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Luke Healy on How to Survive in the…Wild
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Last month, we released the first book by Luke Healy, How to Survive in the North. In his stunning debut graphic novel, Luke weaves together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, with a fictional tale of a modern mid-life crisis; creating an unforgettable journey of love and loss that shows the strength needed to survive in the harshest of conditions.

Here at Nobrow, we are so lucky to work with so many incredibly talented illustrators, but it’s not all sketchbooks, Wacoms and days glued to computer screens for these guys! Largely inspired by his own book, Luke Healy set off on a journey of survival of his very own and being the master storyteller that he is, has chronicled his adventure so far for you…

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In 1914, Captain Robert Bartlett walked 700 miles across the frozen Arctic ocean. He was attempting to reach civilisation and, by extension, rescue the crew of his ship, who were otherwise helplessly stranded on the frigid, desolate Wrangle island. I wrote a book about this.

Just a few weeks ago, I crossed the 700 mile mark on my own long hike. But I wasn’t dealing with freezing temperatures, and the tirelessly shifting Arctic sea ice. I was dealing, in fact, with quite the opposite. A forest fire. And as I ran from the fire, wishing for an end to the heat, and the dryness, and the whole damn desert, little did I know that I would soon be slogging through a whole set of icy wastes. Just like the characters in my book.

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This summer, I’m attempting to walk from Mexico to Canada, along a 2660 mile wilderness trail that runs through national and state parks, paralleling the West coast of the United States. It’s called the Pacific Crest Trail. You might have heard about this trail from the Reese Witherspoon film Wild, or the 2013 book it’s based on by Cheryl Strayed. That’s how I heard about it.

I’ve never been much of an outdoors person before this trip. In fact, researching Captain Bartlett’s walk for two years, while I worked on my book How to Survive in the North, is probably what made me curious about my ability to do something like this. I had just finished up writing How to Survive when I first heard about the PCT.

As I worked to finish drawing the book with Nobrow, I knew I was going to attempt the hike. I set the date, and got hiking. I was even on trail when the book was released just one month ago, somewhere near mile 450.

The PCT starts in the desert, right on the USA/Mexican border, an emotionally charged place, for many reasons. But it’s also charged with something else; heat. It couldn’t have been more different than the conditions on Bartlett’s hike. The first section of the PCT, miles 0-700, are classified in all the guidebooks as “The Desert”.

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And it truly is the desert. Cacti, rattlesnakes, a troubling lack of water. Everything you picture. But it also has things you don’t picture, things you don’t expect. Sometimes the trail journeys up to higher elevations, and that means lush pine forests, and vibrant wildflowers, and occasionally even snow.

I got snowed on for the first time only two weeks into my hike, on top of Mt. San Jacinto, a peak that hits almost 10,000 feet. It’s considered a fairly small mountain in California, but it’s nearly three times taller than Ireland’s tallest peak.

I remember thinking “How did they do it? How did Bartlett walk through the snow for 700 miles?! How did Ada Blackjack survive this kind of cold in a tent for two years?”. The desert heat was one thing, but to be cold and numb for such a long time, was something I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with.

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But still, as I pressed on, I kept the 700 mile mark firmly planted in my head. That’s how far Bartlett went, that’s the end of “The Desert”.

But the desert wasn’t going out without an event. As I neared the 700 mile mark, a wildfire ignited only a mile or two from where I was standing. I hiked 28 miles in one day to escape the smoke. It was the scariest day of my life. As I limped into Kennedy Meadows, a little general store perched near the 700 mile marker, hikers applauded from the porch through the night’s blackness.

I couldn’t help but smile. I had walked 700 miles. I had matched Bartlett’s distance. Even if I had to turn around and go home tomorrow, the trip would have been a success.

Still, my ability to empathise with the characters from How to Survive was only just beginning. As the trail climbed out of the desert and into the High Sierra mountains, I began to see more and more of my dreaded frenemy. Snow. And lots of it this time. Not just the half-inch sprinkling I saw on San Jacinto, but whole fields of the stuff, feet deep, left behind by a good winter.

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And boy was it tough to deal with. As the passes and peaks climbed higher, some over 14,500 feet, the snow grew trickier and trickier.

I remember making an edit late in the process of drawing How to Survive. The earlier drafts had the characters simply standing on top of these fields of snow, as though it were a field of white carpet. But close to the end of production, I thought “That’s not right, their feet should be sunk into the snow”. I was thinking back to my time living in Vermont, where walking through snow only happened after a fresh snowfall, before the plows and street sweepers had come through the town.

Well it turns out I was only half right. In the afternoons and evenings, you did indeed sink through the snow up in the High Sierra. In the mornings, however, the snow was frozen solid, into huge sheets of ice. It was hard, and slick like wet glass. Especially when the trail climbed above the tree-line, and I was left in these desolate, exposed, snowy stretches, clutching my ice axe, microspikes fixed to my shoes, praying I didn’t slip and slide off a cliff, did I think: “I get it”.

For four or five hours per day, I understood, really understood, what it must have been like to be stranded on Wrangle Island, or working my way across the sea like Bartlett and Ada Blackjack.

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I ran out of food, I slipped and injured myself, I was plunged into ice-cold rivers. My tent collapsed in a snow storm as I counted the seconds between the lightning flashes and the thunder booms. Flash…1…2…Boom…Flash…1…Boom.

I could barely handle it psychologically and physically for two weeks. I can’t even begin to imagine how the real-life subjects of How to Survive lived that way for over two years.

As I write this now, I’m sitting in the town of Mammoth California, 906 miles into the trail. I’m almost done with the High Sierra. Almost done with the snow. And my appreciation for Bartlett’s journey and Ada’s fortitude has increased exponentially with every step across an expansive snowfield or icy cliff.

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I can’t imagine the difficulty and danger of Bartlett’s own hike. I can’t imagine the pressure he felt, not only attempting this incredible, near-impossible journey, but having the lives of dozens of people depending on him.

I’m glad I can understand a little better what Bartlett’s journey felt like. I’m excited to continue my hike. But you can bet your bum I’m glad that nobody’s life is depending on it.

If you’re feeling inspired to buy the book, you can grab a copy here (and we ship worldwide) or from any great bookshop. If you’re feeling inspired to set off on an epic adventure of your own, good luck!

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Hilda is coming to Netflix!!
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Have you heard the news?! That’s right, HILDA IS COMING TO NETFLIX!!

We are so thrilled  and proud to announce that Luke Pearson’s blue-haired explorer is set for her biggest adventure yet, making the leap off the page and onto all kinds of small screens, thanks to Netflix and Silvergate Media.

Here are a few words from Luke: “I’m obviously very excited to be able to finally say this is happening. Alongside drawing a new book I’ve been working with Silvergate on this for a while now and can confirm that it’s in unbelievably good hands. An inordinate amount of love and attention to detail is going into this thing and I’m looking forward to sharing the result in a couple of years’ time.”

And from Nobrow co-founder Sam Arthur: “Hilda has come such a long way since we started work on her first book with Luke in 2010. It’s the most wonderful and exciting thing to know that she will now reach an even wider audience with this TV series. We are delighted to have found such excellent partners in Silvergate Media and Netflix, who are going to do an amazing job of bringing Hilda to the screen.”

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The news was broken by The New Yorker last week along with an interview with Hilda’s creator, Luke Pearson and you can read it here!

The official press release from Netflix says: ‘A production of Silvergate Media, the makers of Octonauts, in collaboration with Mercury Filmworks, Hilda transforms the Eisner-Award nominated graphic novels by Luke Pearson and published by Nobrow into an incredible animated adventure for older kids. The series follows the journey of a fearless blue-haired girl as she travels from her home in a vast magical wilderness full of elves and giants to the bustling city of Trolberg, where she makes new friends and discovers mysterious creatures who are stranger –and sometimes more dangerous– than she ever expected. Netflix members worldwide will be able to join Hilda on her thrills and escapades beginning in 2018.’

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That gives you plenty of time to catch up on Hilda’s first four stories; Hilda and the Troll, Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Hilda and the Bird Parade and Hilda and the Black Hound! And… coming this September, Hilda’s FIFTH adventure, Hilda and the Stone Forest! Here’s what to expect:

‘Hilda is starting to shirk her responsibilities, seeking days filled with excitement instead of spending time at home… and her mother is getting worried. While trying to stop Hilda from sneaking out into the house spirits’ realm, the pair find themselves flung far away into a mysterious, dark forest – the land of the trolls! Will they be able to work out their differences in time to rescue each other and get back home? And are the trolls all as sinister as they seem?’

For all the biggest Hilda fans, we also have HILDA TOYS! These are limited edition, high-quality vinyl art toys and make perfect desk companions and shelf inhabitants! Make sure you get one now, before they run out!

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Create your own Cityscape with Marcel!

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Meet Marcel, he’s a New Yorker through and through. He’s jetting in to London this weekend to celebrate the launch of his new book. Come and join him for a morning of storytelling and crafts with his creator, acclaimed New York illustrator  Eda Akaltun.

Listen to Eda read Marcel’s story and then create your very own cityscape collage for Marcel to make his home. Marcel is sure to steal your heart and ignite your imagination!

Each child attending this workshop will not only go home with their very own cityscape collage but guests will also be presented with a fabulous goody bag filled to the brim with Marcel treats. Books will be available to purchase on the day which Eda will happily sign and dedicate for you.

Time: 11am-12:30
Date: Saturday 25th June
Address: MOLLY MEG 111 Essex Rd, London N1 2SL
Phone: 020 7359 5655
This is a FREE event suitable for 3-8 years (all materials will be provided)

If you would like to join us please email emma@nobrow.net – Places are limited.

Follow Marcel on Twitter and Instagram and buy the book now!

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Exploring the Wolves of Currumpaw with William Grill!
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Last month, we were thrilled to release the second book from Kate Greenaway Medal winning William Grill, The Wolves of Currumpaw. Where Shackleton’s Journey took us on an epic expedition to the icy antarctic, this time we’re following Ernest Thompson Seton’s true life tale of hunters and the wolves they were hired to trap, set across the vast plains of New Mexico in the dying days of the old west.

After a busy month of launch events, we finally managed to sit down with Will to ask him a few questions for you!

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1.     Why did you decide to write (and draw) about Lobo and Seton’s story?

As well as being an emotive story, I was struck by how Seton’s tale says something relevant about our relationship to nature today. For me, his experience with Lobo is a good allegory for how regrettable our selfish treatment of nature may be. The tale unfortunately ends with Lobo’s death, but what Seton goes on to do afterwards can be seen to redeem his actions in some way.

2. How do you feel attitudes have changed since Seton’s time?

I think now there is more of an appreciation for nature and we have a deeper understanding of ecology, a concept which didn’t really exist in the late 1800s. In Seton’s time, animals were treated more like a resource and anything that was a nuisance was removed. Thankfully this attitude has changed a great deal, as we understand that many animals like wolves play a vital role in the food chain and deserve to live freely.

The main focus of my story was to show how one man’s attitude towards nature changed, influencing the early conservation movement and the way we treat animals. In a wider sense, I also wanted to show that these destructive early attitudes affected not only wolves but caused extreme suffering to Native Americans, however I am aware that my book in no way represents the full oppression and devastation inflicted upon Native Americans by the European settlers. That would be a whole other book, one that deserves a full story to itself.

3. How did your own research inform your adaptation of Seton’s original story?

I think the story has a lot more impact when you know the context to it and what attitudes were like at the time. In a visual sense, travelling to Corrumpa Valley in New Mexico allowed me to take lots of first hand sketches and photos which influenced much of the artwork. Since wolves are no longer present there, I spent a week at a wolf sanctuary where I was able to draw wolves all morning. Simply drawing wolves at the sanctuary gave me lots of good reference for different postures and expressions which I tried to incorporate into the book.

Nobrow_Blog_Wolves4.    Can you tell us more about your process? What comes first, the drawings or the words?

They come hand in hand for me, it feels natural to make a list of important events while sketching out what spreads could look like. This helps me to visualize the book as a whole before I commit to the project. Colour is hugely important as it sets the tone of the book. I like to work up lots of colour swatches in the rough stages and see what colours work well together. Less is more as the saying goes, I think around six colours per book – more than that and things get messy!
Everything is hand drawn, the only digital aspect is moving spot illustrations on the page or adjusting colour levels slightly. This sounds nerdy, but I like Faber-Castell polychromos pencils, they have good strong pigments and a nice finish to them.

5.  How long have you been working on The Wolves of Currumpaw? What were the most challenging and most rewarding parts?

About a year and a half, on and off, although the idea to re-interpret Seton’s text has been lingering in the back of my mind for longer. The most challenging thing for me was reducing the text to its most essential ingredients – this led to using small panels which felt quite new to me. Some of the large landscape pieces took repeated attempts which could be frustrating! Getting them right was a big relief.

6. When did you decide to be an illustrator, and who are you most influenced by?

When I was five I wanted to be a builder, I suppose it comes back to making things. I knew I wanted to draw for a living during my foundation year when I was about nineteen. Influences change all the time, but a few consistent people would be some of the Fauvist painters, Saul Steinberg, and the work of Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden – their works have a really strong design aesthetic and have always had a particular charm to me. Recently I’ve been enjoying a lot of folk art, and stumbled upon the incredible work of Jivya Soma Mashe at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

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7. It’s almost a year since you won the Kate Greenaway prize for Shackleton’s Journey! How did it feel to win? Do you have any plans to go into fiction, and can you tell us anything about what might be coming next?

It completely took me by surprise and still feels unreal to think I was chosen. It’s hugely encouraging to have the support from all the judges, although it now adds a little pressure to live up to the previous book!
I would like to venture into fiction at some point, although I’m enjoying non-fiction a lot at the moment. I think it would be interesting to try my hand at a darker subject matter in the future too. What really interests me though is blending genres and producing a book that is unusual. It’s hard to say what’s next at the minute as there are a few ideas floating about. I’m thinking it could be set somewhere green though, in a jungle or a forest perhaps.

8. What’s in your sketchbook at the moment? Can we take a look?

My sketchbook is in a display case at Waterstones Piccadilly right now for another three weeks so you can see them for real! I don’t have much else current but I visited Kew Gardens a while back and did a few chalk drawings there.

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Thank you Will! Get a copy of the book here!


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Greg McIndoe examines Simona Ciraolo’s picture books
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Having spent quite some time building (and writing about) my treasured collection of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books titles, choosing my favourite is a very hard decision indeed. However, if there was a gun to my head (an unlikely scenario, I know, but it is always good to be prepared) then Simona Ciraolo’s debut Flying Eye Book Hug Me would have to be my top choice.

Hug Me brings together an unbeatable combination of quirk, humour and heart to tell a story of Felipe, a cactus in search of friendship and, of course, hugs. This adorable starting point alone makes Hug Me a strong contender for the top spot and add in the book’s warm, rustic aesthetic, surprising and hilarious plot twists and heartwarming happy ending and you have, in my opinion, the perfect picture book.

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So we have established I am a fan of Simona’s debut title (I think that is pretty clear, right?) and so it will come as no surprise that when her second Flying Eye Book was released, I was excited to say the least. At this time, knowing there were people like me eagerly awaiting her next title, Simona herself was feeling the pressure.

“You can’t help but fear that there’s perhaps a higher expectation towards your second book: someone who liked the first might draw comparisons between the two and, well, find it disappointing! But really what made working on the first one a lot less daunting was that things moved so quickly I hardly had a chance to dwell over it.”
– Simona Ciraolo

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Whatever Happened to My Sister?, Simona’s second title, looks at a girl’s bemusement at seeing her older sister growing up and is not Hug Me 2 in any way, shape or form. The biggest changes between the two books is aesthetic. Simona’s second book relies more heavily on smoother, watery textures as well as a moodier colour palette to capture the feelings of change and confusion in the air. This noticeable change could be seen as an obvious way of avoiding comparison but it was in fact purely down to the change in subject matter as Whatever Happened to my Sister? was actually in development before Hug Me was created.

Although, I don’t believe in the “a bad sequel can ruin the original” train of thought, I was a little apprehensive as to how Simona could ever top Hug Me. However, thanks to Simona retaining her clever wit and illustrative charm, I was just as impressed with Simona’s second offering. And after much examination, I found the two titles not to be so different after all. Simona may have jumped from succulents to sisters with her main characters but her core themes moving from making friends to drifting apart from family is a much less dramatic leap. In this way, Whatever Happened to my Sister? is Hug Me’s spiritual successor.

And Simona’s next Flying Eye Book takes another natural step to look at ageing and its effect on relationships. The Lines on Nana’s Face sees signs of old age turn into wrinkles of wonder as a little girl learns about the important moments in her grandma’s life. As ever the concept in this new title is prominent. Simona’s illustrative talent is immense – her spontaneous, energetic use of line and texture is almost reminiscent of Quentin Blake and her use of calm colour is warm and uplifting – she believes having a story you need to tell, or a powerful idea, is most important of all.

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“Being a competent artist is a great help to the extent that it makes it easier to create a readable narrative and an object that’s pleasant to look at, but should not in itself be the most important aspect of creating a book. That being said, I do believe there’s an intrinsic value in the beauty of pictures and their striking ability to reach places that are difficult to get to with words alone.”
– Simona Ciraolo

As for what could be next for Simona, the possibilities seem endless. A cacti-led take catching up with a fully grown Felipe (a part of me will always secretly be hoping for this) or something entirely new and different? With each title added to the Ciraolo library, I am more and more confident the next will be a success. Each title seems just as witty, intelligent, emotive and beautiful as the last and I can’t wait to watch as Simona’s glittering career unfolds – a picture book legend in the making I am sure.

This is a guest post from Greg McIndoe who blogs at Headless Greg.


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WOO-HOO! IT’S ELCAF TIME!
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East London!  It’s almost time for ELCAF!

The fifth annual East London Comics & Arts Festival is our favorite comics event, and this one’s going to be the best yet!  In addition to hosting genuine superstars like Adrian Tomine and Richard McGuire, this year’s ELCAF features a slew of events led by some of our favorite Nobrow artists.

Here are the events we’ll be checking out this Saturday:

Robert Hunter
June 11 / 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
£5

Robert Hunter is a London-based illustrator who works with traditional drawing and printing techniques to produce his otherworldly picture narratives. Rob has published a number of books including The New Ghost, and a collaboration with Maccabees singer Orlando Weeks called Young Colossus. Join him as he talks about his most recent foray into animation accompanying his illustrated picture book retelling Rudyard Kipling’s classic Jungle Book.

Dieter Braun
June 11 / 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
£5

German illustrator Dieter Braun will join ELCAF to talk about the creation of his recently published english edition of Wild Animals of the North.  An illustrated study of the Northern Hemisphere’s wild animals, this biologically accurate encyclopaedia is the first of a series of books for children.

Vincent Mahe
June 11 / 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
FREE with ELCAF ticket

Join illustrator Vincent Mahe in a game of exquisite corpse using a template based around a level in a building. Draw, paint, add characters and help to populate this building, which will grow over the course of the workshop, creating a giant vertical Leporello.

Biografiktion – Paul Paetzel
June 11 / 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
FREE with ELCAF ticket

Visual storytelling can be simple and a lot of fun. Join illustrator Paul Paetzel from Edition Biografiktion in this exciting drawing workshop – using a character based on yourself, put your alter ego into a variety of backgrounds and see what kind of story evolves. The results will be sights seen through the eyes of our comic heroes.

Lorena Alvarez
June 11 / 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
FREE with ELCAF ticket

Lorena Alvarez Gómez is a Colombian illustrator based in Bogotá, Colombia. She alternates her work as a freelance illustrator with writing and drawing her own stories, and her interest in colour language and its formal qualities result in bold and unusual palettes. Lorena will talk about personal projects and the process of her first comic book with Nobrow titled Nightlights – a story about how our fears can hold us back and distort the way we see our reality.

and here’s what you’ve gotta see on Sunday:

Mikkel Sommer – London Jungle
June 12 / 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
FREE with ELCAF ticket

Join Berlin-based Danish illustrator Mikkel Sommer as he makes a colourful, 3D diorama (otherwise known as a miniature theatre) based around the theme of a ‘London Jungle’. He will be needing your help to draw, cut, paint, fold and glue, because in reality, he has no idea what he is doing. People of all ages are welcome. Kids even more so.

Alexis Deacon
June 12 / 11:30 am – 12:30 pm
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London-based children’s book writer and illustrator Alexis Deacon will be discussing his work at ELCAF this year. He has twice been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, and is a two time recipient of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award. His well-loved picture books include Beegu, I am Henry Finch and Slow Loris, and he was one of Booktrust’s ten Best New Illustrators in 2008.

This ELCAF is really going to be something special, and there are so many more fun events and guests for you to see!  Make sure to check out the ELCAF website for all the sweet details.  We’ll see you there!