The Littlest Bushranger picture book is no shoot out at the high corral, no Ned Kelly re-enactment; this beautifully written story is a true-to-life, fast-paced drama as played out in the backyards and imaginations of children all over Australia and the world.
The Littlest Bushranger The Five Mile Press
Author, Alison Reynolds, and illustrator, Heath McKenzie, have teamed up once again to produce a winner both in words and pictures.
Jack, the littlest bushranger, is brave and determined as he takes on the villain lurking in many of our suburban gardens – the dreaded crow. Together with his ‘gang’ of dog, Hector, and trusty steed they leap into action. “Jack seized a sword and galloped after the Outlaw.”
Now, I have to admit I have an ‘illustrator crush’ on Heath McKenzie. I follow him online wherever I can; it’s not stalking, right? If you’re a curious person like me, have a nosey at Heath’s illustrator studio via Tristan Bancks’ website. Or Heath’s interview here the last time he visited me for the blog tour last year of A Year with Marmalade, also by awesome author, Alison Reynolds.
The good news today is that Heath is once more visiting Under the Apple Tree to answer more meaty questions about the illustrator process.
Hi Heath! Welcome to my blog, Under the Apple Tree. Grab a spot on the picnic rug.
Hi Angela, glad to be back.
You must be very proud of how well The Littlest Bushranger has turned out. It's delightful! One of the first things I do when picking up a new picture book is to look at the end papers, front and back. In The Littlest Bushranger I learnt the crow and the bicycle (both common to an Aussie backyard) are integral to the story. What were your thoughts when designing the endpapers? How do you choose what to include and what to leave out? Or the title page for that matter?
Often, these things come fairly late, unless I have a decent idea of things earlier on. In this case it was open for discussion between myself and the editor, with the editor ultimately coming up with the idea and then between us we refined it to tell that little hint of story! The title page can be a similar situation - in this case the image used was actually an alternate cover concept that didn't make the cut - so it was great to see it find a use elsewhere in the book.
Yes, the title page is so much quieter and contemplative than the pages to follow. For me the illustrations in The Littlest Bushranger are brimming with movement, varying perspectives and face-paced visual narrative. The beginning few pages set the scene and introduce the characters. As the dog, Hector’s distrustful eyes check out the crow and its long, menacing shadow, there is a hint at the drama about to unfold as the bicycle wheel bleeds off the page.
Then suddenly it is game on! A heightened visual drama so strong I could only just keep up. The sudden, repeated changes in perspective and page-turning speed of the narrative fling the reader forward through the next six double page spreads. I am on the horse with Jack and Hector, bolting across the page from left to right. I am giddy with page-flowing suspense.
Heath, you must’ve had a lot of fun illustrating those pages. Would you be able to share your process for one or more of the double page spreads with us together with your reasoning behind decisions on pace, perspective and movement?
The outlaw was, in hindsight, a big setter of the pace, so to speak! Given it swoops in and then takes off, the imagery needed to follow suit. I wanted things to start out much looser and less saturated, colour-wise, even to the extent of the first spread sort of bleeding in from left to right, casually sort of trickling in in a lazy afternoon sort of way! (illustration below) And then of course as the action and fantasy takes hold, particularly given Jack leapt onto a horse, the story needed to visually gallop along at a hefty pace as we give chase. Adventure was the key component to get across - and plenty of drama! Hence the dynamic angles used throughout the fantasy sequences.
It certainly works. The varying dynamic angles and perspectives add so much to the drama. I read once that diagonal movement across a page is like an illustrator's exclamation mark. Pages 14-15 are a good example of this. (Illustration below)
When you received this manuscript from the publisher, how did you approach your first read through? Were illustration notes attached from the publisher or author? Do ideas for images come straight away? How do you first begin to naturally decide on page breaks?
There were loose illustration suggestions for certain things, but overall it was left wide open and the text itself was much the same - leaving it up to me to work out how best to portray things. The manuscript was provided in basic page breaks which is often the case, so that decision is made for me and gives parameters to work with, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worse!
Can you tell us about this example above of a rough for pages 14-15?
It shows a change of perspective as well as how a layout page looked when I received it (to show the page break spreads I received and how little information I was given allowing me to figure out whatever I thought worked best!) plus I've provided it as the initial rough to really show the scribbly, messy decision making and desired action for that spread!
That's so generous of you to share, Heath. Aspiring illustrators can learn so much from roughs that show the thought processes and multiple, overlaid sketches behind an illustration.
Jack and his ‘gang’ are all so brave. Their steely determination is shown through their posturing and the fierce glare in their eyes. It’s a team effort to defeat the villain, “Good work, everyone.” Were Hector and the horse based on animals you know?
The horse, I guess, was based on classic archetypes of the wild west hero on his white steed....which I designed prior to thinking about the bike, so the challenge became colouring the bike to suit what it would become without it looking either uninteresting or out of place in the real world.
The dog is actually inspired by Tex, a little dog from Melbourne's 'Little Bookroom'!
Thanks so much, Heath, for visiting today. Congratulations on The Littlest Bushranger’s release.
Here, take some apple pie home for the family.
Readers, as part of The Littlest Bushranger's book tour there are some fantastic prizes along the way:
MONSTER drawing competition.
There are a couple of monsters in The Littlest Bushranger. One's a bunyip and the other an outlaw/monster who steals Lil's telescop. What sort of monster do you like? Send along a painting/drawing/model of a monster and you could win a piece of Heath McKenzie's amazing artwork for The Littlest Bushranger.
Upload your own best monster to Facebook https://www.facebook.com/alison.reynolds.524 or email it as a low res jpeg file to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll upload it. If you don't have a scanner, take a photo on a smart phone and email that. There are two categories - under 12 and 12 plus, including grown-ups. Entries close 25th June.
Jump the Slush Pile!
Win a free pass to an adult non-fiction commissioning editor's desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the Littlest Bushranger book tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.
Watch out for other prizes along the ride.
a piece of Heath McKenzie’s artwork from The Littlest Bushranger,
a picture book assessment by Alison Reynolds,
2 free passes direct to an editor’s desk (you get to skip the slush pile),
and copies of The Littlest Bushranger.
Just comment on the posts.