The Last Viking Returns


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The all important opening scene- part 1

The opening scene of a picture book is so important:

  • it introduces the main character/s (who)
  • it introduces the main problem or conflict (what)
  • it introduces a world (when, where)
  • it sets the emotional tone (via the writer’s voice and the illustrator’s pictures)
  • and if it works, it can hook readers in instantly.

But if an opening scene doesn’t work, people won’t want to read the book. As Norm has said to me on many a facetious occasion – ‘no pressure, Picasso’. It took me a while to get an opening scene I was happy with, so I’ve put together some posts outlining the process.

The opening text for The Last Viking doesn’t spell out an obvious scene, so I found it quite a challenge to illustrate. The text goes like this:

Young Josh is very brave.

He’s not afraid of anyone or anything – except maybe the dark and the sound of ghosts whistling in the trees at night.

Pirates worry him a bit, of course, and so do boy-eating dinosaurs, and monsters under the bed. He’s also just a little afraid of dragons and vampires.

But other than those few things, Josh is as brave as a lion.

Sort of.

The text introduces the character (Josh) and the main conflict (Josh suffers from fear). So, we have our who and our what. But it doesn’t specifically say where or when the scene takes place. This would be up to me as the illustrator to decide.

Norm had seen some illustrations of mine, where I’d drawn a young boy dressed as a knight and various other characters. So his initial idea for the opening illustration of Last Viking was to have Josh dressed as each of the characters mentioned- a ghost, a pirate, a dinosaur, and so on. However, I couldn’t imagine Josh dressing up as characters that he was afraid of, and I didn’t think it would set the right emotional tone. That is, if Josh is afraid, the picture needs to be scary.

Here’s the very first sketch, and a stretched-out landscape version.

p2-3-original

original thumbnail sketch

p2-3-original-landscape

original thumbnail, adjusted to landscape format

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Set design- exteriors

I grew up in a house that my great-grandparents built in 1936. Four generations of my family have lived in the house (only two at a time though); my parents and sister still live there. Its a Californian bungalow design, common in older suburbs around Perth like East Fremantle and Mt Hawthorn.

I remember snippets of visiting my great-grandparents when they were still living in the house. I was only 3 or 4. Great-grandma would take a tray of just-baked cupcakes out of the Metters stove. We would sit in the front room and eat, while family members with big white moustaches that I didn’t know the names of looked down from frames on the mantlepiece. Great-grandma was always smiling, at least I think she was- or maybe that’s a made up memory based on the only photos I know of her. I don’t remember great-grandpa very much. In his photos he looks kind.

great-grandma and grandpa

Pop’s house in The Last Viking is essentially my family home. Obviously my parents don’t live in a house with Viking ornamentation all over it, but the basic similarities are there.

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