I apologize in advance to my readers this morning that I’ll be talking about a book you can’t get here in the States (yet?), but I’m making it up to you by featuring the work of Australian author/illustrator Gus Gordon, who wrote and illustrated said book. You know I love to shine the spotlight on international illustrators when I can. (Ooo! Ooo! If I had more blog-time in life, I’d make it a regular feature here at the blog. A girl can dream.) And I’ve seen a copy of Gus’s latest book, Wendy, published last year by Penguin Books in Australia. I have no idea if it will eventually be published in the U.S., but I hope so, because it’s wonderful. The dry humor in the book is laugh-outloud funny, and Gus’s cartoon illustrations are just right.
Wendy tells the story of … you guessed it: Wendy. Wendy is a chicken.
As you can see from the above illustration as well as the cover, Wendy is a busy chicken. She entertains herself—and the other animals—on the small farm where she lives, but it’s just not enough for her.
One day, in a state of serious ennui, she decides to “do something quite extraordinary”: She tightrope-walks between two buildings on the farm, but she waves a bit too much and lands up in the hospital.
There she meets a bear named Bob, a Motorcycle Stunt Bear, who tells her all about Monty McFloos Mostly Spectacular Travelling Circus. Feeling right at home, she works up her own motorcycle act, à la Evel Knievel. Eventually clearing eleven buses as she sails across the sky on her motorcycle, she becomes famous, and her jumps, in fact, get bigger each time.
I don’t want to give it all away, in case this gets released here in the States, but let’s just say that Wendy eventually finds her way home after her thoughts return there. I also want to give ample time to Gus to say hello, as he’s sent some art and some words for us this morning. So, without further ado, here’s Mr. Gordon.
“Some Stuff About Gus:
I’m author and illustrator.
I grew up on a farm.
I now live by a beach (not on the beach) in Sydney, Australia, with my lovely wife, Ali, and our three little people.
I studied at the Julian Ashton School of Art.
I love the picture book format.
My creative influences are many. They include the Illustrators/Cartoonists Jean-Jacques Sempé, Arthur Rackham, George Booth, William Steig, Bill Watterson, Charles Addams, Eric Carle and Quentin Blake. More recently, I’ve been inspired by the work of Delphine Durand, Leigh Hobbs, Kevin Waldron, Shaun Tan, Neal Layton, Oliver Jeffers, Sara Fanelli, and Carin Berger. They also include the writers Roald Dahl, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jon Scieszka, Julia Donaldson, and John Yeoman. I am especially drawn to line-work and nonsensical, humorous folk.
I love collage.
I hate beetroot.
Some Other Things About Gus:
I use all kinds of media — but probably watercolour more than any other. Most of the time I just play around with whatever’s lying about -– crayons, charcoal, colour pencils, acrylics, gouache, cardboard. I’m most passionate about collage and spend a good deal of time collecting interesting papers and textures. Old postcards, anything. I can’t go to an art supply shop without buying some funky paper.
My favourite part of my job are those moments when it’s all clicking and you have no idea what time it is. You’re lost in a book or in the process. Having said that, there are always days when you’re stuck in the mud and you can’t figure out how to get out. Solving creative problems can be enormously satisfying.
At the moment, stylistically, I’m in the process of deconstructing the way I convey story and especially my technique. I’ve really been trying to get back to basics and focus on telling the story, concentrating on the character, rather than getting bogged down in conscious technique -– perspective, form, anatomy, etc. We have three little children and I’m always fascinated with their naïve drawings. In many ways their conceptualisation, the way they interpret the world, is so much more real and refreshing than a trained artist’s translation. They haven’t been taught the ‘right’ way to draw yet.
Some Things About Wendy:
I have always been oddly fascinated with chickens. We always had them growing up on the farm -– maybe that’s how it started. There is something about them. I can’t decide whether they are one of the most stupid animals to ever walk the earth or, on the other hand, if you heard on the news that a chicken had passed all the necessary mental and physical challenges required to become the first chicken on the NASA space program, you wouldn’t be altogether surprised. (Okay, maybe a bit.)
Although Wendy has always been a chicken, the story has changed significantly. Originally, Wendy was a spy who had all these James-Bond-like, save-the-world missions, but it was all a little too ambitious. The character felt right, but I felt that she needed more of a focus for her adventures. This is where Evel Knievel came into the picture.
My brother and I were huge Evel Knievel fans growing up. He was so flamboyant and reckless. I used to draw him constantly. We loved the way the fans would flock to see him jump these crazy obstacles with little regard for his life. He would inevitably crash and spend months in hospital recovering from multiple injuries — only to emerge and do it all over again. He was the ultimate showman.
I was also very interested in the travelling-circus-era of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, when circus’s and freak shows were the primary form of entertainment around –- especially for those who lived outside the cities. I loved watching those old black-and-white circus movies when Houdini and others were the big stars of the day. Wendy seemed the perfect personality for such heroics and, once I had her on a motorbike … well, it just looked so right.
In terms of illustrating Wendy, I wanted to capture that Evel-Knievel feel but in the old travelling-circus-era and in a country setting. I had to fudge the time frame a little, but I thoroughly enjoyed drawing the old ‘bubble’-style trucks and buses. I used the sepia toned ‘photos’ to help the reader get a sense of a moment being captured in time and also when Wendy reminisces about time past. The media I used were black pencil, acrylics, crayons, colour pencil, collage, and a bit of digital stuff. I enjoyed the collage element the most. I tried to pick the most suitable papers and patterns for the various scenes, trying to make sure the element enhanced the illustration — not distracted the reader.
So, basically, Wendy was born out of something that was there all along. It had been collected like all the other junk that invades the cavity between my ears. It was plucked from my boyhood subconscious. Boy, there’s some crazy stuff floating around up there.
I’m always looking for more time. Mostly time to write, which I enjoy just as much as painting/drawing. I always seem to be too busy working on other folks’s books (which is still enjoyable) to find good quality time to spend on my own. Although, I am at present currently working on my next picture book. I can’t say much about it, but it’s set in New York. I’m quite excited about this one. It’s very different from Wendy. I also have an idea about the following book: It’s about Norman, a one-legged, cross-dressing Algerian Hamster Pirate who dreams of one day playing the bagpipes in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m hoping it hasn’t been done already.“
All images used with permission of Gus Gordon. All rights reserved.
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New folks are always welcome.
1). Some beautiful hand-made jewelry and music from my friend, Jill, as a birthday gift. (The whole gift nearly made me cry, seeing as how it was so thoughtful).
2). More music from another friend.
4). Also: It’s always a good week when Sam releases new music, which she did.
5). Someone also pointed this out to me, and I very much want to be there looking at that collection right now.
6). Also: I’m super happy Gus stopped by.
7). All of you kickers.
NOTE: Don’t forget MotherReader’s Fifth Annual 48-Hour Book Challenge. Here’s all the info.
What are YOUR kicks this week?