“Son, we make a story out of everything that passes through our field of vision” – Liberation

Every week, “Liberation” reviews the news of children’s books. Today, interview with British illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton around “Comet”, his latest work.

The Comet wonderfully portrays the struggles some contemporary families experience. It is the story of a ten-year-old girl, Mila, and her father, of moving and rebuilding, of adapting to a lifestyle in the city. Mila is not very comfortable in her new job and gets carried away by her dreams. This is a fiction influenced by childhood memories. Joe Todd-Stanton’s family owns a small lighthouse in a fishing village. He grew up alone with his mother, moving to Brighton as a child. A city where there is movement, quite a contrast for the boy. His first two albums, the secret of the black stone (2018) and Jules and the Fox (2019) sold 160,000 copies in France. Interview with the British illustrator on the occasion of the publication of the Comet.

Mila is an introvert. He doesn’t really like a lot of people and experiences drastic changes around him. Did your childhood inspire you for this character?

Inevitably, my books are really – and I didn’t realize it until I was done writing – therapies. For example, Julian [la souris de son précédent album, ndlr] is a rather shy character, inspired by my own character traits. I was like Mila when she moved to London: I was overwhelmed by this permanent crowd. I moved when I was 4 to Brighton, which is not a big city, but I felt like I was leaving behind the magic of the simple things I was used to.

So I have a lot in common with my characters. I wasn’t good at asking for unusual things, or telling my parents about my feelings. If I want a toy in a store, I stand directly in front of the display, hoping they will take notice of my request. In the end I stayed there for a long time. Then I was sad. But how did they know? This is a question I would like to address. Of course, I’m not a father, I’m just guessing, but this idea that when you’re a parent you have to learn to communicate with your child non-verbally is fascinating.

When Mila arrives at her new apartment, she feels trapped. Is there a parallel with confinement? Many people turn to artistic practice to try to escape.

I really believe in therapy through artistic skills, and I noticed this during my time in prison. I made my album at that time. Many people take up art to distract themselves, like Mila when she paints in her living room, it’s a journey. Drawing is therapeutic for me. I have a place I can go anytime, lucky me. During the lockdown, I just moved into a flat with a balcony and lived five minutes from London’s biggest park. So I had great moments of confinement walking in the woods. I started reading a lot of Rousseau, on the idea of ​​nature and its power in our daily lives. The positive energy it emits. There are studies that see a tree every day extends your life! It is very basic and at the same time true. I want a story that shows these aspects.

One of my favorite artists is David Hockney, he is obsessed with nature. The way he dealt with it was surprising, he would draw trees, always the same, with their changes over the years. And the older I get, the more I appreciate nature. When I was young, my parents always visited me in the forest. I’ve been completely sanctifying years of my life, it’s almost strange.

For children living in big cities, do you think your album can make them understand the importance of nature?

I hope. I believe my first two books were very pure and innocent. They talk about topics that inspired me as a child. But when I moved to London, I realized that’s not the reality for most kids, which is often not as attractive a city as a small fishing village. I understood that you don’t need a big natural and heavenly space to talk to children about their lives. I think they are difficult to grow in urban areas. To dream of Hogwarts [l’école d’Harry Potter] while they are stuck in high towers. It’s important to make them understand that these natural spaces are, even if you live in the city, just a few train stops away and you need to maintain a basic connection with nature. The story can also touch adults, wake up some of them, certainly in their conversations with their children. It’s a bit like Pixar movies, you can watch them at any age.

Have you ever thought about making an animation? I heard you’re a fan of Miyazaki.

I love animation. I was dyslexic when I was little and thought writing was not for me. But then I was asked to do a children’s book and it seemed too stupid to say no… I fell in love with this job. And yes, I am passionate about Miyazaki, and all my books are first animated in my head. Unfortunately, I don’t have a hundred people available and all the skills that Miyazaki has.. But I create sets, characters, I control every detail. In animation there are many people on the same project, I don’t know if I’m ready to make this compromise. And I’m quite complicated in my social relationships, I spend hours in the dark trying to make albums so if I start making a movie … I’ll lose family and friends! Maybe one day I’ll get there.

Why did you choose the comet symbol for your album?

In each of my books, I attach myself to an image and everything is shaped with it. For the comet, I asked myself: why does the woman I imagine have a comet in her hands? And I returned to the why and how of history. I loved this comet idea. When I was young, I was going wild camping and I fell over when I saw the beauty of the stars. I love starting with an absolutely fantastic element and anchoring it in reality. The comet is an element with which I can juggle between two universes.

As a child, we change everything that passes into our field of vision and we easily create a story around it. This island that we cannot swim to, the mind wonders what could happen there. When you see a small door on the street, on the side of a building, you wonder who uses it, what is behind it… Children’s books follow the same principle, designing all possible.

The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton, translated from English by Isabelle Reinharez, Ecole des Loisirs, 40pp., €14. From 3 years.

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