Drawing Dragons

In P3 (as grade 3 is known in Northern Ireland) my teacher began reading Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the books I’ve illustrated that it left an indelible impression on me. But what might be a surprise is that I wasn’t interested in drawing before then. Apart from a Dalek (perhaps the hardest thing to draw badly after-all it is just an upside down bin with a toilet plunger sticking out) I hadn’t drawn anything. But Tolkien’s description of the dragon Smaug created something in my imagination I hadn’t experienced before- certainly the special effects in movies in the seventies couldn’t create anything so powerful (a man in a dinosaur suite destroying houses made of shoe boxes wasn’t fooling any eight year old.) I had to record what I saw in my imagination. And in my imagination my eight-year-old bad drawing was a super realistic image of the greatest dragon ever!

So I began drawing dragons. And my quest to draw the perfect dragon continues to this day, as does my love of reading. I haven’t strayed too far from Tolkien (revisiting LOTR seven times) and graduating to the more ‘gritty’ George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, (threatening to give up in book three for his crimes against his protagonists but unable to abandon the addiction.)

I don’t really know how the experience of reading a story would be any different if you unrolled a scroll or read it on an electric cordless device. If the story is a good one (and why read a bad one) then you are more likely thinking- “No Frodo… not into Shelob’s lair!” than “aren’t the sparkling pages pretty.”

Like birthday parties, bat mitzvahs, and every other celebration in life I’m always late. And I’m late at coming round to e-books. I’m yet to join the revolution and haven’t graduated from reading words printed on dead trees. But I’m easily distracted. If my book was connected to the Internet I’d be tempted to look up the meaning of big words I stumbled across to increase my vocabulary and invent ways of dropping them into sentences. I’m still trying to use antidisestablishmentarianism.

But I am excited at the prospect of my first ‘electronic, interactive’ picture book being published. Journey to the Centre of the Earth is my favourite story I’ve illustrated- (with Deltora Quest it was more inventing monsters than turning a story into pictures.) This medium will undoubtedly be the norm for the next generations of eight year olds. Classrooms will become transfixed as the teacher reads out a story, while the dragon on the page unfurls her wings and with one beat soars upwards on the screen.

But this scenario begs the question- with technology this advanced and images with movie quality animation; will it leave anything to our own imagination? My guess is the same question was asked when the first full colour illustrated books were first published.

Marc Mc Bride has illustrated over fifty book covers (including Emily Rodda’s best selling DELTORA QUEST series, which at last count has sold seventeen million copies.) and countless magazines, as well as producing artwork for advertising campaigns. He has a solid design background in both advertising and film, and won the West Australian Film and Television Award for Best Art Director. Marc has had work exhibited with the New York Society of Illustrators. He is also a writer.  In 2007 he wrote and illustrated World of Monsters which won the Aurealis award for best short fiction.

I met Marc a few years ago, when Helen Chamberlin put us together over a book I had written, Journey from the Centre of the Earth. She was always brilliant at putting the right person with the right person.  I had this idea of what the illustrations might be like- I was envisaging images that would be dark and gloomy and somber and very realistic- like grand masters, only with a duck- I thought it would be touching to put a little lost duck in such a setting. Then Marc sent his visual responses to my text, which were shockingly, dazzlingly colourful and I thought WOW! And I never stopped thinking that.  To this day Journey is still my personal favourite of the picture books I have done. I love Mac’s images for the book and when i started looking at e books, the possibility of seeing if one could transform a picture book into eForm came up and I immediately thought of Journey. This led me to begin looking at enhanced eBooks…

Marc was immediately on board, and the interesting thing is that our queries provoked a decision on the part of the publishers  to put the book back into print! Just like with Greylands! This has been a totally unexpected side effect of my desire to learn more about the eVolution!

All of this made me want to add Marc’s ideas to our unfolding forum into book forms!

9 Responses

    1. Vauny says:

      Wow awesome video! I loved seeing that dragon just evolve from what started out as an indistinct green shape.

      I agree that books should be about the story not the format – especially if we’re talking about kids, what’s important is that they learn how to read not the format they read in. And I think enhanced ebooks are a great way to trick non-book kids into reading, not to mention other types of educational potential. I know that I would have found social studies more interesting if rather than reading from a text book we’d read from an enhanced ebook.

    2. Min Dean says:

      Great video – is that from Supanova? Do you go often (Brisbane in November, perhaps)?

      I love your closing sentence: “My guess is the same question was asked when the first full colour illustrated books were first published.”

      It makes so much sense. Of course people are worried and scared about new tech, particularly in the wake of GFC when a lot of people’s income has been jeopardised already.
      But it’s not like this hasn’t happened before, and it’ll undoubtedly happen again – maybe when VR games become more mainstream or projects involving augmented reality, like Google Glass, start being marketed to the general public. Similar problems and questions arose I’m sure with things as unrelated to this topic as hybrid and electric cars, with nobody knowing how it’d effect the once cosy certainty the automotive industry had (and possibly oil, though that was always going to start winding up eventually!).
      The future’s not going to stop for anybody 🙂

    3. Emily Craven says:

      Artists always amaze me, I have no idea how they build a picture (especially your beautiful dragon) out of thin air. How do you know that if you put that darker colour right there you won’t turn your beautiful bluebird into a chicken?? I did a free graffiti class a couple of months ago and I came across the same thing. I couldn’t just create something out of thin air, I had much better success when we moved to portraits and I could use a photograph to draw from. But graffiti uses very interesting colour combinations to create this magical whole and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

      As a child I read picture books and focused on the story. But I imagine there would be just as many children who read a picture book and wondered how did they get those drawings, how did they render the words so perfectly into something that captured the eye. With enhanced ebooks I think this fascination with “how do they do that?” will only grow, especially if the beautiful and terrifying dragon soars up and out of the page.

    4. Deb says:

      Wow! The video is amazing. I love dragons, and that one just grew right in front of my eyes. I remember reading the Hobbit, also in the 70s, and picturing Smaug in my mind. I could never translate it to paper though.

      Getting kids to read these days is I believe a lot harder than it used to be. When I was a kid, there was no video games, computers or iPads. We didn’t even get a TV until I was eleven or so. We played outside with real people, not inside with computer generated people. We built cubby houses out of wood, towns out of matchboxes and paper mache and dammed the local creek with rocks. We played sport on grassy ovals or concrete courts against real opponents, not in our living rooms on the wii. And we read books, made of paper, with pretty (or not so pretty) illustrations.

      I’m not saying that computers and video games are a bad thing. I think they have a real place in educating the children of today. I admire those who can make websites and pretty pages to explore and build. I like the convenience of email and sites like facebook for keeping in touch with distant family and friends, but I do think that technology takes away something from the new generations (in general). But I guess you don’t miss what you never had.

      Reading in any form has to be a good thing and if kids enjoy reading using the latest technological advancements, then I’m all for them.

      Creativity is not my strong suit but my son has it in spades. Drawings that he did for various school things are amazing (not just a mother’s opinion) but he lost interest in drawing when he started playing video games. He lost interest in reading at the same time, though to be fair he wasn’t a real bookworm. The only thing he reads these days are forum posts about marine fish. But he is healthy and happy and can fix my computer when I need him to. That’s all a mother can wish for.

    5. Paul Collins says:

      Always impressed by your artistic ability, Marc. Of course, this from a guy that struggles with stick figures!

      You’re right, of course, so long as people are reading, what the heck?! We hear a lot of people talking about the smell of a book; feeling its weight in their hands; giving them as gifts; listening to the pages turning over and yes, reading them in the bath. But that’s sentimentalism. We’re all mistaken if we think future generations are going to be remotely interested in such stuff. So the answer has to be that we have to publish books that digital natives want to read, and leave our digital immigrant notions behind. Technology has done this to us on many occasions, and we’ve had to conform. We started out with sign language and grunting, graduated to stone tablets – and what did those creators think when scrolls came along? I wonder. Then books, of course, and they’ve enjoyed a long and illustrious life. Candles suffered the same fate, taken over by Oil lamps and gaslight, which in turn fell to electricity.

      The first records fell to vinyl, which in turn lost sales to tapes; then along came CDs, 8-tracks, DVDs. The problem I see is the technology is growing exponentially, and I for one don’t move along with it because I just know whatever I buy today could well be outmoded tomorrow.

      And who has the time to keep up with all this stuff? No, I’ll stick to print books . . . them I can handle ☺

    6. Jo Turner says:

      “This medium will undoubtedly be the norm for the next generations of eight year olds. Classrooms will become transfixed as the teacher reads out a story, while the dragon on the page unfurls her wings and with one beat soars upwards on the screen.”

      I think this in itself could the imagination starter. The number of movies where a particular image would peak my interest, and that would be all I thought about for the rest of the day. I think your book you describe could be what gets other children started with their own imagination.

      Also glad to hear you persevered with George RR Martin’s song of Ice and Fire. I am half way through the fourth and fascinated by the demise of many of what has been considered a main character. And yet, the characters I felt myself most drawn to are still there (albeit in the background since it IS the fourth book). Its a new style of high fantasy which is a nice change. And interestingly, I have read all of them in e-book form. I do rather enjoy not having to have a big book fall on my head when I fall asleep reading it, not because I am not enjoying it but because I should have been asleep long ago!

    7. It’s interesting. I really liked your article, Marc, but I also loved the enhanced aspect offered by the little video where we saw you in action creating a dragon and we could hear your lovely accent. Neither of these things took anything away from your essay- they simply complemented one another…

    8. David E. Cowen says:

      The medium Marc works in may make him more readily willing to accept the newer medium. Ebooks — whether for Kindle, Nook, IBook or epub format, are designed to look like a book on screen. Cover art fits very nicely in that scheme and Marc’s wonderful pieces have a home regardless if the reader is snuggling to a worn paperback or sliding away happily on an IPad.

      I love print on paper. I always will. But, I don’t shun ebooks. When my late mother was very ill in the hospital with tubes in nose and mouth running down her throat, she wrote a note to us begging for a chance to read. The only practical way to do this for her was through ebooks on a tablet. Already, even at 91, a lover of email and the Internet, ebooks gave her much pleasure in her last days. I understand nostalgia, but we can’t try to purge the oncoming train when so many could benefit.

    9. Marc McBride says:

      I do believe there will always be traditional format books. We can still go to an art gallery and buy drawings made with pretty much the same technique that was used as far back as the Paleeothic period! And my son adores boooks- how else could I write this in the few moments I have at this time of the morning when he’s in rally car driver mode. I agree with all the comments- ebooks will be the future and generations to come won’t have my hunger for nostalgia. But I can’t help wondering, like Paul, if whatever e device I choose may soon be outmoded for the next. They say if you don’t change you’re standing still- these days not changing is rocketing backwards. And I always wanted to return to the eighties!