Guest post and Q & A from NZ Post Children’s Book Awards judge Ant Sang
In recent months I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the judging committee for the 2014 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. Within the Picture Book category, there have been a huge variety of entries, and with that a huge breadth of styles and mediums.
So you are our illustration specialist among the judges of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards – have you had your expertise in this area tested over the past weeks?
I’ve certainly felt in awe of some of the illustrators and their work during the judging process! It really has been a humbling experience, but it’s fantastic to see that despite the difficult climate in New Zealand publishing at the moment, there is still an inspiring dedication to the craft of book illustration.
What for you, are the elements of an excellent illustrated book – whether a picture book, junior fiction, or graphic novel?
I think the best illustrated books are ones where the text, images, design and production work together seamlessly to produce something greater than their parts. It’s a difficult juggling act, and there’s any number of things which can go wrong, but when these elements are aligned, it produces something magical.
Are there any problems you see coming up often for illustrators who haven’t worked in the printed book medium previously?
For the most part it has been really difficult to tell if the books have been illustrated by a first-time book illustrator. On the basis of the entries I’ve read during the judging process, illustrators are well versed in the language of picture books.
Amongst experienced illustrators, it’s great to see illustration techniques evolving. Some of the digital illustrations are really beautiful – the work of Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson, Donovan Bixley and Patrick McDonald are deceptively intricate and subtle, often mixing traditional and digital mediums to great effect. And yet, the more old-school styles of paint, watercolours, inks and pencils are more than capable of holding their own. David Elliot, Margaret Tolland and Sarah Davis are just some of the amazing illustrators working in more traditional mediums.
What part does illustration play in distinguishing between a sophisticated picture book and one for younger readers?
I think the text will ultimately determine whether a picture book is suited for younger or more sophisticated readers. The illustrator’s job is to know the audience for the book and to produce illustrations which will appeal to those readers. Illustration can add layers of depth to the story; implying things which aren’t apparent in the story, or emphasising the themes or tone of the story in a visual manner, and these are often the things which can give a picture that elusive x-factor.
What is your favourite pictorial book of all time?
My favourite pictorial book ever, that’s a tough question! How about I list a handful of my favourites? In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, Nicketty-Nacketty Noo-Noo-Noo, by Joy Cowley and Tracey Moroney, Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes, Ed the Happy Clown and I Never Liked You, by Chester Brown, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller.
Ant was a finalist in the awards in 2012 for his graphic novel Shaolin Burning. He has won awards for his design work on Bro’Town. He is currently working on his first feature film script and an animated short, Wing Chun, a contemporary retelling of the life of the young woman who made the kung fu style famous.