illustrator Posts

Interview with Ahlawat Gunjan

Ahlawat Gunjan has a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design from The Glasgow School of Art, UK. Previous to that he also spent a semester at Indiana-Purdue University, USA focusing on design thinking and leadership. He is a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

Trained at Lars Mullers Switzerland and Faber & Faber, UK, Ahlawat has a varied and interesting work experience. His overlapping interests in art and literature not only made him pursue a career in publishing but also informs his keen interest in visual authorial interventions and curatorship. This allowed Gunjan to shape the visual personality of the book at every step of its creation. Ahlawat also enjoys the many ways and levels at which a designer can take narrative construction forward through type and image.

He heads Design Department at Penguin Random House, India during the day and spends time painting in the evenings and over the weekends.

Following are edited excerpts of an interview conducted via email:

1.How did you get into the world of publishing?

It was a beautiful accident. My first job was with Hidesign in Pondicherry and I wanted to move closer to home. So, I was looking for opportunities in Delhi and DK happened. I was really enjoying the process of book making, image editing, and managing large book design projects. And I’m rarely satisfied. So, I wanted to try out my hands on a few book covers for Penguin (which used to be next door really in Panchsheel). I still remember being nervous asking my then manager and now Managing Director, DK India, Aparna Sharma, and she was absolutely open to the idea and very encouraging. I did one cover and it went off very well and this was the start of a new journey. I went on to do four more covers and discovered a sort of hidden joy in myself. I realized I really wanted to do this for living now. With huge support from DK and Penguin, the switch happened and I made Penguin my home thereafter. My masters at The Glasgow School of Arts was focused on publishing and as a part of it, I was extremely lucky to intern at Lars Mullers in Switzerland and later at Faber and Faber. This is how publishing happened to me and today, honestly I can’t imagine myself in any other domain of Graphic design.

2. What in your opinion are the basic elements of designing a book cover?

Since seeing comes before words, I would say strength and clarity are foremost and non-negotiable. By strength, I mean the ability of the cover to draw your attention towards it and clarity is the ability (through image and typography) to communicate the message clearly and effectively. The rest happens between these two.

3. Are there a set of basic ground rules that a book designer should be aware of before delving into a new project?

Be courageous and have conviction.

Design and not decorate.

Allow things to evolve.

4. Do you think the basic principles of book designing have undergone a massive transformation since the medieval ages or is it that the modes of production have transformed the process?

Since medieval ages, absolutely. That time we used to have decorative leather bound books with very less variations in terms of size and colour palette. Margins and page settings were dictated how monks would hand write the contents.

With Guttenburg’s invention, the game changed entirely. With printing press, movable type blocks were introduced for mass production.  One can see a lot of illustrated elements like decorative capital letters, but what was missing was para spacing, line spacing, leading and all forced justified text which made the whole page pretty hard to read. It was the time when publishers were the printers and often wanted to show their abilities that were boring, hard to read and based on little showing off. Designs that wouldn’t enhance the text. By 1700s, printing became somewhat common to the masses.

By 1800s, there were authors and fine artists who were involved and commissioned to design and set the books. They introduced the notion of foot notes, side bars and paste numbers. This was the time when the economics of making a book took some precedence, which until now was secondary. 1900s saw several design schools mushrooming all over Europe and USA, with their respective design philosophies (It is very evident even today. For instance, the way Swiss or Dutch people approach design and produce their books, with very strong and distinct typography, imaging and very high production quality).

So, on the whole with turn off every century, book designing saw their own changes.

5. How important is it to know typography as well as different art forms to design a book cover/ book? If yes, what are the fonts for which you have a soft corner?

Author assigns certain voice to their characters and as a book designer we have to assign visual voices to those characters. So, you can understand what a narrative can do without a voice or having a wrong voice. I believe the relationship between the cover design and the text is very special. This is because a font, colour or layout is not chosen solely in function of its legibility but principally for its associative capacity. The classic problem of semiotic theory is that a single image expresses more than a thousand words, and a single word conveys more than a thousand images. (p. 116 Devleminck, Steven, Gobert, Inge, Looveren Johan Van. The Balancing Act of Design )

It’s the backbone of a good cover and I strongly believe in it. Infact, I went to do a summer intensive typography course at the Royal College of Arts, London fairly recently.

I do have some favourites fonts, but I’m trying to work with as few as four/six.

6. Has digital technology made a qualitative difference to book covers?

Yes, your work can reach an unimaginable amounts of readers (say FB, Instagram and other social medias, people tagging etc.), which wasn’t the case 10 years back really. Additionally, unknown readers reach out to you on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon review with their compliments, which is very satisfying and encouraging.

7. What is it that you seek in a book cover design?

A space to negotiate, collaborate, and construct ideas/thoughts and above all space to create! I try to be in author’s shoes to see and feel the writings, to basically try to get the pulse of every possible detail and to assure them that we are equally excited about your work and at the end, making them hand over the controls to you. These are far more fundamental than deciding which fonts to use, what leading is better for a book cover, and so on and so forth.

A designer has a certain accountability and his/ her actions have enormous impact on millions of readers. Without knowing, they become a part of the design and literary history. Along with all the fun you may have, it’s also a huge responsibility on your shoulders, because you are going to give a visual personality to someone’s years of work. Additionally, this will go to print and will be out there for years to come (unlike the digital format, where you can change details quickly). A book cover designer needs to understand that the author’s work is linear but the images on the cover are associative. The challenge is to add layers through visual intervention with type and image. That means, apart from giving a structure, designer can control the reader to read the content in certain way. In other words, the designer holds a remote control to direct the reader a certain way.

8. What is your ideal brief for a book cover design? What are the elements it must absolutely contain and what are the elements that would be bonus if included but are not that necessary?  

We have a standard cover brief format at Penguin and we get written cover briefs from our editors. But, I always believe in having a detailed chat with the editor, sometimes with the author and the sales team also, before I start thinking and researching for the cover. I feel, this way I get the best results!

It’s helpful to have all the elements pertaining to the cover:

Format (HB or PB), size, spine width, budget, extracts to read along with visual suggestions and any additional inputs from the author and Sales.

9. What are the cost considerations of creating a book cover design?

We do work with certain budget per cover and depending upon the design ideas, we sometimes push and pull. For instance, if a designer got a cover design that is dependent on post-press effects (embossing, die-cuts, debossing, Pantone colours) or wants to use unusual stock or slightly extensive printing technique, then we do push the cost boundaries to make it happen. I think it’s about how much we collectively believe in that book and it’s linked to the way we are positioning that particular book.

10. How do you manage to maintain a freshness of style especially with the play of light in most of your compositions? What are the mediums you are partial to — watercolours, acrylic, ink etc.?

My mentor Lars Müller says, “We are authors while designing. Design is our language. And I must reflect my beliefs”. I start each book cover design project from scratch, from reading the manuscript to researching about visuals, fonts I will be using or drawing, discussing the ideas with editors and authors. My way is slow, simple and uncluttered, as already there is enough visual pollution both in typography and imaging. Both of these are art and science and one should strive for simplicity.

No, I’m not partial to any medium when it comes to designing a cover. It has to be absolutely objective and true to the contents inside.

11. What would you claim to be your signature style in creating an art work, may it be canvas or a book cover? For Turner it was the playing of paper and colours. What is yours?

I like making my own imagery for the covers. Originality is one feature that plays an enormous role in my designs. In this age and date where everything is a click away, one seems to think that they have browsed through similar visuals. To arrive at something that is startlingly unconventional and refreshing, the process of thinking needs to be unconventional too. Therefore, one must embrace ambiguity and not kill any idea that one has. I always say it is better to produce an ugly cover but it should be an original. “I prefer ugly covers to clone covers. At least ugly covers demand a certain amount of attention. And will continue to be ugly. In other words, today’s ugly is tomorrow’s beautiful,” says Peter Mendelsund and I can’t agree more to this.

12. Who are the artists and book designers who have influenced you?

My absolute favourites are Irma Boom, Adrian Shaugnehhesy (just spent a week with him in London) and Peter Mendelsund (my ex-colleague from Knopf, USA).

Artists: David Hockney, Ivon Hitchens and Amrita Sher Gil. I can’t do without them!!

13. Can you share examples of book covers that you consider iconic?

Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh, Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha, Premchand series, Indica by Pranay Lal, Moong Over Microchip by Venkat Iyer, God in the Quran by Jack Miles (Knopf US), Trampled Under Foot by Barney Hoskins (Faber and Faber) and The Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond (anniversary edition). 

5 September 2019

“Hey Kiddo!”

Writer and illustrator of children’s books Jarrett J. Krosoczka‘s graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo is as the sub-title describes “How I lost my mother, found my father, and dealt with family addiction” . As he said in a TED Talk recorded in Oct 2012 that he uses his “imagination for his day time job”. He tells stories with words and pictures. Sometimes he lets the words tell the story and sometimes he lets the illustrations to do the work. He has always loved to draw. His mother was a talented artist too. Unfortunately he did not know her very well as she was a heroin addict and lived most of her life either in jail or in care. His father was faceless and unknown to him till they met when Jarrett was 17 and discovered he had half-siblings. Jarrett K. Krosoczka was formally adopted by his maternal grandparents when he was three years old.

When he was in the third grade, a real author came to the school for an interaction during the school assembly. It was Jack Gantos of the Rotten Ralph series. Jarrett was over the moon with joy. Then the artist came to the classroom and walked around to see what the students were drawing. Looking over young Jarrett’s shoulder, Jack Gantos said “Nice cat”. It was a significant moment for the child as an established author appreciated his art work.

Hey, Kiddo is a mix of traditional graphic storyboards along with paste-ups of Jarrett’s memorabilia. It is painted mostly in tones of grey and orangeish-red with little else colour. The only splash of brightness is in the green and yellow checked shirt of the boy on the cover. This little detail stands out for the glossy finish to the character. Otherwise the book has fragments of the loving letters his mother wrote her son from prison and were preserved by Jarrett’s grandparents. There are pictures of Jarrett with his mother holding her newborn son. There are clippings of his grandparent’s notes to him. There are snippets of the first book he ever wrote for children while in third grade called The Own Who Thought He Was The Best Flyer.

This graphic memoir explores a space of writing for young adults that is tricky as it shares family secrets like a mother who is a drug addict and an absentee father. It is about a family that would probably be termed as “dysfunctional” for not conforming to the socially acceptable norms of a “normal family”. As Jarrett admits in the book he had two incredible parents except that they were one generation removed. On the one hand the author is sharing very personal moments in his upbringing and on the other he has to ensure through his art that the takeaway young readers get from Hey, Kiddo is that they are not alone if they belong to dysfunctional families. Also it is hopefully empowering such readers that it is important to find a way to live, perhaps find a hobby, a passion that you love and stick to it determinedly. In Jarrett’s case it was his love for drawing. This is a confidence building measure that is equally important as holding up a mirror to one’s own experiences as it helps the reader feel he/she is fully in charge of at least one aspect of their life. Truth is always stranger than fiction.

Hey, Kiddo is a graphic memoir that has understandably been shortlisted for many awards and has been a part of innumerable “Best of 2018 Reads” lists for while it focusses on a child/adult who is flawed, it only makes him human — someone the readers can relate to. The book presents the tough childhood Jarrett had or even the difficulties his grandparents had and yet in their eighties they bravely took on a little boy to care for, although they had already brought up five of their own. Yet what shines through Hey, Kiddo is that despite the straitened circumstances, Jarrett was showered with love. He was not necessarily in want. His grandparents recognising his love for art were as heartbroken as their grandson when the public funding for the art classes dried up. So they put their pennies together, a tough decision for self-made man like his grandfather, and enrolled Jarrett into art classes at Worcester Art Museum— and Jarrett blossomed. For his fourteenth birthday they bought him a drafting board. That night Jarrett had a Chinese dinner with his grandparents. On the top hand right corner of the drafting board is pasted the message he received in the fortune cookie that he ate that night — “You will be successful in your work”. Decades later Jarrett continues to use the same drafting board!

Hey, Kiddo is an extraordinary memoir meant for readers of all ages. It is a bittersweet reading experience with a happy ending — full of hope and joy!

From Jarrett J.Krosoczka’s website header. The pile of books he has published.

27 February 2019

Book Post 11: 16- 22 September 2018

Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books on Amazon India. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.

In today’s Book Post 11 I have included some titles that I received in the past few weeks and are worth mentioning and not necessarily confined to parcels received last week.

Enjoy reading!

24 September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Donaldson in India, Interaction with educators, New Delhi ( 19 January 2018)

Scholastic India organised a FABULOUS interaction led by Julia Donaldson’s with educators,  teachers and  librarians at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. It was a technically perfect  masterclass on how  storytelling and  picturebooks can be employed  imaginatively in classrooms, with minimal or NO props, involving all the children, with a little bit of rhythm, song and dance, opening a world of possibilities!

Neeraj Jain, MD, Scholastic India standing in front of a display of Julia Donaldson’s books

Julia Donaldson spoke of her journey from a musician/songwriter making an unexpected foracy in to the world of books and how very fortuitous it turned out. She spoke of her collaboration with Axel Scheffler and other illustrators. She performed some of her better known stories such as  Gruffalo transforming the room of schoolteachers into little children as they sang along with her! She was accompanied on the guitar by her husband Malcolm and a supporting cast that included her publishers from UK and India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A magical morning!

19 January 2018 

An Interview with Shandana Minhas of the New, Karachi-based Mongrel Books

( My interview with Shandana Minhas was published on the literary website, Bookwitty. )  

Award-winning writer Shandana Minhas and her husband, journalist and playwright Imran Yusuf recently founded Mongrel Books, a small press based in Karachi. Their first title, The Mongrel Book of Voices, Volume 1, Breakups was published in January 2017. It consists of different forms around the theme of breakups, very broadly interpreted, with work by 21 writers from 9 countries. It’s available in bookstores across Pakistan, and there is a Kindle edition too. Three more titles are to be published later this year.

Shandana Minhas’s first novel, Tunnel Vision, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the second, Survival Tips for Lunatics, won the Karachi Literature Festival Fiction Prize. Daddy’s Boy is her third novel. She has also written for stage, screen, Op-Ed pages, and is an honorary fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her short fiction has appeared in The Indian Quarterly and Griffith Review. Imran Yusuf’s play Stumped won the first NAPA playwriting award in Pakistan and was staged in Delhi and Kolkata as well. He has also had readings in theatres in London.

An Interview with Shandana Minhas of the New, Karachi-based Mongrel Books - Image 1

Following is an interview with Shandana Minhas:

Why did you decide to found Mongrel Books? How did you choose the name?

We thought shelves in Pakistan had room for, and need of, books that might not otherwise make it to the market. And books that are affordable too. For instance, I am currently reading Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, which Imran bought from the local chain bookstore for Rs 2095. Which means that was the only book we could buy that month. Even second hand books in ‘old book stores’ now cost between 250-650 rupees. That’s the price range we would like to stay within.

I have always called myself a mongrel, in terms of being a little bit of this and a little bit of that. My father is Muslim, my mother is Christian and I’m not even going to start on the ethnic mix. We also had a lot of mongrels around the house when we were growing up, in Karachi, we’d spend all day on the streets and bring them home with us. When we were deciding on a name it was the first choice for us. There were others though. What made up my mind to stick with Mongrel was somebody I was brainstorming with telling me I shouldn’t call it Mongrel because a lot of Pakistanis didn’t like dogs and I would alienate potential customers. I heard a lot of that when I was a kid too, of course, when there were so many dogs around. ‘The angels won’t come to your house’ or ‘You can’t pray with them around’. I still say ‘Excellent!’ Seriously, the term reminds us of a kinder time, of a less homogenous or monolithic culture.

What is its focus? What are your first books about?

Mongrel Books’ focus in fiction is good story telling, and in non-fiction work that challenges or enriches contemporary ways of looking and seeing.

Will you be publishing only in English? Or in translation as well?

We will publish original work in English as well as translations into English. Pakistan itself has a vast reservoir of stories in Sindhi, Punjabi, Hindko, Seraiki and other languages, and we hope to build relationships with translators to bring some of those to people who might not otherwise know them.

What are the new projects you are working on?

We are set to publish a comedy of errors set in space, a first novel from talented Pakistani sci-fi writer Sidra F. Sheikh. And a non-fiction title from journalist Kamal Siddiqi, The Other Pakistanis, which bears anecdotal witness to the lives of non-Muslims here. Then there is another first novel about corporate life in Karachi from a highly original, unsettling writer who prefers to remain mysterious till the pages – and the bodies –cool. For next year, I’m collaborating with gifted illustrator Aziza Ahmad on a collection of graphic short stories, In Laws from Space and other tales of Domestic Woe, there is a novel and a short story collection from the reading pile I’ve got my beady eyes on, and fiction that children here can actually relate to as well. And of course we plan to do the second volume of The Mongrel Book of Voices.

Does your having previously published fiction in India have anything to do with launching a publishing house in Pakistan?

Peripherally, yes. Indian publishing is excellent; skilled, curious, open and vast. That vastness…there is a fine line between being embraced and being swallowed. Apart from a respite from the strangeness of being intellectually intimate with somebody you will never meet – your editor, your publisher, your agent, there is a practicality to local publishing for local writers as well. Distance, visa regimes, arbitration options and banking laws are not friends to Pakistani writers being published across the border. Even something as simple as receiving your royalties can become a Kafkaesque nightmare. For example, I still haven’t received a payment I was due in 2014.

What is the Pakistani readership like? Is there sufficient book hunger for local books in English?

All I can offer you is what has been offered to me, in spoken words. There is no centralized data collection. The circulation of Urdu digests featuring a steady diet of misogynistic moralizing to upwardly mobile women is in the hundreds of thousands. The number of people who go to the Karachi International Book fair – where sales actually happen – has climbed every year and might now be half a million, and though a lot of stalls there sell what might politely be dubbed literature of a religious persuasion, children’s books do well too, as do cookbooks – ring binding and all – and cheap editions of novels considered to be classics. Cookbooks, pulp piety, platonic romances, children’s books, nostalgia…it seems, then, that Pakistanis are hungry readers but they just might not have the most balanced diet.

…it seems, then, that Pakistanis are hungry readers but they just might not have the most balanced diet.

But figures are much lower for English titles. In chain bookstores, state-of-the-nation non-fiction sells the most. One bookseller tells me English language fiction only has to sell five hundred copies to be considered a bestseller. An internationally visible title from conglomerate publishing will have no trouble getting pre-orders. Other figures I have been given for what constitutes a bestseller in the English language in Pakistan are eight hundred and fifty and three thousand. Pricing does little to diminish the perception that English is just the language for the narcissistic preoccupations of a parasitic elite rather than, say, the language of a minority whose holy book might be the King James Bible. The more upmarket demographic happily invests thousands in the latest coffee table exceptionalism – Our ruins! Our textiles! Our jewellery! Our truck art! Our haemorrhoids!

So far, most books were routed through India but will having a local publishing program make a difference to the price points?

Absolutely. And that might have all kinds of interesting knock on effects. Like most other places in the world, here too there is an increasing gap between the haves and the have nots. If we persist in the perpetuation of a world where our children can’t eat, wear or drive the same things, or go to the same schools, maybe they can at least read the same books?

If we persist in the perpetuation of a world where our children can’t eat, wear or drive the same things, or go to the same schools, maybe they can at least read the same books?

 


What are your plans for the future?

The plan for the immediate future is financial survival, the acquisition of knowledge about the nuts and bolts of publishing, and Jedi level time management. It would be premature for us to project further than that.

Today in global publishing there is stress on ensuring free speech and it is not muzzled in any way. What are the pros and cons of publishing in Pakistan?

I note with sadness that the second question would not be prefaced by the first if Mongrel Books was, say, an Estonian press. But there are real dangers, and there is real loss. This makes the need for stories greater. Human beings, as far better writers than me have noted recently, think in stories, learn how to live and how to love from stories, which is why the control of storytelling seems to be a matter of such concern to fundamentalists. So it is a bittersweet truth that, as a pro, we know that what we do here matters.

The cons of publishing in Pakistan are the cons of running a small business in any developing economy. Our most pressing concerns are childcare for the working mother, sourcing quality paper, shoddy printing jobs, the ethics of unregulated labor practices in the binding industry, or that big academic publishers snap up and hoard what paper does come in its warehouses, uninterrupted electricity supply, and the bank manager having no internet access when we need to make international payments. So to temper any impulse to simply label us as yet another example of ‘defying the Taliban’ – something we see being used to market everything from T-shirts to bad filmmaking – please note that the only thing we are currently defying is common sense.

Will you be publishing in traditional print format or embracing ebooks and digital features such as audio, augmented reality etc.?

We will be publishing in traditional print format as well as e-books. As for augmenting reality, I will simply say that I still do not own or know how to use a smartphone. (But my partner does.)

Pakistani authors writing in English are very prominent internationally. Why do you think no other publishing house apart from OUP [Oxford University Press] has set roots locally to encourage literary talent?

OUP in Pakistan is primarily an academic publisher looking to engineer its own access to the cash cow of state curriculums, so its risk aversion makes business sense. The only reason we are actually even mentioning it in a conversation about literary talent is because in recent years it has muddied the waters by pitching its self-marketing fairs in Karachi and Islamabad as ‘literature festivals’, effectively capitalizing on lucrative sponsorship from imperialist powers struggling to maintain influence amongst suddenly speaking subalterns. Other older publishers seem comfortable with the grooves they are in, textbooks and backlists. And there are issues like piracy, lack of transparency in accounting and royalties keeping writers away too. An increasing amount are choosing to self-publish.

What is the history of independent publishing in Pakistan? Is there space for it now?

I can’t answer that. I don’t think anyone can! There is no way to tell what is going on or what has been going on in terms of publishing, beyond the surface of it, because as I mentioned earlier there has been no centralized data collection. And booksellers here still play things very close to the chest.

Of picture books and chapter books

Every night Sarah and I have a bedtime ritual. She picks out a book and we read it together. Some of the titles we read these past few days are Ruskin Bond’s Monkey Trouble and Other Grandfather Stories,  Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys and Devashish Makhija’s When Ali Became Bajrangbali.

412_10153369862301867_2618426068633995193_nRuskin Bond’s new offering — Monkey Trouble and Other Grandfather Stories is a delightful comic-like chapter book consisting of three tales wonderfully illustrated by Priya Kuriyan. The speech bubbles make it easy for a new reader. Well laid out text and pictures. Clean. Not fussy. Speech bubbles consist of simple sentences. The printing is neat too. One of the pitfalls of these complicated books is the mismatch in colours or text not sitting well within the prescribed boundaries. Every story panel is neatly placed. Each page is filled with light…the water colours are not dreary to engage with. All these factors make it a
pleasure to read.

Another one illustrated by Priya Kuriyan is Devashish Makhija’s absolutely stupendous When Ali Became Bajrangbali. The story line is delightfully simple and straightforward but deceptively so. There are layers and layers Devashish MakhijaTarget, MoochwalaMoochwallato it. The child enjoys it for the story, rhythm and the roller coaster of emotions it causes. The illustrations incorporating a montage of advertisements and street art give it a richness too. For the adult, from the tongue-in-cheek title onwards it is fun, fun, fun to read while building upon memories too. I love particularly the literary reincarnation of Mr Moochhvaala. He first appeared as “Detective Moochwala” in his own comic strip created by Ajit Ninan in the now-defunct children’s magazine Target. And here is a lovely YouTube link to Devashish Makhija reading the story out at Bookaroo Literature Festival, Pune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pthzhJxBSiA&ab_channel=TulikaBooks

Bad GuysThe last one is laugh aloud rib tickling The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey. It is a chapter book that has the Bad Wolf of countless fairy tales and folklore as the main character. He is trying to turn over a good leaf and become acceptable. He puts together a motley crew of cronies in the Good Guys Club consisting of Mr Shark, Mr Piranha and IMG-20160305-WA0001Mr Snake. They go on quests such as rescuing a stranded cat in a tree —who is petrified when he notices his wouldbe rescuers. The Good Guys Club members hope that such quests will improve their “tarnished” image as vicious and untrustworthy creatures. A very tough call when they look more like the mafia!  Here is the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqbUANlqXXE

Buy these books and make the children happy! Absolutely delightful!

 

In India these books are available by the following publishers:

Ruskin Bond’s Monkey Trouble and Other Grandfather Stories  by Red Turtle, Rupa Publishers

Devashish Makhija’s When Ali Became Bajrangbali by Tulika Books

Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys by Scholastic India

16 March 2016 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Bindia Thapar

RIP Bindia Thapar

Bindia Thapar 2The first time I met Bindia was when I was curating Poster Women for Zubaan.  It was a visual mapping of the women’s movement in India. ( http://www.posterwomen.org/Posterwomen/?page_id=2) We had collected over 1500 posters from around the country, in different languages and different formats. Some were in a pretty rotten condition too. In order to make it easier to create an archive, every single document was catalogued and professionally photographed in a studio. After the exercise was completed, large postcard size photographs were printed and filed for easy reference. At this point Bindia was invited to spend the day with us at office. She has been involved for many years in making posters for different organisations, various campaigns etc.

Bindia Thapar, literacyWith a twinkle in her eye, Bindia gurgled with delight at spotting how her posters had been adapted, adopted, translated and sometimes only a visual imagery “borrowed” into a new poster. It was a fascinating insight into how the women’s movement gained momentum in India, as people become more aware of issues concerning women, but also the need to develop and create communication tools that would be easily understood across the spectrum — languages, regions, socio-economic classes, literate and illiterate alike. Some of her posters on domestic violence were used as non-text communication material in other regions too. Bindia was one of the first artists to make trilingual posters, in Hindi, Urdu and English. These were part of Jagori’s literacy campaign. Later her posters became more elaborate and sumptuous. A favourite poster of mine is a blue and gold illustration she created for a Jagori poster in the 1990s. Unfortunately I am unable to locate an image of it online.

Bindia 3Bindia was also known for her work in children’s literature. She was a fantastic illustrator. There was always a burst of colours in every frame she drew. When I took four-month-old Sarah to meet Bindia, she told me to always ensure the child is exposed to visual imagery. It is equally important as learning a language or any other skill. Slowly as the child grows she will learn to react, respond, and grow. She was insistent that the immediate environment of the child should be filled with colour, tickle the child’s senses and let them blossom.

20140419_224846Bindia worked upon many children’s books. One of the first books she created was for Tulika Books. It was introducing the Hindi alphabet or the letters of the Devnagari script. Each page is a delight. Every letter or akshar is embedded in a drawing that tells a story. More importantly, the child is able to discover images tucked into the drawing beginning with the relevant letter on the page. I love it. Sarah loves it. She is as yet to learn the Devnagari script but she firmly believes that it is a storybook. Bindia wrote this book when her own daughter was in primary school and discovering alphabets.

Bindia Thapar will be missed. A rare human being. Full of warmth and generosity. Ever willing to share her knowledge, extremely humble and always alive to new experiences.

Rest in peace.

21 April 2014 

 

Telling tales, an interview with Emily Gravett, 14 Sept 2013 (The Hindu)

Telling tales, an interview with Emily Gravett, 14 Sept 2013 (The Hindu)

Emily Gravett and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, 29 Aug 2013, Jumpstart 2 ( I interviewed Emily Gravett in late August. The interview has been published in the Hindu Literary Supplement. Online – 14 Sept 2013 and in print – 15 Sept 2013. The url is: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/telling-tales/article5124153.ece I am reproducing the longer version of the interview below. )Emily Gravett, twice Kate Greenaway medal winner (Wolves, 2005 and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, 2008) is known for her picture books. Her father is printmaker and mother an art teacher in a special needs school.  Emily always loved to draw and paint but her passion for picture books, writing and reading to children began when she saw her two-month-old daughter respond to picture books. (The infant’s eyes lit up when other children in the room were being read out aloud to.) After that Emily began to draw and paint, tell her daughter stories via sketches and finally enrolled for a programme in illustration. Her first two books, including Wolves, for which she won her first Kate Greenaway medal was produced while she was still studying.Wolves pb_FCQ. How do you draw? How long does it take you to create a picture book?

A. I prefer to draw using pencil and watercolours. The images are then scanned into the computer and then the pages are designed.

 

Q Do you take an interest in designing and overseeing the production of every picture book?

A. I draw and design every single book that I work upon. I hand over the ready-to-print files to my publisher where the editors then pitch in. For instance, in the Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, I had scanned pages from old books to create the withered background feel on the pages. The editors began to proofread the pages and discovered that the writing from the scanned pages was still visible! So it had to be scrubbed off. Or in The Rabbit Problem the editors had to actually count every single rabbit on every page including on the last pop-up page.

 

Q. Why work only with picture books? How long does it take to conceptualise and finish a picture book?

I prefer to work with illustrated form of books. I love image and text that are integrated. You can do anything with a picture book even though it has a strict format. Of the books published so far, I have only done the shout-along Monkey and Me which is in the big book format. It can take me anywhere from a few hours (Orange Bear Apple Bear) to a few weeks (Wolves) to over a year (The Rabbit Problem).

 

Q. Tell me more about your explosive pop-up book, The Rabbit Problem Rabbit Problem PB FC

The Rabbit Problem emerged after I heard a radio programme on the thirteen century mathematician Fibonacci. There was an annual competition conducted to figure out “the rabbit problem” and what as the solution for the number of rabbits proliferating in the fields. Fibonacci solved it by creating the Fibonacci series that took into consideration an idealised situation of a pair of rabbits, assuming that no rabbit died, he created the Fibonacci sequence where the rabbits are able to mate at the age of one month and then reproduce again after the second month. (It was known much earlier to Indian mathematicians like Pingala too.)

I do not have a head for mathematics and was about to turn off the radio but this conversation caught my attention. It set me thinking and I created The Rabbit Problem. It took me over a year to make the book. Every single rabbit in the book had to be drawn and painted; each page had to be checked for consistency in the drawings (of the generations) and every rabbit had to be counted to confirm if the number of rabbits on each page conformed to the Fibonacci sequence. Even the little pieces pasted on to the pages like The Fibber newspaper, or The Carrot Cookery Book took some weeks to prepare. For the sake of authenticity, I rummage through old bookshops, garage sales and second-hand bookstores to discover old clippings, old cookery books. Then I try and imitate the design in to my picture books. Since I am not very good at identifying the font being used or what would be the most appropriate one to use in the picture book, when I work on the design, I collaborate closely with an art director.

 

Q. How many books have you published so far? Do you collaborate with anyone?

I have published fifteen picture books, all of which I have written, illustrated and designed myself. I have only collaborated once with Julia Donaldson on Cave Baby. I was really pleased with the result, and very glad I did it as it was a great experience and a challenge as I’m used to both writing and illustrating.

Q. In India it is difficult for illustrators to make a living off their chosen career and of picture books it is definitely not possible. So how do you sustain yourself as a full-time illustrator of picture books?

I have been very lucky in all my projects. The first book I published–Wolves–while still at university. It got me a three-book contract with an advance that allowed me to remain afloat for a year. Once it became evident that my books were selling well worldwide, the advance against royalties for a book helped me concentrate on my work at hand. Now the royalties are flattening out but they still allow me the leisure to focus on my ideas and picture books.

 

Q Your choice of stories for the picture books seems to be a play on well-known folk lore and children’s literature –Blue Chameleon (Eric Carle); Wolf Won’t Bite! (Three Little Pigs); Dogs ( Seuss); Meerkat Mail ( Country Mouse, Town Mouse). Is this a conscious decision?

A. Wolf Won’t Bite! is a play on a story that children are already familiar with – The Three Little Pigs, otherwise I do not actually work with well-known tales consciously. I do love wolves, the actual animals and also they have this storytelling mythology woven around them. It must sound bad, I don’t often think of children but of what I like when I am working on an idea. Yes, you do get the feeling inside your stomach, a mixture of excitement that fairy tales generate.

 

Q How well do picture books translate into other languages? Do you oversee production and design?

A. It is a challenge translating a picture book. The result varies depending upon the language of destination and the script used. If it is a Romance language like French that uses the Roman script, then the translation is more or less easily done. If it is a pictorial script like Chinese or Thai then adjusting the script and illustration takes time, but I am not involved in the process. I only receive the finished copies. But the most intriguing translation has been that of Orange Bear Apple Bear into Catalan. I am unable to read it but the original text is a play of five words, but the translated text consists of a string of words spread across the pages. It definitely has a lot more words!

Q Who are the illustrators whom you admire?

A. Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Posy Simmonds, Polly Dunbar, Anthony Browne, Alexis Deacon and Edward Ardizzone.

Q The technical details in your picture books are a delight – end paper, copyright pages, use of a comma etc.

A. I love the structure of a book. So whether it is designing the copyright page of Blue Chameleon in the shape of the reptile or working on creating little images and details on the end papers as in the Odd Egg and Again!, I love it. It even extends to playing with the use of a comma and five words in Orange Bear Apple Bear. I enjoy making these details.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist

Mixed Tape, Mantaray and Prabha Mallya

Mixed Tape, Mantaray and Prabha Mallya

Curious experiment with comics. A new bi-monthly experiment with comics of 3-8 pages long. Launched by Mantaray, an independent publishing firm based in Bangalore and started by Pratheek Thomas. It has an exciting bunch of illustrators and storytellers associated with it. http://mantaraycomics.tumblr.com/post/35200734659/mixtape-is-here

One of my favourite illustrators is part of the Mantaray team — Prabha Mallya. I met her first while she was still an undergraduate student at IIT, Kanpur. She met me at the World Book Fair, New Delhi to show me her notebook of drawing scribbles. Today I am so pleased to see her flourish. I love the confidence with which she draws and is willing to experiment. She has done the illustrations for Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings, published by Aleph. Some of her illustrations are visible at . More recently she has illustrated Kipling’s Just So Stories . Truly scrumptious. (a href=”http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/files/2012/12/Just-So-Stories.jpg”>