Thursday, 8 September 2016

Guy Bass (Author) & Lee Robinson (Illustrator) SPYNOSAUR UK Blog Tour 2016 (With Monkey Poo)

This is the first in a hilarious new series from best-selling author Guy Bass. It has been illustrated by the amazingly talented Lee Robinson and published by Stripes Publishing on the 8th September 2016. Yes, that's today you lucky people, so you can now buy a copy after reading this fantastic interview and feed it to your prehistoric book worms. Please check out all the other #Spynotour blog posts at the bottom of the post. Over to Guy and Lee...

GUY BASS: How difficult was it to produce a humorous book to engage children and make them laugh?
I rarely find writing easy, but I love writing funny books. Humour cuts through tension, offers light relief in dark moments and makes it easier to raise the stakes without anyone kicking up a fuss. With Spynosaur I was spoofing spy stories, which often sacrifice logic for the sake of enjoyment, so it was fun to push that absurdity further. Also, Lee Robinson really nails the balance of humour and tension in his illustrations.

What would be your summary of this book in 20 words or less?

Secret saurian super-spy sIlliness - sometimes strange, certainly stirring, staggeringly sensational! (Also, monkey poo.)

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

I wrote a book called Secret Santa: Agent of X.M.A.S and it whetted my appetite for spy stuff. I jotted down a tagline in my notebook - "Spynosaur - he's waited 65 million years to complete his mission". I didn't have a story but I liked the idea of a secret agent who was ridiculously conspicuous. It didn't get much further than that for a few years. I kept revisiting it as a sort of origin story, but it wasn't quite right. My editor suggesting potting Spynosaur's origin in a comic book format, and I remembered the theme tunes of the cartoons I used to watch in the 80s. Then it started to come together - a big, loud, improbable adventure, filled with ridiculous set pieces, inescapable situations, and ninja snowmen.

What would be a Spynosaur's favourite sandwich filling?

Small fluffy animals.

As a child did you enjoy reading? If so, what was your favourite book and did this author influence your writing in any particular way? 

I had a tricky relationship with reading as a child. It wasn't a comprehension issue - I found books daunting. Roald Dahl helped a lot - I mean, a lot. His books were pacy and irreverent and, by and large, the had a supernatural or otherworldly element, which I loved. George's Marvellous Medicine changed everything. I adored that book. It's incredibly efficient writing, playful, a little dark and just wonderfully strange. In the book Dahl calls it "the edge of a magic world". That stuck with me - the idea that the world we live in is a surface to be scratched. Underneath is strangeness and magic.

Could begin by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! My name is Lee Robinson, and I'm a illustrator hailing from the sunny North East of England. I did an awful lot of drawing growing up, as I was surrounded by lots of cousins and a granddad with a brilliant knack for making up stories on the spot (I still struggle with that). We designed levels for games, new strips for football teams, characters for Saturday morning shows etc. As I got slightly older, I discovered Pokemon and my love of manga and anime began. Like many young artists, I would draw thousands of floating heads until I could draw the perfect set of eyes. This carried on for a few more years, but my love for art was also competing with my new love for skateboarding, so I'm sad to say drawing fell by the way-side a bit (don't worry, it's not the last you'll hear of it!).

My parents were always very supportive, but no one in my family had ever gone down the artistic career path, and we weren't very clued up on what I could achieve by drawing little characters. So, with my best interests at heart, they thought teaching may be a better and safer choice. And yet, I think there was always a pull from that side of my brain telling me to keep drawing. And I did. After spells of plucking turkeys, dry stone walling, delivering the Yellow Pages, and cleaning out drains (teaching never worked out), I signed up to an FD in Animation at Newcastle College and put myself on the trajectory to become a professional artist. There has been a lot of hard work put in since then, but I feel very lucky to be where I am right now. 

What comes first for you - pictures or words?

Probably pictures, but the two go hand in hand, I think. Recently I was creating my own comic strip, and tried writing a script, which is something I've never really done before. While it was a fun experience, I felt I was thinking of the pictures first, then having to break down these into text. I was creating an extra step for myself, so instead I roughly drew the whole story out, and I could be more expressive and get those ideas out a bit quicker than writing. Obviously, a lot of people would do it the other way around.

When I first started designing the characters for Spynosaur, I'd been sent some of the manuscript Guy had written, and these trigger different ideas and thoughts that I would not have been able to achieve by just drawing alone.

How did the collaboration work between you and Guy?

Fantastic! Anyone who has read any of Guy's books will know that they are packed full of the good stuff. When I first read the manuscript, I was getting sweaty palms (and sore ribs) thinking of all the ways to illustrate this scene or that. I feel very lucky that Guy, Ali, Paul, and everyone at Stripes gave me so much room to explore, and let me stamp my own ideas onto the book. Spynosaur in particular went through a few design changes, and little things were being changed right up to deadline! But everyone was trying to achieve the best results, and I think the choices we took were for the best. We always knew that we wanted a Saturday Morning cartoon feel to the book and I think we achieved that together. 

What are you most proud of within this book? Is there anything that you would change?

Guy created some of the most villains for this story, and I had a lot of fun designing them. I feel like you can always push the shapes a bit further when drawing baddies! I think we've created some memorable characters, and they all have a unique look and silhouettes, which is really important! Of course, in a book about dinosaur spies, there is a lot of action to be drawn! But I drew a little illustration near the end of the book that I found quite touching, and it made me smile when I drew it, so that's the part I'm more proud of.

For the next book, I hope we can up the ante on the comic pages! We'll keep trying to get a seamless transition between the text and the panels so the reader feels truly immersed. 

What is your favourite drawing technique/tool?

I drew all of this book on my Cintiq in Photoshop, and for ease and time, this is definitely one of my favourite tools. It is only a tool, though, and I still love drawing on good ol' pen and paper. I think it's important to keep exploring with different mediums, as it stops us stagnating. Keeping trying new things and never stop learning!  

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