figures like Nikola Tesla. In her new book collection Step Aside, Pops, Beaton spins out strips that poke fun at superheroes, use the covers of Nancy Drew novels as creative prompts, imagine Fox Mulder of the X-Files as a Jane Austen heroine, and even riff for 11 pages on the Janet Jackson music video “Nasty.”
The ears on BFG drawings were based on Roald Dahl’s gardener, not Prince Charles, and how Quentin Blake had to quickly double the number of illustrations for the book:
Blake, 81, whose drawings of the character form part of the first exhibition at The House of Illustration, a new museum near King’s Cross in north London, said yesterday that he changed the character’s appearance when he suddenly had to create double the number of pictures.
Although Blake and Dahl had previously worked on The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits, it was the first time the two worked directly with one another rather than through an editor. “The BFG is memorable to me because I was commissioned to do a dozen drawings — there were 12 full pages. It was at the printers and they rang up and said: ‘He’s not happy.’”
Blake had to rush out enough drawings for each of the book’s chapters. “I thought: phew. I enjoyed it, but it was a lot of work. Then it went to the printers again and they said: ‘He’s still not happy.’ So that’s when we started talking to one another and he gave me a list of things he wanted. There is a complete set of illustrations for the first version of The BFG that have never been published.”
Blake said that together they created images with more character. “The face of the BFG [in the first version of the book] is rather more simply clown-like, and the ears are not as manoeuvrable.”
He said that any resemblance to caricatures of the Prince of Wales was accidental. “I’m sure he was there [in the illustration] with his ears, but it’s actually based on Roald’s gardener.”