The goodbye scene

There’s a scene in Last Viking where Josh arrives at Nan and Pop’s house, says goodbye to his mum and dad, and watches them drive off. Sounds simple enough. It took Norm and I a few goes to get it right.

The text and pictures would have to achieve a number of things- introduce Nan and Pop, introduce the setting, and show Josh’s close relationship with his Mum and Dad. The text and pictures couldn’t show Josh’s parents leaving in a way that implied they were dumping him so they could go away for the weekend together… it had to be sensitive.

The first and second goes didn’t achieve these things :p

First go
second go

You can’t see Mum and Dad in either of these early versions, which is a problem… they are just a car driving off into the distance. You can’t see how they feel about leaving Josh behind, but you can see Josh’s reaction- so the overall feeling is one of abandonment, which wasn’t what Norman and I were trying to get at. I did try having Mum or Dad’s hand waving from the car window, but that made it worse- it seemed as if they were dismissing Josh.

Norm’s early text here reads,

As Mum and Dad drive away from Nan and Pop’s, Josh looks about warily. Very warily. The river is very close, too close for safety, and the shadows beneath the trees that line the bank look like perfect hiding places for monsters; especially Bunyips.

A different version of this text ended up appearing on the page preceding this scene, set in the car when just arriving at Nan and Pop’s house.

The house doesn’t feature so much in these early versions of the scene, but in the next version it became more prominent- almost another character.

third go

The text has changed in this version- it’s the same as in the final book. This time we see the family reunion, and a goodbye hug between Josh and his parents; we also get a good look at Pop’s house, the design of which hints at his interest in Vikings.

The third version was getting closer to achieving what it needed to- but the pictures were a little disjointed. We needed a way to pull them all together into a more coherent spread.

The fourth version got a bit closer, combining the two pictures on the left page into one image.

fourth go

The colour tests were added digitally in photoshop, using quick strokes  of base colour, then rough shading and highlights to get an idea of the lighting.

Our editor Cate suggested that the page on the right looked a little flat- she liked the house, but thought another perspective might work better. This was around the same time we were mucking around with the bullying scene and it’s continuous background; we thought something similar might work well here.

I did the following roughs for the fifth version of the scene.

fifth go, thumbnail sketches

Here’s a closer look at the bottom right-hand sketch:

fifth go, thumbnail sketch, detail

Here I’ve nutted out three panels with a continuous background. The left panel introduces the house and Nan and Pop; it also shows the relationships in the family. The middle panel has the goodbye hug between Josh and his parents. The exaggerated one-point perspective leads the reader’s eye through the panels from left to right, all the way down to Mum and Dad’s car as it leaves in the far right-hand panel.

Here’s a bigger sketch of the left-hand panel.

fifth go, print-size sketch

After completing print-size sketches, I could trace over them and do the final pencil outlines. I used A3 printer paper and 2B pencils.

final pencils

Then it was on to the colouring stage.

colour, first go

My first go didn’t work out; the digital file became corrupted somehow. The colours of the house didn’t seem to be working with the colours of the characters anyway, so I started again.

colour, second go, part-way through

In this second go, I tried to get the colours of the house to complement the colours of Pop, because the Viking elements of the house design most strongly associate with him. I pulled some colours from Pop’s clothes and hair and left some swatches in the gutter (in the centre of the image) so I could refer to them when colouring the house.

When it was all done it looked like this:

final colours

I was pretty happy with this- I would have liked to spend a little extra time putting more shading into the characters, but I was running out of time by this stage, and things can never be ‘perfect’.

For eagle-eyed readers, the licence plate of Mum and Dad’s car reads DLF-1812, my brother’s initials.

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 .

4 thoughts on “The goodbye scene”

  1. As someone who has only dreamed of professionally illustrating, I learnt a lot from following the process of going from concept to finished piece. So interesting to see the re-working and experimentation with perspective and colours. Also, the way the drawings reflect the text.

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