Just over a year ago, I was working on my first book with Scholastic Australia – The Witch’s Britches by P Crumble. It was exciting and fun and I hoped there’d be more work in the pipeline.
During a meeting with Scholastic a few months earlier, the publishing team had shown interest in a couple of folio pieces, and suggested working them up into a story. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I got going on a few sketches… but one of the stories kept mutating into an alien idea. I’d done this little sketch for Tanya McCartney’s 52 Week Illustration Challenge and kept going back to it:
At that time, one or two of my single-parent friends were entering into new relationships, with other single parents. Obviously, introducing the children to the new girlfriend/boyfriend wasn’t always straightforward, and everyone was having to adjust. I started to think about how it might feel to a child, who visited one parent at weekends only, when that parent introduced their new partner. What if you only had a few precious hours a week alone with that parent? Wouldn’t the new person seem like a strange, invading ALIEN? And what if, despite your best efforts, they showed no sign of leaving?
I’d be pretty mad. I might even try to blast them into orbit.
Here are some exploratory sketches from my sketchbook along this theme:
I’m not sure when this idea got to the point of possibly becoming a book proposal. But, at some stage, I put a storyboard together for a 32 page book, drafted the text and sent it to Angie Masters at Scholastic along with a slightly apologetic covering letter: “.. here’s an idea I’ve been working on. I just HAD to get it out of my system and it’s got to the stage where I can’t decide if it’s a GREAT idea, or a hopelessly misguided and ridiculous one…”
Here’s part of the storyboard, as sent:
Angie got back shortly afterwards to say that, while the text needed tweaking, the storyboard worked well and she fell ‘in love and laughter with it”. Lesson here: if you intend to illustrate a book, ALWAYS put in a storyboard or concept illustrations with the text – it helps clarify your intentions even if the text isn’t quite right.
Soon after that, I received a hugely encouraging email saying Scholastic Australia was interested in publishing the story and that it was a matter not of ‘if’ but of ‘when and in what format’. A week or so on, and the contract and schedule arrived. Yippee!
There was, fortunately, plenty of time built into the schedule and so, a few months later, I submitted the roughs:
We had a chat about the flow of the story, and shuffled around a few pages – though not that much changed overall. This spread below was breaking up the flow of the story, and so we took it out, but I do love the alien:
And then I got on with the finals. I wanted Jake’s dad’s flat to seem authentic, so did a furniture layout, and put together a moodboard for his furniture. I see Jake’s Dad as a ‘man child’, probably working in graphic, industrial or games design, who collects retro toys and furniture – some 50’s stuff and some more sophisticated Danish modern pieces. He loves being a dad, as it gives him loads of opportunities to play – and he has a bit of spare cash to buy loads of LEGO and fun toys. Here’s a view of his apartment – and a little montage of the type of furniture and collectables he might have.
And here’s some final artwork:
Fans of ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ may observe that I was very influenced by Bill Watterson’s artwork for his ‘Spaceman Spiff’ sequences when it came to final art. I don’t have Watterson’s way with a no.2 brush, but I thought a lively, strong, black line with hand-rendered background textures would give a fun, comic-book energy to the story, while remaining suitably warm and cosy for the young readership. And I love the way Bill Watterson illustrates strange planets and lively aliens. Here’s a moodboard showing some of the influences on final artwork for Space Alien at Planet Dad:
And you can get Space Alien at Planet Dad online here