We were very lucky to have a chat with author and illustrator Graham Carter recently. Graham is an excellent illustrator with an extensive portfolio, and he has recently started writing and illustrating his own picture books.His first release is the 2020 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Shortlisted “Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter” and his next book, “The Story Thief” is released on March 4th 2021!
Tell us a bit about your background
I grew up in Gloucester and went to art school in Cheltenham, then Brighton and then London, studying Illustration and Communication Design. I was always better at creative subjects in school , and thanks to the support of my family I just followed my passion really.
I first approached some book publishers fresh from college about 20+ years ago and had a little interest but I wasn’t ready to commit to it back then and went down the path of editorial and corporate illustration for several years. My work took on a different style when I began printmaking and selling work through galleries , and this in turn fed into the style I currently use for picture books. I feel like it’s a constantly evolving thing that I’m not necessarily in control of, so we’ll see where I’m at in another 5 years!
What drew you to writing books?
It was a bit of a natural progression for me. A lot of my illustrations have narrative and I enjoy allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions about what might be going on within them. It’s a whole different ball game constructing a storybook from start to finish and I tend to write visually with the images coming before the words (I don’t recommend doing it this way round but it works better for me!) . I was immersed within that world for a few years whilst reading books to my boy so it just organically seemed to stem from that, and I was up for a new challenge!
DOES HAVING CHILDREN INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING?
Absolutely. With Otto it was always in the back of my mind that I might encourage my boy (I only had one at the time!) to appreciate nature and be kind to animals if he could identify with the character. It’s quite a battle these days to get the children away from screens so I hope the book will inspire some to get out the binoculars and look around them from time to time!
The Story Thief was inspired by my boy Noah also because he used to run past and steal the book I was reading , much to his amusement.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK, THE STORY THIEF?
This began life as a slightly off the wall tale of a creature who sucks the life out of a town by stealing its stories,dreams,tales and gossip etc Basically removing all the colour, purely for the fun of it. Again, during the process it evolved into something a little more relatable (hopefully) about discovering the magic of books.
Once again it involves a giant creature (but also a little girl this time), who is inquisitive of these objects (books), and wreaks havoc in his quest to discover more about them. The girl uses what she has learned from books herself to track down the beast…..I’ll leave it at that!
TELL US ABOUT Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter?
It began with a few doodles of characters that I just thought looked funny and interesting next to each other. The giant, helpless looking bird and a small boy. I’ve always been drawn to tales with such characters as The Iron Giant, My Neighbour Totoro , The Snowman and the BFG etc , and their interactions with the children who befriend them. It evolved from there really, and I have to give credit to my editor Libby who helped me develop the heart of the story, and think about the journey that these two characters embark on.
WhAT ABOUT THE inspiration for the Blotter family?
I just liked the idea of creating a bit of an obscure , dysfunctional-looking family, who maybe look as though they’ve let themselves go and spend more time on their passion than their appearance! Hence all the beards. You’re not quite sure if they are uncles, aunties, mothers or brothers but I don’t think that matters. They are basically one, collective soul . There might be a bit of Uncle Albert from Only Fools in there, or the Flumps (for any 80’s kids out there!).
Character first OR STORY IDEA FIRST?
It can work either way but I’ve always largely drawn the characters first and built a story around them. It was a new experience for me to flesh these guys out and try to get to know them as the story developed.
Who are your top three inspirations?
I always struggle at this question! I have many! I’ll say David Attenborough as an obvious choice, just because he is someone we can all aspire to. Illustration wise I’m really into Simon Stålenhag at the moment. Even though his style is vastly different to mine. His books are incredible and even inspired a recent awesome Amazon Prime series ‘Tales from the Loop’. I’ll go for Vic Reeves for my final one. I’ve always been really into comedy and I can’t think of many others who have combined art and comedy to such an effect. I could only dream of producing such a body of artistic works, but to invent a whole new genre of comedy on top of that is just vomit inducing!
What is inspiring your art at the moment?
I feel like my work has suffered a bit during these harsh times. I’ve not had that ability to just wonder around and gather my thoughts. Maybe sit in a coffee shop and sketch out some ideas etc It’s all been a bit hindered. Of course having two young children at home doesn’t help! I’m determined to hit the ground running in 2021 though and already have plans for some new 3D wooden art pieces based on characters from the comedy world.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE HOBBIES?
I don’t generally have time for them currently, but I would love to produce more characters in Polymer clay ( a thing I got into a while ago). Or any kind of sculpture for that matter. I love camping, and me and the family love to go whenever we can. We have a campervan that is infuriatingly temperamental but when she works it is a joy! Love a bit of stand-up comedy too (as in visiting gigs. Would never have the confidence to do it myself!)
YOU WORKED ON BLACK MIRROR’S ASHLEY TOO ROBOT. HOW WAS THAT?
I’ve certainly had some random jobs in illustration and I don’t even know where this came from or why they approached me but I’ve always loved character design. This was a collaborative process involving two other artists but unusual in the fact that none of us knew what the other was producing. So the finished design ended up being an amalgamation of all of our designs plus Charlie Brooker’s specifications. The brief altered a lot during the process but I like to think we helped shape Charlie’s vision for the robot. It was certainly a dream job as I love Black Mirror AND robots!