exmouth market and the london jungle book

Just before I met up with Stuart, Viviane Schwarz and Alexis Deacon for burritos in Islington, I popped over to one of my favourite indie children’s bookshops, Book Ends on a gorgeous street called Exmouth Market. I bought a few picture books, then looked for Metropolitan Books (where I first discovered Simone Lia‘s then self-published work) and sadly found it wasn’t there anymore. But I did find another great bookshop, Clerkenwell Tales, and bought The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam.

It’s a fascinating reversal of Kipling’s book, a rural Indian artist’s first impressions of London, painted in his adapted traditional style, with his translated written observations. I have a lot to learn from his artwork, and I tried to draw Exmouth Market a little bit more like he might, thinking less about perspective and more about what interests me in the scene, and patterns. I don’t think I succeeded entirely in that, but it’s still worth posting.
I loved Shyam’s observations about the London Underground:

But this was the strange thing – there were more people down there than up on the streets. And then I saw that there were trains running there – under the ground. First a plane took me above the clouds, and here was a train carrying me deep into the earth. By now my world waas truly upside-down! Who thought this up – to burrow underground because there is no more space in the world above? It was one of the most wonderful things I saw in London, and one that I will never forget – this idea of snuggling your way through the earth.

‘Snuggling your way through the earth’, that’s one of the best lines I’ve read all year. I think I was trying to do a little bit of the same thing when I took Vern and Lettuce down into an abandoned tube station; because it was animals instead of people, it felt a bit new, and I liked the thought of all these animals snuggling together to sleep on the station platform, a bit like during the Blitz.

Sometimes I hate the crowdedness of the tube, but sometimes it honestly cheers me up being so close to so many people all busy doing their own different things, but sitting still together for awhile. And there is something a bit special about burrowing underground.

The first time I saw the tube, my sister and I were barely teenagers, but we were so taken with how easy it was to get around that we clamoured to my parents to let us explore it by ourselves. They wouldn’t let us that time, but when I got back to Seattle, I was sad we didn’t have an underground system.

I could also relate to Shyam turning so many things into animals; my London in Vern and Lettuce, is filled with animals and, like him, I think it makes everything more approachable and understandable somehow. He has this great scene with a red double-decker bus, the No. 30 that went from his door to Masala Zone, the restaurant where he was commissioned to paint wall murals:

I have turned the number 30 bus into a dog, because like a dog, it was a faithful and loyal friend to me. London buses look very friendly too, and fit in with the good spirit of the faithful dog.

The publisher introduction talks about the traditional art of Shyam’s region:

Gond art is not concerned with realism, perspective, light or three-dimensionality. It signifies rather than reresents, deriving its energy from flowing lines, intricate geometric patterns and the symbols that connect human beings and workings of the cosmos. And since most Gonds are forest dwellers, animals loom large in their imagination.

In a way, Gond art has a lot in common with some of the techniques used to make comics. European ligne-claire artwork (such as Hergé’s, Garen Ewing’s), doesn’t concern itself with shadows, and I like the flat look that technique gives both the comics and the Indian artwork (and Nepalese work I’ve seen earlier). Like the Gond art, in comics and illustration, we have the freedom to portray things as they seem to us, rather than having to create photo-realistic interpretations or perspectives. (We can do, but we don’t have to.) And using animal characters to explain things about ourselves that we can’t quite explain as humans is nothing new either (think Simone Lia’s Fluffy, Craig Thompson’s Chunky Rice, or most of children’s picture books).

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Bhajju Shyam feels like a kindred spirit. I’d love to take some classes from him.

Okay, I’d better get on with work now, but I’ll post tomorrow about the amazing show I went to last night! And if I hadn’t been running up the Canary Wharf tower and going to Viv and Matthew’s show, I think I would have been volcano squatting at the London Book Fair with the fab gals that are Candy Gourlay, Sue Eves, Anne Rooney, Lucy Coats and others. You ladies rock! 😀

Edit: Some quotations from this year’s London Book Fair:
Nicolette Jones: Do we have a national resistance to picture books for older children? (Tweet by Booktrust)
Martin Brown on Julia Donaldsons’ Gruffalo: Let’s have ‘Axel Scheffler’s Gruffalo written by Julia Donaldson’! Big up the artist. (Tweet by Sue Eves) – I can relate to this one after being horrified to read a review of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s Skim, a graphic novel, that didn’t mention or list the illustrator Jillian Tamaki (or comment on the fact they’re sisters, which seems like missing a trick).
Marcia Williams We don’t give enough value to visual literacy. (Tweet by Booktrust)
Anthony Browne: Children are natural surrealists. also: In picture books, the relationship between words and pictures echoes that between adult and child (Tweet by Booktrust) Will have to think about that one a bit more before agreeing…
David Fickling: We’re rubbish in this country, we piss readers into the streets. (Okay, I really want to hear the context for this one!) (Tweet by Profwriting)
The Bookseller‘s assessment of this year’s volcano-plagued fair

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