Saturday, August 23, 2008

Congratulations to Matt Ottley - CBC award for Requiem for a Beast

Congratulations to Matt Ottley, whose powerful book, Requiem for a Beast, has just won the Children's Book Council award for Best Picture Book here in Australia.

Requiem for a Beast tells a wrenching and deeply personal story of a young man who goes outback to work as a stockman, where he tries to come to terms with his family's past, the terrible treatment of indigenous Australians, and his own internal conflicts. The story is told in words and pictures, sometimes separately and sometimes in combination, and also in haunting music: it includes a CD composed by the author, to be played while reading the book.

It's a challenging book to read because of the disturbing nature of the story it tells, and the sense of impending horror that pervades it. But it is not all bleakness - Matt Ottley's glorious oil paintings are a song to the beauty of the Australian landscape, and there is hope for reconciliation, for human goodness, in the story as well. I think it's a hugely well-deserved prize.

But - surprise surprise - the judges' choice has attracted a frazzle of controversy. I haven't followed it terribly closely, but it appears that the complainers are up in arms because the book contains explicit language and themes unsuitable for young children. See this article for example, where a commentator is quoted saying:
"There is no warning. There is nothing on this book which says it contains things that may not be appropriate for children. All there is is the big gold star from the Children's Book Council, which most parents will take as a recommendation".
Now this strikes me as not only silly, but lazy as well. Matt Ottley's book is aimed at adults and older children (who are still children, just not the the smaller variety). It is not aimed at the younger age groups, as any parent, teacher or librarian can tell by simply looking at the blurb, or flicking open any page of the book. But the commentator's assumption is that a picture book - especially if it wins a prize - ought to be presumed suitable for young children, unless clearly indicated otherwise with a big warning sticker on the cover.

This assumption suggests two things to me:

First, an unwillingness to take responsibility when choosing books for one's children. If you are going to borrow or purchase a book for a child, surely you should have a quick look at it first, and decide whether you think that (a) it will appeal to the kid in question; and (b) it is appropriate to their age and level of understanding. If you abrogate this responsibility, it is a bit rich to complain that nobody else picked up your slack by warning you about what was plain to see - if you had cared to look.

Secondly, this attitude suggests real ignorance about the huge developments in picture books for older readers. You just can't assume that all picture books are aimed at littl'uns, any more than you can assume that all TV cartoons are suitable for this audience. Where was this person when The Arrival swept numerous awards in both children's and general book categories?

At the heart of this silly moral panic is something I find particularly tiresome. It's a proprietorial belief that the literary space of picture books is a protected zone solely for young children - and therefore if you dare to "pervert" that space by making a picture book (or one of those degenerate "comic books") that isn't suitable for younger kids, then it is your responsibility to protect them - and apparently their parents - from the risk of stumbling across your "dirty" work.

Too ridiculous for words... let alone for pictures!

Onward Matt Ottley!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More Melbourne, more books, more Gatsby!

That local comic book hero Bernard Caleo is at it again. Or should I say, he's been at it constantly for at least ten years and shows no signs of slowing. Here's an article he wrote recently for Laneway online magazine about the flourishing of Melbourne comic art: Melbourne, home of the comic.

And since Melbourne has just been named the second ever UNESCO World City of Literature, it seems to be a very fortuitous time for us picture/word lit people to keep pouring ink onto our little Melbourne garden and bringing the produce to market. People are broadening their tastes, and realising that there's room in the lit-city for all kinds of books - not just the word-only variety.

I am further encouraged in my optimism because... Gatsby is being reprinted!! Very exciting indeed. It'll be in the shops next year, all dressed up in another gorgeous cover by the brilliant Ms Zoe Sadokierski. Yippee!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My brush pen has been busy...

Last week I showed a few pages from Hamlet at a conference called "Multiliteracies". I was on a panel with Shaun Tan and Bruce Mutard, moderated by the fabulous Erica Wagner of Allen & Unwin, and we were talking about graphic novels (of course!). Good fun, and as always more ideas than we could cram into the allotted time.

So, now that I've shown a few pages in public, I (finally) feel ready to reveal a tiny glimpse on the blog. Only a tiny glimpse though! Here's Polonius, popping out in our faces.
I'm really pleased with the torn paper - and yes, it is "real" - scanned in a delicate balancing arrangement so as not to squash the little "petals", then tidied and colour-corrected on Photoshop. Oooh, I love doing collage. And even though there are no actual scissors and glue involved here, it's still lots of fun.

There's a fair bit of sitting around waiting for the computer to process some of the larger images in Hamlet. For example, getting my 1200 dpi scans of the black ink-work into the right spot on a 300dpi page involves a 5 minute "transform" process. What's an impatient girl like me to do during such an enormous stretch of empty time? I can't resort to the internet, because that crashes Photoshop during a transform. So instead I play with my biggest brush pen, and fool about with creatures like this:
But more often, I must admit, I'm distracted by other creatures!