FABULOUS FIVE: Sarah McIntyre presents five comics crossover picture books
When I first thought of starting the Fabulous Five feature, I had a few illustrators in mind already, and Sarah McIntyre was one of them. We have read and loved all of Sarah’s books. We first discovered her with Morris the Mankiest Monster, then realised that we already knew her through Vern & Lettuce in the DFC! We have followed her ever since, with the first Princess Spaghetti book, You Can’t Eat a Princess (see my review here) , the DFC Library edition of Vern & Lettuce (see my review here), When Titus Took the Train (see my review here) and of course the latest Princess Spaghetti book, You Can’t Scare a Princess! (see my review here) which is out today!
We were really chuffed to meet Sarah last year at the Bath Kids Lit Fest (see Sarah’s post about it here and mine here) and she was as lovely and bubbly as her illustrations!
I adore both picture books and comics, and more and more I’m getting excited about how the two worlds keep meeting. Little by little, I’m seeing more picture books for children than use comic book elements and picture books for adults (such as “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan, Griffin & “Sabine” by Nick Bantock and “The Three Incestuous Sisters” by Audrey Niffenegger).
Here are my top five crossovers between comics and picture books. (But ask me tomorrow and I might suggest a different five!)
In the Night Kitchen
I’ve loved this book since I was small, something about the chunky linework and colours that are flat and textured at the same time. I thought Mickey’s airplane made of dough was the coolest thing ever, and recreated his night flight around the kitchen many times in my own dreams. Sendak’s work is a direct tribute to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland comics from the early twentieth century, and how I found out about McCay, who became another one of my heroes. I owe a lot of the look of my comic, Vern and Lettuce, to studying Sendak’s work.
Shark & Lobster
I suppose I’m a bit partial to Viviane’s work because she’s a good friend and we’ve shared a studio, but this book stands by itself as a real groundbreaker in the field. Walker Books took it up when they were just starting to think comics might be a way forward. I love the large, loose, playful panels, with their lively hand lettering with the occasional passage banged out on an old-school typewriter, and its muted – but very yummy – textured colour fields. Shark and Lobster are such great mates and make the funniest faces at each other as they get themselves into real danger trying to escape from the imagined threat of underwater tigers.
I think this book gets overlooked by comics people because of its girlie, pastel cover but, like all of Posy Simmonds’ work, is incredibly witty and well-observed. Posy Simmonds is one of the comics artists who got me back into comics after I’d wandered away from them, thinking they were all humour strips or had to feature Lycra-clad, pumped-up superheroes. In this book, she uses traditional picture book narration, but then makes it incredibly funny and atmospheric by adding conversational speech bubbles (often not even surrounded by classic comics bubble). She also brings in comics panels, but they’re softly divided, often with no outline. I love the pizza-eating urban foxes who are overjoyed to meet ‘real rabbits’ for the first time. But it all goes horribly wrong when they take their little friends to visit their country relations… Such marvellous observations about city and country society, made much funnier because its enacted by animal characters.
The Lost Thing
I got to chat with Shaun Tan this year at the Edinburgh Book Festival and we talked about how we hadn’t come from comics backgrounds but often found comics an incredibly useful way to tell a story and fit more action on a page. The Lost Thing is loosely a comic in its use of panels to break up the pages, but the panels are generally roomier than most comics, and it doesn’t have a standard comics look to it. I love all Tan’s books in the way that they’re not easy to categorise, and he brings in whatever design elements best suit the story he’s trying to tell. This book’s lush in its use of collage and textures, and its painterliness gives the book a warmth that most comics artists whose work I’ve seen wouldn’t be able to pull off. I love how he keeps a real handmade, rough feel to the pictures and doesn’t get tempted to fall into the perfect and soulless slickness achievable in Photoshop.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late!
I love that this book is basically a mini comic, just blown up a little larger than one you’d buy at a comics festival. Its layouts and drawing are incredibly simple – basic pencil doodles of a pigeon with a speech bubble on each page – but its subject matter and tone very sophisticated, making it work on two levels for children and adults. And unlike comics, it’s made its creator squillions of dollars! (You are so clever, Mr Willems!) Basically, it’s just a little pigeon giving you, the reader, loads of reasons why it shouldn’t have to go to bed: ‘Go on! What’s five minutes in the grand scheme of things!?’ ‘You know what, we never talk any more. Tell me about your day…’ So funny.
What a fantastic selection, thank you so much to Sarah for taking part and sharing her favourites with us. I have already reserved Lavender from our local library and we dug out Shark & Lobster and The Lost Thing out from our shelves. Comics still struggle in this country to be considered as “worthy” as other media of literature and the earlier children can be introduced to this fantastic medium, the better! For a wonderfully child-friendly comic, please check out Sarah’s Vern & Lettuce which is soooooo good!.