If you love picturebooks with an unlikely hero, Spyder (Scholastic) is the one for you! Matt Carr’s bold and bright designs bring this spidey secret agent to life wonderfully, with a text bursting with humour, and a really dynamic layout which mirrors the action-packed adventure. It is a lot of fun, but also highlights how treacherous life is for spiders in our homes as well as some great facts about them.
I am delighted to welcome Matt to Library Mice as part of the blog tour for Spyder, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Q & A
with Matt Carr
Hi Matt! Many thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to write and illustrate picturebooks?
I started out as a sign-writer and mural painter years ago then I became a graphic designer, a founder member of agency POINT BLANK in London, then when my eldest daughter was one I left to go freelance, working from home. That was fifteen years ago! Over the years I’ve worked on some great projects. I do illustrations / design and creative ideas, so its very varied and because I work from home I have been able to see more of my kids. I didn’t really have any plan to become a children’s author but I’ve obviously read loads of kids books over the years and I know what sort of one’s I like. The ones that make me laugh.
Then, when my middle daughter Cherry was little we were down the park and a crow we were standing near, flew off suddenly. I said “Look there’s a Scared Crow” and an idea immediately popped into my head. I went home and drew up a little story about a crow, (called Russell!) He is afraid of everything except the scarecrow which all his friends are scared of! He can’t see why they are afraid of a turnip and some old clothes! I published it myself, using some commission I had from my printer and it went down pretty well. I had a lot of fun publicising it on Twitter. That led on to me doing more ideas in my spare time. It took a while but then I got an agent (Stephanie) and she sent out Superbat and got some really positive feedback and then Scholastic signed me up. In the end it all happened so quickly, but I suppose it had been about 5 years in the making.
I had not realised you had written another book. I love the cover!
What is your process when creating picturebooks? Does it start with a picture, or with text? How do you create your illustrations?
I go running up in the downs most mornings, not very fast, but it is my thinking time and it’s usually when I think about book ideas and go through jobs I’ve got to do. Superbat came from an idea I had about what if a bat wanted to become batman. He’d have no skills because all the bats would already have them. Originally I called him BAT BAT ! Then I do a rough storyboard like a movie and put in as many jokes as I can and draw up how I think the character should look, then it goes from there. I also show it early on to my family. If they think its not very good, they let me know!
I’m not really a proper illustrator and it took me a long while to get a style that I was happy with, I have no idea how I got there but I sketch everything out, then trace if off in black pen like, then scan it and put it together like a jigsaw puzzle. Even though the illustrations look quite simple, they take a surprisingly long time to do!
Both the heroes Superbat and Spyder are creatures that people are often be scared and/or squeamish about. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
Well including Russell The Crow all my characters so far are ‘scary’ or dark. But I like bigging up the forgotten and under appreciated! There are so many books about cuddly cute animals so I think it makes a change and also introduces kids to other things and if I can make my characters funny and approachable then I’ve achieved something!! My third published book is going to be about another animal that isn’t very popular either, especially with gardeners, (exclusive!) so maybe that will always be my thing! (I do actually though have other book ideas featuring other animals. My favourite one I’ve done is actually about a Goose called Bob , which hopefully will get out there one day!)
I love the fact that both books include facts at the end; what was the rationale behind them?
Again I did that at the back of the Russell book, to show that even though Crows are seen as these horrible harbingers of doom, they are in fact amazingly intelligent and funny! It’s the same with bats… they are brilliant, but because they only come out at night and kids think they are just vampires, they get a bad press. Spiders are the same. They do incredible things but only get stamped on or put under a glass and put in the garden if they are lucky.
I was lucky to attend the North Somerset Teacher’s Awards ceremony last November where you won best picture book. You were very humble, saying that you felt you were not really an illustrator in comparison to others on the shortlist. I think all present agreed you were a worthy winner indeed, but I wondered what you think the advantages of having a graphic designer background are when it comes to illustrating picturebooks?
Thank you and it was a lovely afternoon, lots of cake!, but I think I only won that because I was the only one in my category who made it to the event! The other books on the shortlist were all amazing and by proven proper kids book authors. To be honest I was more than happy to make the longlist!
As far as being a designer Well I think that its very handy when I lay out the book as I can have a lot of fun with the typography and also I can look at the book as a whole and take in all the elements and do the artworking too. On Russell the Scared Crow book I did everything, but when you work with a publisher, it is a team effort and everyone adds things to make it better, which is great.
Are there illustrators or artists that particularly inspire you?
Picasso is my favourite artist, as he’s so versatile and can also be very graphic. He’s also fun and doesn’t take it all too seriously. Illustrator / author wise, A.A. Milne – Winnie The Pooh is perfect. I have read those stories a thousand times and never got bored ( lovely illustration by E.H. Shepherd). I’ve always loved David McKee (Not Now Bernard is brilliant) and also Dick Bruna (so simple and graphic) Judith Kerr’s Mog is a perfect character; makes you laugh and then cry with the turn of a page. Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake are unbeatable, obviously Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are a great team. There’s so much to look at in every spread.
Johnny Duddle, Rob Biddulph and Jim Field are what I call Proper brilliant illustrators – I have no idea how they do what they do! Ink-redible (bad pun) I also love Tor Freeman’s books… the characters are just superb and the writing is very funny too. And for sheer graphicness Ed Vere is hard to beat… Is that too many people? I’m sure I’ll think of more once I’ve sent this off!
Oh and don’t forget the great Kenny Dalglish, also an artist, only he used a football!
Finally, if you could illustrate any book (even one which has already been illustrated), what would it be?
Now that’s a hard one! If it could be any book then it would have to be Wind in The Willows. I think I could have a lot of fun with that!
Thank you so much Matt.
Spyder is out now and you can purchase a copy here .
Matt Carr is an incredibly talented graphic designer and author-illustrator whose debut picture book, Superbat, was published to international acclaim in the UK, US, Spain, Korea and Israel, and is currently shortlisted for a number of upcoming awards. Matt loves tea and lives in East Sussex. You can find him on Twitter and his website.