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Monday 31 August 2015

Interview: Author Illustrator David Mackintosh

Over two salt-beef sandwiches, french fries and coffee in Borough Market in London, designer and illustrator Coralie Bickford-Smith interviews KBR favourite, author/illustrator David Mackintosh, about his new book What’s Up, MuMu?.

The characters in your new book are animals. This makes a change. Why did you choose them? Yes, it’s a bit more abstract for me, but they act in a human way so not that far from my comfort zone.

What kind of animals are they? Well they’re not real animals. MuMu is like a hare, but wears a mumu. Lox is a round creature with a trunk-like nose, no ears, but walks upright and isn’t grey. Lox wears a white suit. I don’t think of them as animals, but creatures. 

I always got the impression you were not into anthropomorphism? A lot of your books deal with human beings, and their psychology, I guess. Yeah, I kind of think that there’s plenty people doing animals being humans, but I happened across the characters and stuck with them. It’s always good to experiment. By the way, I tried a version with human characters and it was too banal!

The book’s about friendship and tolerance or patience. Yes, I think it’s all about understanding the differences in others and tolerating them. MuMu is kind of hard work, but Lox relishes a challenge and values MuMu as a friend.

Is this kind of thing important to you? Yes, I think it is important if you want to maintain friendships. Yes, I suppose I like the differences. You’ve got to keep people happy.

Lox can only take so much and finally falls apart. I feel sorry for Lox. It’s like water dripping on a big stone, slowly but surely wearing it down. But Lox is smart because Lox knows MuMu too well and maybe Lox is playing a part for as long as necessary to get MuMu out of that mood.

Compared to some of your other books, the illustrations are pared back and less sophisticated. What’s the reason for that? The text is less of a tale, more linear and simple. I wanted the pictures to be direct and fast, to carry the story along. My other texts often have time changes and parallel ideas in them and are more complex. This one starts here and ends there and you follow along. The sparse pictures help that.

There’s a lot of flat colour in it too. Yes, and plenty of white paper too. It’s all quite graphic, less subtle colour-wise.

Can you tell me about the drawing of MuMu? MuMu’s mood doesn’t change, so neither does the drawing. It’s the same drawing coloured-in over and over. I liked taking it too literally and I think it works in the storytelling.

I mean, Lox has to physically pick MuMu up underarm to go shopping. MuMu is that stubborn. Lox is far more animated and is moving around this elephant in the room that is MuMu. Ironically, Lox is more like an elephant, but MuMu acts more like the proverbial. I like that.

What have you made the pictures with? Oil pencil, coloured pencils and paper collage. And watercolour.

Your pictures really suit the uncoated paper they’re printed on. Yes, there’s a flatness to my work and the drawing is a big part of this. I don’t like the look of the drawn line in my pictures when printed on coated stock, it’s too slick and black. I want it to feel as the originals do on the uncoated paper they’re drawn on. Ditto the colour elements especially the cut paper. I want the end result to feel ‘papery’.

But you use Photoshop too? Yes at some point I get my artwork scanned and compose a lot of it on the computer, once I’ve made the initial drawings and paintings.

And what’s next? A story about a boy waiting and the waiting not amounting to anything. No, it’s not an autobiography.

What's Up MuMu? is available now (HarperCollins Children’s Books). And if you want more from David (who wouldn't??), check out this super cute phone interview on his website:


Coralie Bickford-Smith’s first book The Fox and The Star is also out now (Particular Books).