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Week-Long New Zealand Kids’ Books Special: The Monsters of Paul Beavis

Sarah Forster interviews award-winning illustrator Paul Beavis, author of two charming books about monsters.

Paul Beavis won this year’s Russell Clark Award as best children’s illustrator in New Zealand for his 2014 book Mrs Mo’s Monster. He happily ventured back into the world of monsterdom this year with the release of Hello World! – a wonderful story of adventure and friendship, and a little monster who doesn’t like to wait.

Beavis was the first debut author ever to be published by Gecko Press. When Gecko publisher Julia Marshall branched into the Kiwi talent market in 2007, they published only well-known names – Joy Cowley, Gavin Bishop, Barbara Else. Beavis had spent over 10 years trying to get a book published and was close to giving up.

How did you approach writing this second book about Mrs Mo and the monster?

In this book I moved Mrs Mo and the monster outside the house,  so I had to work out what the Mrs Mo universe looked like.  I wanted to create a recognizable environment that was stylized enough that it wouldn’t seem strange to see a little blue monster walking about.

Mrs Mo is the glue that holds both books together. Her presence is always felt but she never lectures, shouts, or gets ruffled. The monster is more childlike, with his tantrums and punky attitude.

Monster jumping

Which do you find easier, the writing or the drawing?

Neither. With writing I have no problem coming up with words, but it takes a while to find which are the right words to suit this particular story. With drawing there is so much to consider that I’d give up before I started if I ever thought about the amount of work involved. It’s no exaggeration to say that 90 per cent of what you draw or plan will end up in the waste bin. But when things go right, there isn’t a better creative feeling.

How do you create the artwork for the books?

It’s probably 70 per cent pencil roughs, 15 inking and 15 computer time. I rough out each spread numerous times, checking the balance and the story composition. I make numerous dummy versions of the book and a storyboard so I can see the whole book in one go.

When I eventually have the compositions worked out, I spend a great deal of time drawing different versions of the monster and Mrs Mo, trying to find the right pose for that particular spread. I will then use a lightbox and a dip pen and roughly trace the backgrounds and characters. I do this multiple times with the characters as the line thickness of the dip pen is inconsistent and I’m looking for the right energy in each drawing. I usually have three or four versions of Monster to choose from each time.

Then it’s a case of scanning it in and colouring it all up. Some spreads can be coloured in a day or two. Others, like the sunset scene in Hello World!, could take a week.

What did you like to read and draw as a child?

I remember a book called Last One in Is a Rotten Egg about going swimming. One boy is pushed into the pool and sinks to the bottom. It made me feel awful, and the bullies scared the living daylights out of me.

Like most toddlers I began drawing with a paintbrush and a sheet of paper and made a big mess. Then my younger brother arrived, and he’d started catching up by the time he was two. Good old attention-seeking got me drawing better and it eventually became ‘my thing’.

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