As part of the 10th anniversary celebration for First Second Books, author Andi Watson has been kind enough to let us interview him.
- Why did you choose to do all black & white illustrations in Princess Decomposia?
Mostly because it's set in the Underworld so a stark black and white seemed appropriate. The cold slabs of rock and deep shadow to contrast with the warmth and vitality of the characters. Also, I love black and white!
- Will you be doing another book with Decomposia so that it becomes a series?
That is out of my hands, unfortunately. But, yes, there're potentially lots more fun stories for those characters.
- Was it hard for you to write a main character that was a girl?
Nah. My first instinct is to write characters. It's no different writing anyone who doesn't share my personal experience, whether it's a talking cat, firefighter, superhero or a sweet-toothed vampire chef. I try and imagine what it's like to be them in their situation and draw on something similar, but not the same, that I've felt myself.
- What were the books you loved as a child?
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, Grimble by Clement Freud, The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. I read a lot as a kid. There were precious few books at home so I was a member of my local library and of a book club run from school called the Puffin book club. I loved it when my new books would arrive in a paper bag.
- Who is your favorite author? Your favorite illustrator?
I like a lot of different authors, from Raymond Chandler, to Jane Austen, Henry James to Stella Gibbons. J.P. Martin, Tove Jansson, Evelyn Waugh Kelly Link, Edward St Aubyn, It's a long list. And there's always someone new to discover. I picked up a copy of Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym in a second hand bookshop and loved it. Now I have to track down all the Pym books I can.
Again, I like lots of different artists, from Quentin Blake to the Golden Age illustrators (Kay Nielson, Dulac, Rackham), Degas, Vermeer, Hokusai, Ingres, Goya...lots.
- Do you see yourself more as an author, an illustrator, or a combination of both?
I guess the corny answer is storyteller. I enjoy telling stories through words AND pictures. The drawing is as much "writing" as the words. You can communicate a lot through the art alone. Sometimes the writer and artist parts of my brain are in conflict, a good comic is where the different elements work together and work in concert.
- How long does it take you to complete a book?
It depends, but if I take out the thinking time, then upwards of six months. I have to write it, then with Princess Decomposia I thumbnailed it all out, figuring out the pacing, and length of scenes though rough versions of each page. Then I aim to get at least two pages of finished art drawn a day, that includes the hand lettering. After that there's scanning and cleaning up the pages, correcting typos, re-drawing panels and generally tweaking. The finished book is the tip of a mountain of discarded paper. The time it's hard to quantify is the time spent doodling and thinking over ideas. I'd had Count Spatula in my sketch book for several years beforehand but couldn't find the right story for him. It was only when he was introduced to Princess Decomposia that it began to come together.
- Do you work on more than one book at a time?
Generally not. One graphic novel at a time is enough to fill my head. I enjoy doing smaller projects alongside to change things up, though. Drawing a hundred and odd pages of comics is a marathon. It's also nice to be able to pay the bills.
- Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
I wish there was single source I could return to to guarantee good ideas. Unfortunately it's more of a mix of different factors: sketchbook work, other books I've read and real life experience that interact and produce ideas, generally when you're not expecting it.
- Do you have a favorite genre?
I do like humour, although I'm not necessarily a funny 'ha ha' writer. There's a vein of humour in everything I do. I also like character and dialogue, those are more important to me than genre. If I feel that I 'know' the characters then I have a solid foundation for a story.
- What was your major course of study in school?
The only subject I really enjoyed at school was art. I also enjoyed English Lit, but I wasn't the best student. I think I learned the most from those English classes, though. Being taken to see stage productions of Hamlet, learning how to study a text, appreciate language, being made to read something other than fantasy trilogies! All good stuff that I appreciate more now than I did then. One of my teachers at the time said she was ill for a week and stayed in bed reading War and Peace. She described it as a really long, really good soap opera. That really stuck with me, "literature" wasn't something to be scared of, it could be entertaining, difficult and enlightening. Just give it a try. As a not-at-all-academic working-class kid, I found that attitude liberating.
- Have you had other jobs besides being an author and illustrator?
Unfortunately, no. I really should have listened to my parents and 'learned a trade'. The freelance life is pretty up and down and it'd be nice to know that there's a back-up in the down times.
- Do you have any kids of your own?
Yep, I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is way smarter than me. She takes after her mom.
- What is your favorite food?
I have a real sweet tooth, so would have to say candy, desserts and all the stuff that's not very good for you.