Superb full-length profile (by Gaby Wood) of illustrator Jim Kay.
Very highly recommended
Kay is the uncommonly gifted illustrator of A Monster Calls, the dark, award-winning children’s book written by Patrick Ness, and of an elaborate glossy pop-up book about bugs. More recently, he produced haunting monochrome drawings for a collection of stories about the First World War, and did some concept work for the television production of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Now that A Monster Calls is being turned into a film starring Liam Neeson, Kay is helping the film-makers, the monster being based very much on his own gigantic, creaking creation – one of the most spectacularly imagined nightmares in children’s literature. Still, no one was more surprised than Kay when JK Rowling’s publishers asked him to illustrate not one but all seven of the Harry Potter books, for glorious new large-scale editions, over the next seven years.“I’d not really drawn children,” he says quietly, as if still stunned. “And I’m not known for a cheerful style of illustration.” Then there was the fact that the Harry Potter films had already visualised that universe so fully – why do it again, he wondered. And, of course, there was the pressure. As Kay puts it: “You don’t want to be known as the person who ruins the most popular children’s book in history.”But after almost two years of work, seven days a week, Kay’s illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a triumph – a book so alive it seems to jump, explode and slither out of your hands as you read. Rowling has given it her public seal of approval: “Seeing Jim Kay’s illustrations moved me profoundly,” she wrote for the dust jacket. “I love his interpretation of Harry Potter’s world, and I feel honoured and grateful he has lent his talent to it.” She also wrote to Kay privately. “She sent a really lovely letter, and that’s the first time it hit me that this was real,” he says. “Imagine you’re a vicar and you find a Post-it note from God on your fridge. It was like that.”
“I see a lot of children’s books where the eye level is set at an adult’s,” Kay explains. “Which I find odd, because children see the world from a lower perspective. It’s nice drawing giants because it reminds you of being a child again. The illustration of Hagrid is that perspective, looking up.”
Mr Dursley is based on the local butcher. Hermione is based on Kay’s niece. Harry was a boy he spotted swinging from the bars on the London Underground, and Kay had two stops to introduce himself to the boy’s mother and persuade him to pose for him – for a book whose subject he could not yet disclose. Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley both came from a school in Burford, to which he’d been invited by a pupil who’d loved A Monster Calls.
Go to the full piece via Jim Kay: ‘I worried I’d ruin the most popular children’s book in history’.