Monday, 29 October 2012

Interview with Kerstin Schoene, author and illustrator of Monsters aren't real

Q: Let us start with the obvious question.  How did you start to illustrate
children's books?

A: I have always had a passion for creativity and drawing, which led me to study Communication Design at university, with an emphasis on Illustration. One of my professors was Wolf Erlbruch, the well-known children`s book illustrator and I owe a lot to him. It was while I was doing my studies that I developed a wish to create a children’s picture book of my own, and so “Monster gibt es nicht…” (Monsters aren’t real) was born. I was lucky to find a publisher almost immediately, and since then, I have decided to dedicate myself to illustrating children’s books.

Q: How is doing this kind of work different from your other illustration
work? Are there things you feel you need to keep in mind when you illustrate children's books?

A: All my drawings are intended to be beautiful but also captivating.
I want the illustrations in my children’s books to ‘live’ and to communicate a happy feeling not only to kids but also to grownups. Humor seemed to be the best way to do so. I also relish incorporating exciting details that are waiting to be discovered.

Q: Monsters aren't real is the first book completely written and illustrated by you and it is clear that you are quite attached to your monster.  How did you create this character? Did it begin with an idea, a visual?

A: When I started to think about creating a children’s picture book, I quickly had the idea of making the main character a monster. You are absolutely free in the creation of a monster- there are no rules you have to follow or any particular anatomy you have to stick to. I could creatively ‘rave’.  I created a number of different characters: tall, small, fat, thin, with horn, without a nose, with teeth or dotted… the choice was almost endless. But it was only the character you see in the final version that I felt fit in with the story which I was developing simultaneously at the time.  While I was working on the book, my monster was constantly in my mind, and I took him everywhere.  Together, we went to bed, and together we woke up in the morning.  At my graduation, I was "the one with the monster".

Q: Why did you decide to make your monster face the dilemma that he does, which has been described by one reviewer as 'an existential crisis'?

A: Oh yes the “existential crisis” – Once I decided that a monster would be the main character, I started to think about the plot of the story. Many stories start with a problem that needs to be solved. We all have problems, why shouldn’t a monster also have a problem, but what problem could it be? For sure, a monster wouldn’t be too concerned about how much it weighs, whether it stinks or not, its hairstyle, or the price of gasoline… Ultimately, a monster does not exist and that exactly must be its problem.

Q: How do you feel about the existence of an Arabic monster?

A: I am very happy. Of course I love my monster, and I am happy every time it learns a new language. At the moment, he speaks German, Danish, English and French.  When I tell people about the Arabic monster, they raise their eyebrows in disbelief. I am really looking forward to seeing the Arabic copy. Not being able to read or understand the language, I like the beautifully curved characters.

Q: Are you working on anything new?

A: Currently, a new book-project is in its final stages.  It is the second book fully created (written and illustrated) by me. This time, the main character is a small penguin, so now it is the penguin who is going
to bed with me in the evening and getting up with me in the morning.

Q: Do you conduct activities with children around this book? What are their reactions to the book and the monster?

A: After the book was published, I did some activities with children and we had a kind of “picture book cinema” in which the kids could take part actively.  During the activity, I would let a small monster sign appear at appropriate scenes. For the kids, this was their cue to shout at the top of their voices: “There are monsters!” In this way, they were supporting the poor monster. They really were enjoying themselves, and most importantly, they were not afraid of the monster but loved it immediately.

Q: As you were preparing this book, how did you make the choice about the role of the text and illustrations in the construction of this story?
Would you have been prepared to dispense with the text entirely if you
could have done so?

This book was created in the framework of an illustration course I was taking, so the drawings were the main part. The story line was carried mainly by the images and especially by the emotional and facial expressions of the monster. The text was an accompanying support, but one I would not want to have left out entirely.

Kerstin Schoene studied communication design at the University of Wuppertal - with an emphasis on Illustration. She likes to draw using pencil, chalk, and watercolor, but currently, her best friend is the graphics tablet. The monster in Monsters aren’t real was completely digitally created. Since her graduation, she has been working as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She has collaborated with several publishers, and she writes and illustrates her own children's books. She lives in Haan, Germany, under the observation of a little ball of fur.