The Last Viking Returns

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Character design – choosing colours for the cast

Over the last 3 months I’ve posted my rough sketches for all the characters in the book.

I’ve covered Josh’s family, all the Viking characters and the two villains.

This post gathers all the colour reference versions together so you can see the links between them.

I’ve made some notes on each major group of characters and their colours. Most of the time my colour choices were a matter of gut feeling, and it’s only after the fact that I can figure out why certain combinations seemed to work.


First up is Josh’s family.

I didn’t intentionally make Josh’s costume out of primary colours, but it turned out that way – yellowish hair, red helmet and shield, blue shirt. Add a bit of green and you’ve got a bunch of bright happy colours, which all help Josh stand out from whatever moody background he’s in front of.

Wolverine’s colander helmet and collar are the same shade of gold and red found on Josh’s chestplate. This sharing of colour is a simple way to link Josh and Wolverine together.

Josh’s siblings are in blue and red shirts – the same blue and red found in Josh’s costume. Their shorts/skirt are darker shades of the blue and red respectively. All three children have the same colour boots. Again, it’s about linking Josh with his siblings in the eye of the reader using colour.

Nan is the only one in the family to wear a shade of purple. I find it a loud colour for some reason; I don’t wear it a lot, and it seems to clash with a lot of colours I normally use. This fits with Nan’s no-nonsense, outspoken personality. I made it a soft, warm shade of purple though (at least to my slightly colour-blind eyes) as it seemed like a colour a loving, caring (but feisty) Nan might wear. The sneakers have purple trim in the same shade.

Pop is all in shades of grey – warm shades, tinges of brown in there. The dark vest is a strong contrast to the colour of his skin, shirt and pants. His colours seem warm and masculine and strong to me. Bright colours just didn’t seem to suit Pop; he’s silly and child-like, but he’s strong and grounded. I imagine he would give very big bear hugs. His colours make him stand out, not only from his wife but from all the other characters in the family.


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‘Where do the ideas come from?’ I hear you ask. Well, if you were about 11 years old you would most likely ask that that question. Most kids do at some point when I’m giving a talk to a class of school kids. That, and how much money do you earn?

My usual answer is that ideas are often borrowed, referenced, or we are paying homage, which is just a pretentious way of saying they are pinched from other favourite works, then reshaped a little to help disguise their origins. There is no shame to it. People have been rewriting Romeo and Juliet over and over for the past 400 years. Every film you watch will be using plots and scenes from earlier ones. What you have to do is try to bring a fresh approach to the story. Often, what happens is you use someone else’s idea as a starting point, but then as your story progresses, it takes on a life of its own and eventually the original is so far removed from its source that yours looks original.


One example I use from The Last Viking. In our version James and I have little Knut, the frightened boy, become brave by channeling the Vikings. He goes to the skateboard park, gets bullied and then, bravely and all alone, faces up to the three bullies. Although he doesn’t realise it, he is eventfully saved by the Norse gods.

The starting point for the sequence came from High Noon, the Gary Cooper western from 1952, directed by Fred Zinnemann. In that Frank Miller and two killers are due to arrive on the noon day train and kill Will Kane, the sheriff, in revenge for him sending them to jail some years earlier.

Will Kale tries to persuade the other town folk to help him, but they all cowardly refuse, so he is forced to stand up to the three killers (bullies) all alone. Whereas Knut is saved by the gods at the very last minute, the sheriff is also saved at the very last minute, but instead by Grace Kelly, a different sort of god (dess). Image Image
For The Last Viking Returns, or The Return of the Last Viking or Here be Dragons, as it has variously been called along the way (it is referred to TLV II in all my notes) we turned to Norse legends for inspiration. We wanted a dragon in the story because they look so majestic, dramatic and simply petrifying with their scales, big sharp teeth and breathing fire. The legend of Sigurd slaying Fafnir the dragon seemed perfect. Being a kids’ books though, we adapted the slaying to something not quite as deadly.


With James now finished illustrating Fafnir in all its terrifying glory, we are both a little worried that it might scare the living daylights out of our young audience. Fafnir scared the pants off me when James first revealed him. It didn’t take too much imagination to believe the dragon could have toasted me for breakfast with his furnace-like breath and the chomped into me with those sharp teeth. But then I’m not anywhere as brave as Knut, our little Nordic hero. In fact, I suspect that when Will Kane came to ask me to help him against Frank Miller, I might not have been as brave as Grace Kelly.

Norman? That’s him leaving town on the five minutes past High Noon train.




Character design – the twins

Between now and the launch of The Last Viking Returns (Sept 1st, 2014), I’m doing a series of posts showing my rough sketches for all the characters in the book.

Next up in the family are the twins.


The twins only appeared once in The Last Viking – on the very last page. I didn’t give a lot of though to their design. I didn’t think I’d need to draw them more than once. I was wrong.

Norm has fleshed out their personalities in The Last Viking Returns. It turns out the twins are not all sweetness and light – they are berzerkers in the making.

I needed to refine their appearance, make them look a bit older and cheekier, and practice them before trying to do any final artwork.

These are my sketches and notes.

twins-1 twins-2

I made a standard colour version of each character too, so that I could keep their colours consistent. Here’s the colour sheet for the twins:


Point to note: the twins have never been officially named. I’ve been referring to them as Timothy and Tabitha (which aren’t very Viking-like, but to be honest neither is Josh).

Have you got some names in mind? Give us your best ideas in the comments.

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Character designs – Wolverine and the lady dog

Between now and the launch of The Last Viking Returns (Sept 1st, 2014), I’m doing a series of posts showing my rough sketches for all the characters in the book.

Next up in the family is Wolverine, Josh’s faithful companion.


As with the character of Josh, I’d already illustrated a whole book with Wolverine before, but I hadn’t drawn him very much at all in the 3 year gap in between. I needed to practice drawing him again.

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Character design – Josh/Knut

Between now and the launch of The Last Viking Returns (Sept 1st, 2014), I’m going to do a series of posts showing my rough sketches for all the characters in the book.

I’m starting with the family characters. First up is our main man Josh.


Even though I’d illustrated a whole book with him before, it had been almost 3 years since I’d drawn him regularly. I wanted to feel more confident at drawing him consistently, so I sat down and worked out how to draw him again. These are my sketches and notes.


Josh-1 Josh-2I made a standard colour version of each character too, so that I could keep their colours consistent. Here’s the colour sheet for Josh:Josh-colour

Next up will be Wolverine, along with his new friend…

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Young Josh is very brave…

You’ve gotta’ love Children’s Bookweek.  This is Josh from Dalyellup Primary School on the coast near Bunbury in WA. His school librarian, Heather Lindsay, invited me to her school to meet all the kids, including the rather terrifying  pre-primary classes.  I survived them and met loads of lovely kids all bursting with excitement and really enjoying the book. It seems it is a favourite with a great many of them and romped it home in the class voting for Book of the Year. Who would have thought the whimsical little story James and I concocted on Rottnest Island three  years ago would be so popular with kids of all ages. Long may it continue as I have some long and expensive holidays, er… book research, to pay for with the royalties.

Josh made a Viking helmet from his bike helmet when he heard I was to visit his class. Excellent! And well done to his parents on picking a name for him that I could actually spell when signing his book.  A real Viking hero’s’ name.  Though he tells me he is considering changing it by deed poll to K-nut.   Even more excellent!!


Knut II: The Lost Vikings

After tinkering at the edges since last July, James and I have started working on the sequel to The Last Viking. The working title is to be The Lost Vikings [now confirmed as “The Last Viking Returns” = Ed.] and it is set a year or two in future when the twins are now old enough to be terrible toddlers.   As a setting for the story, we have created Viking World, a run-down theme park based on a cross between a recreated Viking village and a funfair with a sideshow alley, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, actors dressed as Vikings, a fiord, a Longhouse and a burning Longship, every afternoon at 5pm.

The minor plot running above the main story is based on a real Norse mythological legend about the God, Sigurd, and his near fatal battle fighting against a huge, fierce, fire-breathing dragon called Fafnir, who attacks Asgard and almost defeats the Gods. Phew!

Now, James and I have been getting a great deal of flack from our friends about this next part, but, in all honesty, we had to visit a funfair as part of our research to make notes and take lots of photos. As luck had it, we were both in Singapore attending the Asian Conference of Children Content, a big important conference mostly about children’s books held in the old Singapore Parliament, and as luck further had it, we had a day off between sessions. And guess where there is a huge funfair? Universal Studios in Singapore.

Like a couple of seven year olds loaded up on red cordial, we took the cable car to Sentosa Island and arrived at the gates of Universal Studios ready to research, research, research.  James is a bit of a dinosaur geek from way back, so imagine his delight when we came across Jurassic Park Ride full of enormous and scary dinosaur models that roar at you while you ride in a big rubber ring almost out of control on a recreated river running through a recreated jungle. And if I thought that was scary I hadn’t counted on the Transformers Ride, a seemingly death-inducing assault on the senses and which I didn’t have the sense not to go on.  I must say, it did cure my fear of heights, and almost everything else frightening.

My great love of old Hollywood movies was on display everywhere as well so I was just a little excited,, and bouncing about like an Energiser bunny, after catching sight of  Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Frankenstein’s Monster and a very cute Betty Boop.  I had to keep reminding myself they were only actors dressed as…er… other actors. Still, you can’t take yourself too seriously, even if you are seriously working, ( yeah right!) so we had our photos taken with most of the characters to prove to the Tax Department it was all genuine when we submit our tax deduction claims next June.

Our editor, Cate Sutherland, liked the idea for the new story when we pitched it to her over a drink at the Left Bank in Fremantle one night after work, so it’s oars out and full sail ahead to the edge of the world, where there be dragons, or a dragon called Fafnir, in this case.

Will Knut save the twins from certain peril?  Can Nan and Pop explain to their daughter what happened to the kids? Will the Gods be toasted alive by the fire-breathing dragon, and will little Knut once more have to find deep reserves of courage and defeat the bullies again? Probably not. The bullies are still smarting from their treatment at the hands of the Gods in the last book and are keeping a low profile until Book III, if there is one. But is this to be the end of the Norse Gods’ world?  Could well be. You’ll just have to wait until James colours it in.