Ru from The Scribblers interviews Chris Riddell

Quickfire questions

Q: Glass half full or half empty?

A: Always half full. I’m an illustrator, that’s why I say that. Most of the writers I know will always be glass half empty. Do you know, I’ve started straight off by being nasty about writers, it’s a terrible, terrible start…

Q: Text or call?

A: Call.

Q: Notebook or laptop?

A: Notebook.

Q: Bunk bed – top or bottom?

A: Always top. Always top.

Generic questions

Q: If you could be any fictional character from a book or film, excluding your own, who would it be?

A: That’s a brilliant question. Do you know what I would be? I would be the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

Q: If you had the day off and money was no object, what would you do?

A: What I would do, I think, is sit down with a sketchbook and draw in it. Which is sort of what I would do if I didn’t have a day off. And that is weird because that is what I would do to relax. There’s no difference to me, it’s what I would always do. My big fear is that one day someone’s going to come along to me and say ‘I’m sorry, you’ve had too much fun, now you’ve got to get a real job.’ And it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m still just clinging on to that.

Q: If you were Prime Minister what would be the first law you passed?

A: That everybody would have to… there’d be statuory requirement to have a sketchbook or notebook on them, and you would have to – there could be tax advantages to this or tax breaks or incentives – you would have to draw something everyday. Wouldn’t matter what, no one would judge you, but you would have to draw. A nation drawing every day, that’s my slogan.

Q: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A: Invisibility. Like a shot – I love that. Stand around, nobody knowing you’re there. Just listening – I wouldn’t let people know I was there, I’d just lurk.

Q: What would be your ideal workplace?

A: I’ve got it. It’s at the bottom of my garden, in a converted coach house, and it’s slightly screened by trees, so nobody knows I’m there. It’s almost like being invisible. My favourite time is Wednesday afternoons, when it’s a bit rainy, when you have to turn the light on, and I love that because I sit there thinking: ‘Maybe being here, and it’s all rainy, not a nice time to be out and about doing stuff, it’s the perfect place… It’s like my den. I love it.’

Q: What is your favourite part of the drawing process?

A: It’s never finishing it. It’s the beginning of it. I think it’s the first, maybe two, three minutes as the drawing starts to develop and you find out what it might be, and I love that, that beginning something. And what I like to do is actually draw without necessarily knowing what I’m going to draw. And you find characters and you find situations or settings, and this is why I often draw for fun, just to relax, because it’s the most relaxing thing in the world. Just to take a line – I think Paul Klee used to say ‘Drawing is taking a line for a walk.’ That’s exactly what I enjoy doing.

Special Questions

Q: When you’re creating a fantasy world, what realities do you start from?

A: I always start from a map because I think a map is a great way of minding out the parameters of the world, and by creating a location you start to think of stories, you start to think: what goes on in this place? Why is a city here? Close to an endless swamp or the edge of a cliff; or what goes on in these woods? It becomes a great engine for a story, beginning with the map; you don’t have to know what’s happening. I like to think of George R. R. Martin drawing a sort of Westeros thing and thinking: ‘Great. Now I’m going to figure out what goes on here. Oh look, up north there’s a big ice wall, something weird is going on.’

Q: What’s your favourite part of the body to draw?

A: I love hands. I love drawing hands, because hands are really expressive. All my characters, I think, have slightly had overly expressive hands, and it’s a gesture thing – you can tell a lot by a gesture of a hand. I do enjoy drawing hands. I also, oddly, enjoy drawing ears. Very keen on ears. It’s the first thing I was ever taught to draw; this friend of mine said, ‘I’ll teach you how to draw an ear.’ And he taught me how to draw an ear, absolutely correctly, and it’s a trick, it’s how you draw it, and once you’ve learnt how to draw an ear you will always be able to draw an ear. It’s a real trick. It is very cool. First thing I ever learnt to do and I never forgot it. I was about 10 or something. After that, every time I drew an ear, I thought of this guy in my primary school class who taught me.

Q: How closely do you work with the writer when illustrating?

A: With Paul Stewart, when I do the books I do with Paul, really closely because we write together, so I’ll write stuff with Paul, and then sometimes he’ll write things and give them to me, and I’ll rewrite them and give it back to him, so we’re doing it together. When I’m working with Neil Gaiman, he writes everything and then just sends it to me as a finished thing, and then he says to me: ‘You turn this into what you want it to be.’ And that’s fantastic, it’s two extremes, and they’re both fantastic. The really, really involved, and the not needing to be involved but being given a brilliant story to imagine the visuals.

Q: What is your favourite thing to draw from The Edge Chronicles?

A: I would say…The Spindlebug. This great big glass-bodied creature lives for hundreds of years. I love that. I love the fact that Tweezel knows his living history, he knows all the stuff. But I also like the fact that Paul actually wrote it because he was playing with me, and he wanted to draw a character that was really difficult to draw, so he said, he has a glass body and you can see everything inside him, and you can see people through the body if you were standing the other side and you look through the Spindlebug. And I thought, ‘Ok, that’s a challenge.’ So I sort of said, ‘Right I’m going to draw this and it’s going to be my favourite creature.’ I like it when he’s the butler walking up the stairs, and you sort of realize that’s the Spindlebug you saw in Beyond The Deepwoods but only earlier.

Q: Do you see your illustrations in your mind before you draw them or do they appear as you draw them?

A: It’s a bit of both. I sometimes find characters just by drawing in my sketchbooks. I often design characters for projects so I will do sheets of drawings. I need to see a character from all corners, a little bit like designing for animation, character design, I love that. Once I’ve designed things then you start to learn a bit about how they move and walk and what context you can put them in, and it becomes really good fun. I’ve done a character for a series of books about a girl called Ottoline and she’s got this best friend called Mr Munroe, and Mr Munroe is just like a curtain of hair with two little eyes looking through and these small hairy feet, and he’s about the most expressive character because you never see his expression and it’s weird, and kids love that because they are always imaging what Mr Munroe is thinking without me actually showing it. It’s a trick.

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