Ever wanted to read a comic but didn't know where to start? Interested in superheroes, manga, romance, webcomics and more? Look no further! We have all the recommendations you'll ever need.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Interview with Helen Bate, author of Peter in Peril

My last review here was Peter in Peril, a story about a Jewish boy living in Budapest during World War Two.  I was sent a copy of the book by the publishers and asked if I wanted to interview the author, well I enjoyed the book so of course I said yes.

You can read the review of the book here but as a brief reminder, it's told from the point of view of Peter and is suitable for ages 8 up.  Here go the questions:

Q1.  I understand that Peter in Peril is your first book and that you used to be an architect.  How did you get into comics and did being an architect have any influence on how you approached constructing the comic pages?

I gave up my architectural career after 10 years to do a degree in illustration and I initially illustrated some children’s books for Frances Lincoln and Harper Collins. The Peter story was done as a student project initially but in a very different form. I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to work with Janetta Otter-Barry to produce it in a way that would suit 8-10 year old children and the graphic story form seemed to be the one that best suited the complexity of the subject and the age range. I used more text than other graphic stories, as I wanted to allow the book to be read to a child. I also felt it was important with the subject matter to adequately explain to children what was happening in more detail.

I think my architectural background has quite an influence on my drawing style - drawing with a black line is a very big part of architectural drawing and I always tend to gravitate to that way of drawing… even though I’d quite like to have a looser style … but drawing is pretty much like your handwriting - it’s very personal to the individual. 


Q2. Describing artistic styles in comics is one of my weak points, so for the benefit of readers can you describe your art style and how you came to illustrate the way you do?
I don’t think my artistic style fits into any particular category. The drawings are very much graphic and line based because that’s the way I work - and I use layering and watercolour to add depth and mood… Because I also do picture books for younger children, my style is influenced by that too.

Q3. I read that Peter is a member of your family. Creating this book must have been quite emotional. Can you tell us about the process of developing it and how you ensured the story stayed true to life?
Peter is my brother-in-law and his story has always been one that I have felt was an important one to pass on to future generations, especially within our own family. Because he and his parents and his cousin Eva all survived, it has a more positive outcome than the story of Anne Frank and others like it; Because of this it’s more suitable for younger and more sensitive children. And in this age of world problems, when intolerance and persecution are becoming more prevalent again, I feel it’s a really topical theme and much needed.

My sister and my brother-in-law wrote down his story in as much detail as he could remember some years ago, so we have a family book that I was able to use to get the details. I then showed Peter at every stage of the development to ensure he was happy with the simplification and the depiction of his childhood experiences. He and his cousin Eva have been amazed by the reaction of people to their story.. they genuinely didn’t think anyone would be interested.

Q4. Have you read many other comics dealing with World War Two? Can you recommend any
There are a couple of comic style books or graphic stories that I have read about WW2 (both holocaust stories involving children) and that I’ve found really interesting because of the different ways they are portrayed - but they are aimed at older children or adults … 


Q5. Was it Otter-Barry that asked you to do a children's book or did the idea come from you?
It was my idea for the book and Janetta Otter-Barry really liked the idea.

Q6. Presumably you think comics are good for children, do you feel they improve literacy or that they offer more (or different things?) than prose books do? How so? What do you think is important about them?
I think the graphic novel style of picture book or comic style - whichever you want to call it, makes reading more accessible for those children who may be less happy reading straight forward prose with some illustrations. So if reluctant readers can be encouraged to read by providing them with comic style stories on more serious themes done well, then that’s a great contribution to literacy.

Although I love reading fiction, I am also a very visual person, so I love mixing the two. I know my 11 year old grand daughter and my 8 year old grandson are big comic or graphic novel fans, and although they read prose fiction too, I see comics as offering them something very different that helps them to see storytelling and fiction in a different, and more visual way. Providing them with a good cross section of styles helps with their visual literacy and develops their aesthetic judgement.

I think comic style stories can also be a great stepping stone to understanding film making and theatre, and I think that is a big plus.

Doing Peter in a comic strip form helped to make a difficult subject more accessible - and although I did use a lot of prose in it, that was to ensure that the complexities of the subject were explained more fully. My next comic style story, although also a difficult subject, is set today so needs less explanation and will be more visual.
----------------
There we go. Many thanks to Helen for answering my questions and for being patient regarding my delays. You can read more about Peter in Peril on the Otter-Barry website. Please please check it out.

I originally put this interview on my other blog, Pai, at www.paiwings.blogspot.com.  Just in case you come across it twice and think I've stolen it.

No comments:

Post a Comment