Q1. 《Bienvenue Chez Moi》 has been released lately. This is my first picture book which I read twice consecutively when I opened(firstly I read the book following by invisible human voice, secondly I read it by finding the real-hidden protagonist). The ending is shocking for me. From it, I realized that I have deep-rooted prejudice yet. I had no doubt that the human would be the narrator.
Did you keep silent about the protagonist intentionally? Why?
What did you expect from the readers?
That is a very interesting question about the act of creating transcending the initial message. I have some theories about it; please let me share them with you and with the readers. I always argue that the art of creation it comes from a mysterious place and we don’t know exactly how and where it is going, you just let it get you in an act of faith, exploring together doubts, morality or any consequence of your creativity on the way.
It is like a stranger than comes to you in the middle of the night and tell you to follow him/her, you are confused and you don’t know where are you going and where it came from, you just follow you instinct and make all the decisions on the road together. You can tell if the idea comes from an honest place, if you are just taking the leap, if you are being honest and telling something meaningful to you.
Maybe that’s why I don’t appreciate the political o moral stories, probably they come already in that form previously and it doesn’t take you on any other level because you are just being a part of thoughts from someone else, they are not really part of you.
Of course that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any moral view, but it’s not the bottom idea, just a coincidental consequences of the main reason of your story.
So returning to “Bienvenue Chez Moi” I had this idea when I saw the beautiful illustrations that my dear friend Miguel Pang did about New York City, I lived there for 3 years and I felt very connected with the story. I try to fly a little bit on that initial idea connecting it with my own experiences, but always having in mind to transcend the idea to go beyond that.
The point I’m trying to make is that you feel there’s something there when you are getting to an image or a text but you are not that responsible for the meaning of the idea, it comes from a mysterious place and every person is going to take it differently and the kids are going to reinterpret it on their own world.
Q2. You want the readers to approach to the fiction with a fun at their first time, not with a morality.
Can you explain why they read in that way?
I’m not an expert on sociology; I just have a feeling as an author of the temperature of children’s book around my little world. It seems to me that the tendency is to understand the morality and the social construction of the book instead of the freedom that children’s books could offer. Authors should not step back and make politically correct book, we have to risk to do just good literature, without any agenda.
Kids in my experience are getting what politically correct means. It means that if you say certain things you look good to adult’s eyes. But if you think about it is a very didactical approach and school and parents are already on that role. The value of the good literature for kids is the opposite. Literature goes around the education to break rules and limits, to explore the forest of the unknown, the curiosity, the dreams and the nightmares. It’s also a dark place to explore and you cannot explore it with prejudice. The art of flying over the unknown to enter the forest of the imagination and the mysterious, the art of talking about something without naming it. Without moral dogmas or ideological menus.
I love humour and irony on children books because it takes you out from your comfort zone, you are not receiving the morality and your approach of the book is more relax, you can even get to the biggest questions with a smile.
In my opinion, it is only when the book is open to the reader and does not treat it as a mere recipient of a manifesto, but as a necessary contributor to a fiction, when the book takes off.
Q3. You had worked before as an engineer, then you left to NY for dreaming an illustrator. At the time, what was the most fear(worry) for you?
Nevertheless, what was it to make you move toward your new dream?
I think I would have make a terrible engineer, I studied without success for three years and I never felt it as a career, maybe to get a job somewhere. I always had stories and images in mind but I had no idea what it means to be a storyteller or an illustrator or how do you become one. I never had any plan either so I moved to graphic design, it was a little closer to the things that I liked .
Q4. Why did you choose NY for your study?
Fortunately I was ok as a designer and I got a job in NYC, that opened my mind in many ways. I saw the path of education for illustrators and I saw other’s way of living, I met so many great artists that and It was like discovering a whole new continent. I met people like Maurice Sendak, Ian Falconer, Brian Flocca, Seth .I decide to start forming myself seriously and I studied at SVA (school of visuals arts) while I was working. Without realizing I was making a big change in my life, now I knew what I want to do and I didn’t mind the sacrifices or the time that I had to wait for.
I never had a plan but the truth is that I moved step by step to the things that I’m attracted to and passion about it
Can you explain the difference of each illustration industry between Spain and USA from you experience?
U.S.A is a great market for pictures books, there is a great tradition and publishers are great and open. I feel very close to the cultural status, maybe because I lived there and I know a little bit the American people. I just regret no to be there to be in contact with schools or libraries. Spain is a little market compare to USA but It has a great advantage, its contact with South America and Latinos. Spain is in the middle of Europe and South America so the value as a social mediator is big.
In Spain there are many small publishers that are doing a great job with the picture books, it is a shame that are not reaching as many readers as they should.
I love also Korean publishers; they are very passionate and I saw the picture book culture grew a lot on the last 20 years. Koreans are very sensitive and I receive many messages from parents, libraries and book lovers from Korea. I have also some friends there and my books are always translated into Korean so I feel very close to the country.
Q5. You said that you like the illustration (to tell the story through the drawing), not just a drawing. From the beginning, did you think along the picture book? Or did the picture book come to you while studying illustration?
Why did you settle down in the picture book?
I always associated pictures with stories. I used to draw for my nephews and there were always something narrative about the images. In fact I felt a little depressed when I was younger because I went to painting class and there were not stories involved, I didn’t know what to draw without a story or a narrative.
I ‘m in love with picture books, in my opinion they are the right balance between pictures, words and rhythm. Some of them are just pieces of art of pure literature. They are constructed as a unity so a word missing, a wrong timing or a too complex picture takes down the whole book.
The act of constructing a book is a little different every time; you can start from an idea, an image, a word and make a puzzle piece by piece. There are not rules, just books that are working and book that aren’t.
Q6. You only write for 《Bienvenue Chez Moi》. How came it happen?
I wonder what you experienced to work with the ILLUSTRATOR as the writer.
I’m just kidding when I say to writers that they are doing the easiest part on a picture book but it has a little part of truth. Illustration is much harder because of the time invested in studying storyboard, color, design, characters etc. Is not that writing is easy but to illustrate is a very hard visual job. I remember once when I did some illustrations for a writer and he didn’t like my illustrations so he decided to illustrate the book himself, it’s been 6 years and he is still working on them. He didn’t realize that I’ve been already studying the last 20 years on material for visual images.
But Miguel Pang understands the job of the writer and I understand the job of the illustrator. They have to work together but on different paths, they cannot be talking at the same time, is more like playing two instruments together, they have to be engaged with each other helping to the book to take off.
I had so much fun writing the book thinking of the images of Miguel and at the same time I was very pleasant surprise with the illustrations that he did.
Q7. Did you map out the scenes with Pang together? If so, what was the synergy effect that two illustrators could make?
Or did you completely take off your hands from the illustrations? If so, which scene of Pang’s showed a big difference from your imagination (expectation)?
No, I didn’t map the storyboard with Miguel; I just knew Miguel needed different spaces and surroundings to explore his images and characters so I went with the text for a little tour on the city. We work with Debbie Bibo Agency and she helped us to construct the narrative. I was a little apprehensive to give him any directions because he is a great illustrator but he is also very humble and asked for my opinions, so felt very free to speak my mind.
As an illustrator I want to surprise myself when I work. I want to do things that I think I’m not prepared for or that I didn’t know were inside me. That’s my main pleasure, so I was double surprised with Miguel’s illustrations. I knew that letting on the text enough space for his imagination was important. I just love when Miguel takes the text to a surreal level with his images. There are also many surprises inside the book for curious eyes, including a portrait of myself while I wait in the subway 😉
Q8. Were you fortunate to get your first job as the illustrator? I want to hear the story which you met your first book.
It was 2004 and I still felt like a student, I was back in Europe and living in Bologna, Italy and half of my time I was still working as a graphic designer, the other half I was devoting myself learning illustration. My illustrator teacher then introduced me to her italian publisher and the publisher gave me my first job as an illustrator, the book was called “On the Road to Seville” and it was a text with an old time tale flavor. A wolf wanting to eat a musician. It was perfect as a first book and I received immediately many more jobs offer after that one. I thought I wasn’t ready but all the publishers were very supportive helping me with my doubts.
Q9. 《Les Farfelus》 is the first picture book which you both wrote and illustrated(right?). Is that your old material(subject) in your mind, or it came to you suddenly?
How long did you prepare this book?
Who was your most memorable ‘farfelu’?
Yes, “Les Farfelus” is my first picture book as a writer and illustrator and i did pretty fast, in a couple of months. It’s a subject that I always wanted to do, a book dedicated to those people that make life better and they are a little off with the world, they are not aligned to the rules. They do it in silence, without being aware about it . I met many farfelus in my life and I knew I had to write about them.
My most memorable Farfelu maybe was my father, he was a extraordinary man and he wasn’t very aware of himself, the book is dedicated to him. He was a truly “Farfelu”
Q10. I don’t know why, but I could read the loneliness of ‘les farfelus’ in the book.
Can you tell me when you feel lonely as the artist and as a person Tanco.
Yes, I think there’s something about it. I identify myself as the “Farfelu” in the book with the character whom is dreaming with his eyes opened. I used to be a very lonely person and the job that I chose also is made for solitary people. Even with a full house I need some personal space to think about stories and images but once I have everything I don’t mind people around. I always have a hard time finding a story but it’s also part of the process, it doesn’t get easier getting older, it’s even harder.
Q11. You have released a series of family relationship: 《You and Me, Me and You》 《You and Me, Me and you -Brother》 《Mom and Me, Me and Mom》. Are you often inspired by your children? What kinds of inspiration are they giving to you?
I wonder which themes, materials, stories draw your attention.
Yes, they give me a lot of ideas and experiences and they remind me a lot of my own childhood. I also like the many paradoxes between both worlds, adulthood and childhood.
I observe the kids a lot and of course sometimes the book it writes itself, like “You and Me : Brothers”. The book open with this sentence: “A brother is someone you run with, and run from”. I can see that on my kids and also I remember the relationship with my brothers when I was a kid.
Even if every book is personal on some level, the series “You and Me” speaks specifically of my family and I hope other families on their experiences with kids. I felt very touched with my first and second child and I tried to explore the different experiences of the kids with the world.
I wrote and illustrated another one about relationships called “My best friend”, about the relationship between dogs and kids. I think is a very interesting one, there is a great connection between them , they seem to speak on the same language. It will be published by Tundra Penguin Books next year.
Q12. The artists’ experiences are reflected in their works. But not all the inspirations can become the books. Some inspirations are saved, but the other ones would be thrown away.
Could you tell for the students what they need to do(or check) for making their inspirations survived?
I write many stories but I cannot transform everything in picture books, just the ones that work visually and when I can find the right mood and ideas to develop them. I have stories that I worked for 3 or 4 years that are unfinished and I could finished a book within a month if all the pieces ensemble together.
My suggestion to students is to start creating material with stories and images and if you have enough material in your hand to finish a book project. That will give you enough experience to know when you can start developing and when you have to stop.
Inspirations comes from passions and curiosity, don’t worry about subjects. Everything could be transform into fiction if it is honest and authentic. Your personal look is far more important that the subject that you are exploring.
Q13. I think your each book has the main color. 《les Farfelus》 has the blue, 《You and Me, Me and You》 has the yellow, 《Count on me》 has the brown. Did you intend?
If so, what do you give a role for the colors in the book?
Yes, as you can see I have some personal theories that make my life easier. If I have a completed story I consider the main colors first because they have an abstract feeling. They give me a direction not based on trends but on the mood of the story. I try to stay close to that mood using the right colors.
Q14. You have the some drawing styles, but you use the clumsy style for your picture books. Can you tell me why?
From my perspective I don’t feel it clumsy as I’m doing it. I try to feel as free as I can with my illustrations. I will judge them just afterward. For example, when I finished one illustration I close it immediately and the next day I will judge the illustration as if I were another person, a very critic another person. That takes away my insecurity and the same time doesn’t compromise my creativity.
Q15. In general, your books console the readers saying “It’s OK”, “You’re doing well” etc. Vice versa, what do you want to hear from the readers?
There is a connection and a complicated relationship between readers and authors. In my opinion you should not give everything the readers ask for, but you should listen to them to see if you are connecting on the same frequency. My experience with readers is that books are being perceive from a personal perspective, so the more the book could speak in a personal way letting enough space to the reader to construct the world, the better.
Q16. What does the picture book mean to you?
Is my favorite place in the world. Where you can meet with your fantasies and your curiosities. Where you can talk about everything without naming it. It let me be the best version of myself and to observe and understand the world. I can observe how we behave to make fiction and the fiction will be similar to the world but on a different level. It will be different and at the same time, even more real than reality itself.
Personally I like the picture book for the ability to express that it has compared to other types of literature and for the collaborative use of images and words that establish a different and unique language. The illustrated albums are windows to achieve distant and different emotions that unite literature and art.
By studying the history of the picture book through the last centuries we can see how it is intimately linked to the dreams, fears and yearnings of different societies. Between its pages the times are advanced, injustices and prejudices are pointed out and better generations are prepared. They don’t tell us about reality, but they help us understand it and live it better, happier and freer.