Kids Can Press has a new book out this Fall that explores the power in names, and we have an interview with its artist.
Comics in the Classroom: Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions about your new book, My Name is Elizabeth!
This is your first Picture Book, but this is not your first published work. Could you give us a brief rundown of your career?
Matthew Forsythe: I have a graphic novel with Drawn & Quarterly called ojingogo (2008). i’m just wrapping up my second comic/graphic novel with them called jinchalo (2012).
Comics in the Classroom: What made you decide to branch out into children’s books?
Matthew Forsythe: I’ve always wanted to do kids’ books. They’ve had a huge influence on me - not just as a kid, but throughout my life. Mercer Mayer and Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle and Dr Seuss. And there are so many modern authors and artists that are inspiring. And I just love the purity of the medium. Ideally the books aren’t targeted at any age or demographic. I think that creates problems. When adults try to imagine what kids should be reading. To me they should just be beautiful, provocative books that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Comics in the Classroom: My wife teaches grade one and she brought the book to read to her class – they loved it. After reading it the class talked for a long time about their names and how they can be shortened and changed (which would make this a great book for supply teachers to have in their bag of tricks). Have you had the chance to meet with kids about the book – readings, signings, etc?
Matthew Forsythe: I haven’t! But I am doing a signing at a big book fair in Montreal this month. So hopefully the kids will be nice to me.
Comics in the Classroom: My wife commented that your art in this book feels “familiar”. Something about it feels familiar without actually being a copy of anything - a picture book or birthday card from the 50s and 60s. What are we seeing in your art that gets this reaction? You employ some exciting choices throughout the book – you don’t simply copy an older style. Where did you draw inspiration for the look of your art in Elizabeth?
Matthew Forsythe: I wanted to do something that felt silkscreened. I would love to do a properly screen-printed kids book some day. I love restricted palettes. The colours for this book I think at least partially came from the looking at the screenprinted work of Blex Bolex.
Comics in the Classroom: [Note: you can see sample of the work of Blex Bolex here] The grades 1 and 2 kids my wife and read the book to got a kick out of the way you “grow” Elizabeth when she yells. Is this a visual trick that you worry your readers won’t understand right away or do you worry about things like that?
Matthew Forsythe: Yeah, I think my visual storytelling is weak but improving. And maybe she is willing the town to be small? I like the ambiguity.
Comics in the Classroom: It reminded me of Christoph Niemann’s The Police Cloud.
My Name Is Elizabeth! Is very much a comic or graphic novel for young readers. Was this the intent of the writer, was it something the publisher had in mind when it hired you, or was it a vision you came up with on your own? I would think that with your comic background the publisher would expect something that approached a comic form.
Matthew Forsythe: That came from the editor and perhaps the writer. They wanted it to have a comic book feel so I think that’s why they approached me. I would love to do more comics for kids.
Comics in the Classroom: My understanding is that artists and writers of children’s books have little, if any, contact with each other and the writer controls the visuals very little – the text of the story is all the control they have. On the other hand, with comics, mainstream comics at least, the writer can control a page down to very small details through the script. How did this work between you and the writer, Annika Dunklee?
Matthew Forsythe: No, I didn’t even speak with the author until after the book was published. Annika wrote the words you see on the page and the rest was my responsibility. You’re right, it’s very different than comics.
Comics in the Classroom: Being your first picture book, how did you approach the process differently than you would one of your own comics?
Matthew Forsythe: It was a more collaborative process. Between myself and the editor and the art director.
Comics in the Classroom: This is very much an Autumn book. The leaves and the clothing are obviously signs of Fall, but the colours you chose complement the season perfectly. The burnt orange and pale blue give the book a warm feel. Was this meant to be an seasonal book? Was this what the author had in mind, did it come from the publisher or was it a choice you made?
Matthew Forsythe: I think this was Yvette, the editor’s choice. The leaves and the orange and the back-to-school-ness all fit really well together.
Comics in the Classroom: What’s next for you?
Matthew Forsythe: Right now I’m finishing the final pages of my book for Drawn & Quarterly called jinchalo. It’s about 122 pages and was a crazy amount of work. But that’s comics! When this is finished I would like to go outside and see my friends.
Comics in the Classroom: Thank you very much for your time. Good luck with My Name is Elizabeth!