Under the Influence

Norm has spoken previously about some of his influences while writing The Last Viking. This week I thought I’d talk about the influences I had while doing the drawings.

I’ve been a huge fan of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes for many years. It was written and illustrated by the incredibly intelligent and talented Bill Watterson. The comic looked at the worries of childhood with humour and sensitivity. I was a teenager when I first start reading the comic, and I often didn’t understand the deeper philosophical side of each story, but the inventive and expressive artwork was more than enough to get me hooked. It’s easy to see the similarities between Calvin and Josh- both are young boys, both are loners, both have animal friends, and both get lost in their imaginations on a regular basis.

Calvin and Hobbes, created by Bill Watterson

Another major influence for me has been the Asterix comics, written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. I loved the historical references, the attention to detail in the costumes and backgrounds, and the ridiculous puns. That’s all come through in The Last Viking (except for the puns… though I feel that Norman’s gentle, daggy sense of humour is very much in the same vein as Goscinny’s, and also mine). And of course, there is an animal companion- a little white dog, called Dogmatix… very much like Wolverine in The Last Viking.

Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix, created by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

Although some readers may see similarities between Wolverine in The Last Viking and Snowy in the Tintin comics, I never got into Tintin much… I preferred Uderzo’s cartoonish, thick-and-thin brushwork over Hergé‘s consistently fine-lined art. Though I do love his detailed backgrounds and suspenseful storylines. The bad guys in Tintin comics always feel realistically menacing to me, which makes Tintin’s missions seem quite dangerous (seeing as he’s only a teenager).

Tintin and Snowy, created by Hergé

Shaun Tan is my favourite Australian writer and illustrator. I love the way he uses camera angles and lighting. He’s had a huge influence on me and my approach to making a picture book. His work doesn’t talk down to kids, and I want my work to have that same level of respect. And I’d love to have half of his technical skill… he’s definitely raised the bar.

lost thing
from 'The Lost Thing', written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan, first published by Lothian Books

I also love Freya Blackwood’s illustrations… she has a wonderful loose line, soft warm watercolours, and a sensitive eye for children’s body language. Cate Sutherland and I were trying to work out how a few of the comic panel spreads in The Last Viking were going to work: we thought they could have a continuous background, but different events could occur in each panel. Then the next day we both saw an interview with Freya Blackwood in The Weekend Australian, which featured the following image from her book Harry and Hopper (written by Magaret Wild):

from 'Harry and Hopper', written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, first published by Omnibus Books 2009

The picture was a great help and showed me how I could put some of my scenes together- in particular, the bully scene. The full double page-spread contains five interlinked panels; two are shown here.

pg15 colour

Finally, some of my own old drawings influenced The Last Viking. Years ago I’d  worked on a different character for another story… here’s an old watercolour sketch, which is where the idea for Josh’s dragon emblem originally came from.

'Harry', 11/8/2008

Josh, with dragon emblem on cardboard armour

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at www.jamesfoley.com.au .

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