Friday, 16 July 2010

Mythic Friday Interview: Number 16 - Anthony Lewis

Illustrators are vital for children's authors.  It's that simple, and it's why I am so pleased that Anthony Lewis has agreed to give us a Mythic Friday Interview from the illustrator's point of view.  It's hard to overstate the part an illustrator plays in an author's life (at least the life of one who writes children's books).  Without an illustrator, such an author's words would remain just that--little black squiggles on paper.  Now, you may say that is fine--that if the words are right, then the child's imagination will soar anyway.  True--for a novel (though I happen to like illustrated novels).  But for a picture book? Of course not--the images go hand in hand with the text, bringing it to life.

How about a book of myths then? How do pictures add to one of those?  Well, that's something I feel very qualified to talk about.  Anthony and I have worked together on exactly 150 myths--both Greek and Celtic. Without Anthony, there would be no Atticus the Storyteller or Coll the Bard, because his illustrations go hand in hand with my words and have made the books what they are.  He has taken what started as a germ of an idea in my head and made my characters real, made my stories come to a beautiful life of their own on the page, and for that I will be eternally grateful to him.  The Atticus project alone was a massive undertaking.  100 stories, with colour illustrations (sometimes more than one) on each page, plus the amazing sepia cartoons which tell the story of Atticus's journey through Greece.  That's a lot of drawing--and Anthony did it all twice, once for the black-and-white roughs, and again for the finished artwork.  It was a true collaboration--I sent reference when needed, and we talked all the way through.  The most difficult bit was creating the map of Atticus's journey.  I'd had a large map of Greece and Turkey pinned to my wall for a year, covered in stickers and scribbles and string.  Anthony had to turn that into something a child could follow.  It also had to be visually attractive.  Personally, I think it's a triumph of the cartographer's art, but you can judge for yourselves here

Now, last week I was accused in certain quarters of not letting my interviewees get a word in edgeways--so without further ado, I shall hand you over to Anthony and welcome him to Scribble City Central.  Thanks for visiting, Anthony!

1. Do you think that the retelling of myths is important or relevant for the children of today? Why should they care about some “dry old stories” which come from ancient or forgotten cultures they might never even have heard of?
Through the vast array of wonderful myths books available, the stories appear to be more prevalent to today’s children than when I was a child. The breadth of storylines and characters will, I’m sure, provide inspiration to authors, illustrators, games designers, musicians and film makers for generations to come.

2. What age were you when you came across your first myth or myths? Tell us how you felt then about the myths you first discovered. Did you love them or hate them? Did they scare you, excite you—or were you indifferent? What kind of myths were they? Greek? Norse? Native American? Celtic? Or from another culture entirely? Were they in a book you read? Or did you hear them as oral storytelling from someone else?
The first myths I recall were all Greek; the stories of Icarus, Pandora’s Box, King Midas, and Theseus and the Minotaur. At the age of 4 or 5, it seemed perfectly feasible that these stories were real and were all the more scary for that reason.

I seem to recall watching them on television at infant school, rather than them initially being read or told to me.

3. Looking back, what is your favourite myth of all time, from any culture? And why would you choose it?
I would say my favourite collective myths are our own Celtic ones. Walking through a British woodland or standing on a rugged coast, I can still sense the atmosphere of these tales even today, probably because the stories are more earthly bound than those of the Gods and Goddesses of other cultures.

As for an all time favourite, possibly one of the stories of the giant Cormoran, whose body is said to lie under St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, whether it was put there by his wife, Cormellian or Jack the Giantkiller. I’d choose it because I love to stand on the beach at Marazion and imagine the remains of the giant buried under the Mount in the bay.

4. Who is the mythical hero, heroine or being you most dislike, and what made you feel that way about them?
I don’t hold a grudge against any of them, but the Cyclops, Polyphemus, seems like a nasty piece of work.

5. Is there a mythical beast you are particularly fond of? If so, which one?
Talos, the man of bronze who guarded the island of Crete. I loved the scene in the film ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ where he comes to life.

6. How have myths had an influence on your illustrating and cultural life, if at all? 
I’m not sure of their influence, but there is a certain pleasure as an illustrator of being given the opportunity of bringing to life the stories I recall from childhood. Of all the 300 or so books I’ve illustrated the one I enjoyed the most and that I’m most proud of is our book of Celtic Myths, Coll the Storyteller’s Tales of Enchantment. NB from Lucy--I'm pretty proud of it too, Anthony!

7. If you could choose to be the demigod child of any one mythical god or goddess, which one would it be? Which power would you like to inherit from them—and what would you do with it?
Not sure whose child I’d want to be, but I would like to be able to control the weather. My studio gets unbearably hot in the summer, so I’d turn the temperature down a bit. I’d also ensure that we always have snow at Christmas!

More about Anthony:

As a child, Anthony had a passion for drawing, which was (luckily) encouraged by his parents and teachers and ultimately led to his career as a freelance illustrator.  Anthony graduated with a first class honours degree from the Liverpool School of Art in 1989, and has illustrated and contributed to more than 300 children's books both in the UK and abroad.  In 1997 The Owl Tree, written by Jenny Nimmo and illustrated by Anthony, won the Nestle Smarties Children's Book Prize.  Anthony, his wife Kathryn (a graphic designer) and their three children live in a small village in Cheshire. He is also a keen supporter of Liverpool FC. 
Anthony's website is at

No comments:

Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Before the First Snow kit by Lorie Davison