Monday, 12 December 2011

Space TV

Hi everyone!

Space TV did a little special on my new book, Hyena in Petticoats. I can't figure out how to post it here on it's own, so you'll have to go to the page and scroll past the segment on Mayans to find it (sorry about that). I believe it is the next one on the right.

I mention that I was inspired by turn of the century graphic design while working on the pages of this book and I thought perhaps I should elaborate…

Nellie McClung grew up on the farm in Ontario and Manitoba. It was a pretty harsh time for early settlers, who lived through freezing Canadian winters without running water or electricity, and who pulled tree stumps and plowed stoney fields in summer and fall with ox and large, ridiculously clunky farming implements. Farm women rose at the crack of dawn and were usually the last people in the house to fall asleep at night. They did all their work manually... I know, imagine sewing, washing and ironing all your families clothes by hand! Cooking, cleaning, even making salves (medicine), soap and candles from scratch. There wasn't any daycare and girls were often pulled from school to help with farm chores like feeding chickens, milking cows and taking care of their younger siblings. Seriously, women and girls worked just as hard, some argue even harder, than boys and men.

Nellie felt very strongly that her rural upbringing was the foundation of her strength and that it deeply informed her unyielding commitment to politics and women's issues throughout her life as suffragette, politician and later, Member of the Legislature of Alberta.

This project involved a stunning amount of research. Not only for the story, itself, but on the visual side: the clothing and hair styles, inventions like farming equipment, telephones and cars, kitchen and household implements, what kind of outfits people wore in the Legislatures or judges in court, due process, etc... all had to be referenced and pin pointed as closely as possible to their exact dates.

While researching farming implements for the first chapter, Milk and Honey, I found that the farming catalogue covers in the 1880's were a bit like very early comic pages in that the different banners and design elements break the page apart almost into panels. Here are a couple of my fav's:

McCormick Harvesting Machine Company Catalog: 1880

Dennett Harvesting Machine Co. Catalog: 1881

Empire Mower, Reaper & Twine Binder Catalog: 1883

I decided to approach my pages with a similar (though slightly toned down) design aesthetic. Each of the chapter headers has the title running across the middle of the page diagonally and a different patterned banner and animal at the bottom of the page (big thanks to Kalman Andrasofszky, Irma Kniivila and Yessenia Rodriguez for helping me with these design elements). The animals are significant either to the province where that part of the story takes place or they were specifically referenced by Nellie McClung in her autobiographies.

Hyena in Petticoats, pages 18-19

Hyena in Petticoats, inks with border detail: page 19

Hyena in Petticoats, pages 30-31

Hyena in Petticoats, border detail: page 31

Hyena in Petticoats, border detail: page 41

This was a pretty incredible project to work on. I don't think I realized just how obsessed I would get with the research at the outset, or how inspiring some of the imagery I would come across during the process would be. I usually spend copious time researching any project, because I like to include additional visual elements into backgrounds that are not in the script or specific to the story, but will give a sense of time and place and history and culture that you maybe wouldn't otherwise get if I kept things more simplistic. I like to layer my stories with meaning in the hopes that more kids will get something out of it, regardless of reading level. And that older people, particularly parents, teachers or librarians reading to kids, who may know a little something about that particular time period or story or culture, will notice that I am winking at them, too. I hope these things will provide the jumping off points for additional conversation, education, and of course, enjoyment.

Thank you Mark Askwith and the Space TV crew for a lovely studio interview! And a super sweet piece on my book. How exciting!

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