Little Gestalten (a German publisher) is bringing some very cool children's books to the US for us to enjoy. The first I'll share with you is ISSUN BOSHI written and illustrated (together) by Raphael Urwiller and Mayumi Otero. English is not their first language (they are from France), so I'm thrilled to have them both here today - what a treat!
It seems every culture has a “Tom Thumb” sort of character. How did you become familiar with the story of ISSUN BOSHI?
Issun Boshi is a Tom Thumb, but in its poetic own way, a naïve little boy walking through the wilderness with a rice bowl on its head.
In fact Mayumi, who is one half of Icinori, is half Japanese, and it was one of her most beloved story that her mother was telling her when she was a child. The other part of Icinori, Raphael Urwiller, is fond of traditionnal tales, and we discovered that Issun Boshi was never well adapted in France as a children book.
Then we made it, for all this good reasons !
Q. I know older tales often don’t fit well in modern sensibilities. How much adaptation did you have to do to make the story work for new readers?
A children's book has its own constraints, the number of pages, size, color, printing technique, and each of these constraints are a creative challenge. The original story comes in many forms, some versions are like the Grail legend, never finding the end.
Raphael cut the text and rewrote it in a very modern rhythm paced modern book of 32 pages. This text has been designed to be read aloud with parents, but also to be read by the child alone, with simple words and very understandable images to help reading. The original story contains quite violent actions, Issun Boshi attacks monsters, we decided to keep these moments but by approaching them in a thoughtful way, working the figures and innuendo.
We were very surprised at the extremely positive way children greet the story we made.
In fact we did this book for the two children we were.
Q. I adore the art style - it’s both retro and so fresh - what is the method?
We are engravers, screenprinters and strange book publishers (unique popup books and more) , we made this book using our printing techniques (screen printing is an ancient technique invented by the Chinese to work very accurate and efficient color), which we adapted to the constraints of traditional offset printing, allowing this book to benefit from these very beautiful colors. (Click the image to see a larger version.)
Were there specific challenges to making this style work for ISSUN BOSHI?
We admire many popular old images and ephemera, as well as the current underground art, the two share a wonderful and colorful graphics generosity power. We much inspired by old Japanese prints that contemporary artists. We try to follow the course huge illustrators, Sendak, Ungerer, Gustave Doré, Topor, etc. The challenge was to find the balance between all of this influences and our own wills!
Q. The story was originally published in France. How did it make it to the US?
Gestalten – a great book publisher for designers and artists – made us the great possibility of being published in its first collection of books for children, translating the book in german and english!
The book was also published in many countries (spanish, italian, chinese, dutsch etc.) and had a price in Bologna, the biggest children books festival. It's great, we don't realize the meaning of all of this but it's great!
Neither of you live in the US. How is it to have a book launching in America and how have you celebrated the release of the book in your home towns?
Yes, we opened a bottle of wine from Napa valley. For us, french peoples, it's a strong symbol!
Little Gestalten has generously agreed to send a free copy of ISSUN BOSHI to one of my lucky followers. Enter below!