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.
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.