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Lines that cut through space & time

Illustrations open to interpretation Nicki Greenberg -- Photo: Murali Kumar K.

Illustrations open to interpretation Nicki Greenberg -- Photo: Murali Kumar K.  

Meet Nicki Greenberg, who writes and illustrates anything ranging from naughty reindeers, her fingers and Hamlet, to teddy bears on trains

You would sit up and take note of anyone who illustrated Hamlet for children. At a time when children are constantly sucked into a world of moving images on TVs, tabs, and mobiles, the space that illustrated books have in their lives just grows more sacred. Meet Nicki Greenberg, a writer and illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia, who has managed to tackle various genres of books — fiction, non-fiction, even science for kids — through her illustrated works.

Nicki was in Bengaluru’s Max Mueller Bhavan last weekend at Jumpstart 2015, India’s annual congress of children’s content creators, designers, artists, educators, publishers, book-sellers and story-tellers.

Her first books, The Digits series, were published when she was only 15! They sold more than 380,000 copies in Australia and New Zealand. In 2008 Nicki’s innovative graphic adaptation of America’s darling novel The Great Gatsby was selected as a White Raven at the Bologna Book Fair. Hamlet has been her most lavish production — a 425-page “staging on the page” — on which she worked for more than six years., Nicki recently has brought out The Naughtiest Reindeer, Monkey Red, Monkey Blue and BOM! Went the Bear. Excerpts from an interview.

What place do picture books have in lives of today’s children, who are otherwise addicted to gadgets and storybooks online with moving images?

It is still very central. And it is interesting that at a time when world book sales are on a low, ever since the global market meltdown, children’s book sales remain strong. These books still captivate children and parents still want to read it to them.

A lot is left to a child’s imagination when it is a book with only text. Where do picture books figure in this context?

Actually in a good picture book, the pictures take on a good storytelling role. Children do have to interact with the picture and it is a trigger to their imagination. They are also a text for interpretation. And when it comes to comics, it is a whole different level of interpretation — specially with so much happening in one panel or page — and adults are challenged too, in that sense.

With graphic novels all the rage with adults, what is it about illustrated stories that really make them click?

Like in any medium, be it film or literature, the use of space and time, and being in multiple moments at one time — I think that’s what is really fascinating. You travel through all that in different ways. And it’s a different pace and method, when compared to prose books.

What made you publish your first book when you were just 15, and that too one using your fingerprints!

That happened really by accident. I was 14 and used to make lots of greeting cards. So my mum took me to a greeting card company to encourage me. And as an afterthought I had some squiggly characters at the end of the series based on my fingerprints and that’s what they liked! Then a book publishing company they are associated with saw them and asked if I wanted to do a book and I said “Of Course!” So you can imagine…(she says all wide eyed and grinning).

When you tackle classics like Hamlet or The Great Gatsby to turn them into picture books, what’s the biggest challenge?

Because these were labours of love, I had to put aside questions like ‘What will others think of it?’, ‘Will this really work?’ The Great Gatsby is a perfect piece of prose, so the question was, how do you handle it in a way that it won’t take away from the text. For Hamlet, the weight of history and scholarship was there and I had to learn a lot and did enormous amounts of research to get my head around the role of Hamlet.

How do you decide what kind of illustration for which book?

It’s a happy accident sometimes, really! Each book is a challenge and I learn new things because it’s different to anything I have done before. I don’t want to be held back. When I did the book Teddy Took The Train, for the first time I had to work on human characters. And I was wondering if I should have someone else illustrate the book because I wasn’t too sure I could do them! But then I went ahead and did it…

You are the mum of two young girls. How do your children figure in your work?

Oh yes! Very much! In fact, my first girl Poppy was born four weeks after I finished Hamlet, so I was finishing the book with this big stomach in front of me! Seeing my children at a particular stage in their life triggers memories of what it is to be a child. And in some books like Teddy Took the Train, the main character in the book does look like my second daughter Coco.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 9:39:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/lines-that-cut-through-space-time/article7578674.ece

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