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No! Nobrow!

I have been a fan of Nobrow and their picture book imprint Flying Eye Books for a good few years now. I have reviewed a number of their titles (you can find the reviews here and here). I have written about them for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups here. I have interviewed their authors and illustrators and championed their books for years as they produce works of quality and beauty that catch the eye of readers of all ages. I have used them to turn reluctant readers on to the joys of reading many times over the years.

Over the past few days on twitter I found several threads accusing them of exploiting new and upcoming authors & illustrators and acting in a less than ethical manner against other small press publishers. Several years ago at a publisher event in London I was chatting to a publicist and mentioned that I was a fan of their work and the publicist (off the record) asked if I had heard the rumours about their low payment of creators and claiming rights to works created by authors and illustrators they published. I said that I had not and thereafter dug around but was never able to find anything about this so I marked it as unproven and moved on.

Below is a screenshot of an email allegedly sent by Alexander Latsis in 2013

Source: https://twitter.com/deadtreesanddye/status/1253762564032520195

Illustrator Lucy Haslam has been creating an epic twitter thread about ELCAF (the East London Comic Art Festival) and Nobrow. It is definitely worth a read for detailed background information about what has been happening for a number of years.

Illustrator Eleni Kalorkoti tweeted this about an offer from Nobrow in 2018:

This discussion was not a total pile-on, several creators spoke up positively about their interactions with Nobrow, including CILIP Kate Greenaway winning illustrator William Grill:

Astrocat creator Ben Newman:

Kellie Strøm:

and a few others.

Nobrow has also released an official statement that can be read here:

A Statement from Nobrow

It should definitely be read in full. In the statement they challenge the claims that their contracts are unfair and have promised to do research into comparative advances and royalties. They also go on to deny that they do not prevent their creators from working with other publishers and state that the screenshot of the e-mail was released without permission and out of context although it is hard to imagine what the context was without further information about that discussion as the e-mail alone appears to be pretty damning.

The full statement rather than allaying the fears and allegations seems to have inflamed opinion in more areas, with Paul Duffield‘s take being worth a read:

When this type of situation erupts it is not always easy to identify who is in the right, I support small publishers and creator rights but I think in this instance the number of dissenting voices that have been raised about unfair treatment as well as those raised in defense show that this situation is not clear cut to outside observers. I think that Valerie Pezeron‘s views as laid out in the thread below most closely match up with mine – they are definitely worth a read.

The vocalization of the long-term unhappiness of many of the authors and illustrators is an indication that people are no longer going to be quiet if they perceive themselves to be treated unfairly, this is good as it can act as a warning to others that may find themselves in a similar situation and can strengthen collective bargaining if enough creators band together. We may be witnessing the birth of unionisation in the author/illustrator world beyond what the Society of Authors and other groups that already exist.

I remain a fan of many of the authors and illustrators published by Nobrow, but this fandom is now tinged with a concern over what they may have experienced during the creation of their works for their publisher. Is it a fair and rational feeling? I don’t know, but it is human to have concern for the welfare of others and I am also concerned for those currently furloughed by the publisher and for everyone else impacted by the Covid-19 shutdowns across the world.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief


What do flying sheep, super-missiles, and grandmother-attacking coconuts have in common?

One feisty little girl!

Join Akissi and friends as they get up to all sorts of antics around their town in the Ivory coast.

There’s loads of fun to be had… as long as they manage to stay out of trouble!

I have been aware of Marguerite Abouet’s work for a few years now as a friend introduced me to her Aya series of graphic novels about a young woman living in Yop City in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970’s. Written by Marguerite and illustrated by her husband and partner Clément Oubrerie.

Akissi, published in English by Flying Eye Books was a welcome return to West Africa, a series of the comic misadventures about the eponymous heroine, a small girl living in a village somewhere in the Côte d’Ivoire. Written for a young audience, this comic will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Marguerite Abouet is a keen observer of the lives of small children, she has captured several things that I have found my toddler doing and going by the cartoons I have many more to look forward to; although I hope and pray that we never acquire a pet monkey! There was one incident in the book involving Akissi and her older brother Fofana that took place one night when she was too afraid to go outside that mirrored an event from my childhood (I am not going to say which one in case my brother ever reads this).

My favourite vignette (and there are so many to choose from) was Sunday Feast, it made me laugh out loud (although the hilarity as tinged with a hint of guilt at the potential blasphemy)

Akissi is funny, heartfelt and a very real look into the lives of children!

The art in this volume is by Mathieu Sapin who captures the frenetic energy of children running around or just being, perfectly!

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

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Every night, tiny stars appear out of the darkness in little Sandy’s bedroom. She catches them and creates wonderful creatures to play with until she falls asleep, and in the morning brings them back to life in the whimsical drawings that cover her room.

One day, Morpie, a mysterious pale girl, appears at school. And she knows all about Sandy’s drawings…Nightlights is a beautiful story about fear, insecurity, and creativity, from the enchanting imagination of Lorena Alvarez.

It is hard to categorise Nightlights, an achingly beautiful graphic novel about a young girl, her imagination, school, friendship, belonging and a spiral into terror with phantasms coming to life to steal away her away for her creative spirit.

This is another book by Nobrow a publisher that is rapidly becoming known for the wonderful aesthetics and physical beauty of the books they publish as well as the quality story-telling found on the pages. Nightlights is a nigh perfect work of art! Lorena Alvarez is a superlative artist and the story she has crafted and created is a wonder to behold!

I have read Nightlights several times and each time I turn a page my eyes catch something new, there is so much detail I can lose ages just staring at the pages!

You need this book in your lives! It is suitable for readers of all ages and will make a wonderful (and creepy) shared reading experience if you have any small readers in your lives!

A Thing of Beauty: Arthur and the Golden Rope

arthur rope
Imagine a vault so cavernous that it could contain the world’s greatest treasures, from mummified remains of ancient monarchs to glistening swords brandished by legendary warriors. How did Professor Brownstone come into possession of such a collection?

Hear the tale of the very first Brownstone and his quest for the golden rope as we travel back to the land of the Vikings. A place filled with magical objects, powerful gods and legendary beasts to be conquered!

I am a bit of a fan-boy when it comes to Flying Eye Books and Nobrow and not just for the amazing stories they are publishing but for the frankly amazing care and attention to detail they put into creating books that are beautiful to look at as well as read.

Arthur and the Golden Rope continues in that vein, the cover is one that I spent several minutes admiring before opening it, the golden highlights of the title and on the strands of the rope glinted in the sun distracting me from the beast fading into the shadows of the background, it’s slavering jaws lit up by a burning brand held by the small figure, looking back at the reader as if unsure of what they were doing there.

Opening the book revealed still more treasures – maps on the endpapers, the first of Iceland showing Arthur’s town and the second showing Yggdrasil – the World Tree connecting Valhalla with Midgard and Helheim. The Æsir: Thor, Baldr, Freyja and Odin appear in the map corners of the front and the giant monsters Nidhoggr, Fenrir, Jotnar and Jormungandr appearing on the back.

The true treasure is the story itself, tied in with the wonderfully intricate illustrations with each page rewarding the reader that closely examines each wonderful work of art.

As you may have guessed this story is steeped in Norse lore and focuses on Arthur Brownstone the first adventurer of the famed and legendary Brownstone family and his quest to save his village.

Arthur is not your typical adventurer, looking like he would be more at home with his nose stuck in the pages of a book he is nevertheless an ardent explorer and brave beyond his years and size, living in a world replete with gods and monsters.

Professor Brownstone’s Mythical Collection would give Hogwarts a run for its money, brimming as it is with gods, monsters and all manner of marvellous artifacts.

Written and illustrated by the sickeningly talented Joe Todd-Stanton, Arthur and the Golden Rope straddles the line between picture book and graphic novel comfortably and will appeal to readers of all ages.

Arthur and the Golden Rope, the first book in Brownstone’s Mythical Collection is available from good book shops everywhere from September.

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

Are you on the hunt for a grimy, tech-noir thriller?

If the answer is yes then SP4RX is definitely the graphic novel for you!

It has been years since I last delved into the Cyberpunk realm and SP4RX was a brilliant reintroduction to the genre that did not disappoint!

Written and drawn by Wren McDonald, SP4RX reads as the love-child between William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Epic in scope yet incredibly personal in nature, the story focuses of Sp4rx, a hacker hired to steal a macguffin from a corporation and ends up as a rather less than willing recruit in a battle to save humanity from their evil corporate overlords.
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With echoes of (the original) Robocop using periodic news updates to provide necessary background information without resorting to infodumps and underscoring the humanity of artificial intelligence reminiscent of CHAPPiE, SP4RX is a brilliant graphic novel aimed at older readers.

Nobrow has been consistently publishing excellent graphic novels and with SP4RX this run continues!

SP4RX-cover

How to Survive in the North

A brilliant graphic novel written and illustrated by Luke Healy:

Weaving together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett with a contemporary fictional story. How to Survive in the North is a unique and visual narrative journey that shows the strength it takes to survive in even the harshest conditions – whether that be struggling for survival in the Arctic in the 1900s or surviving a mid-life crisis in the present day.

I finished this book with the impression that Vilhjalmur Stefansson was at best criminally inept and worst culpable for the death of the men he abandoned on two expeditions in the Arctic Circle.

Simply and beautifully illustrated it contains a wealth of history that made me research the histories of the characters once I had finished it. I love Luke Healey’s artwork and the changing colours to denote the different expeditions and the contemporary story is an excellent idea! The isolation of each of the characters throughout the book is the thread that binds the narratives together and the choices they make to survive and stay sane in the face of fraying relationships and loneliness makes the stories as gripping as they are tragic!

As with other Nobrow titles, How to Survive in the North is beautifully crafted and makes a bookshelf look better just by being on it!

HowToSurviveInTheNorth_cover

An Interview with Dr Dominic Walliman & Ben Newman, Creators of Professor Astro Cat

To celebrate Science Week I am extremely pleased to welcome Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman to Teen Librarian to talk about Professor Astro Cat.

vitruvian astrocat

I will break up my first question into two parts, the first being how long have the two of you worked together and how did you come to be co-creators of Professor Astro Cat?

BEN: We’ve been friends since secondary school. I got to know Dominic better when he and a friend of ours put on a comedy night. A few of my close friends and I were involved in the evening. We always stayed in touch despite going off on very different paths.
Back in 2010, I designed and printed a solar system poster which sold really well from my website and I approached my publisher, Nobrow about publishing a book about Space for children. They agreed and asked if I knew anyone who could write it. I immediately thought of Dominic and when we were back in our home town for Christmas I asked him and he said ‘no’…. kidding! He said ‘yes’, really.

DOM: I got really into astrophysics when I was in 6th form after reading a book that tied in with a BBC documentary series called Universe. I wasn’t studying physics at the time, but I remember all the facts blowing my mind, and I used to come into school and tell everyone all the crazy stuff I had learned. I think that is probably why Ben thought of me when he wanted to make the book; and I jumped at the chance!

I love the Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System app and would like to know if there are plans for more apps and if they will be available for other operating systems?

BEN: Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System is in the digital mechanics being fine tuned as we speak. I believe MiniLab will be announcing some really cool stuff very soon in regards to the app and other operating systems.

In terms of new Professor Astro Cat apps, I have had numerous conversations with MiniLab about a couple of ideas that we are throwing around. Nothing in the works yet but I’m not sure I could tell you even if there were… Or could I?

What is your working dynamic like? Did you meet up to discuss the layout of Frontiers of Space and Atomic Adventure or did you write the text and work on the illustrations separately?

BEN: At the start of ‘Frontiers of Space’, we did physically sit down and work out the running order and how we thought the book should work. After the text was finished and while I was about half way through drawing that book, Dominic moved to Vancouver in Canada to work on Quantum computers.

We stay in touch via email but we found that while making the ‘Atomic Adventure’, we needed to talk more often face to face over skype. This was a huge help to both of us and made us feel like a team again. We work together very closely despite the distance.

The text is never concrete so it means that Dominic and I can revisit it while I am drawing and designing the layouts. This was a big help for ‘Atomic Adventure’ because the text informs the image and then the text can be integrated and adapted to work with the images. This fluidity was a real breakthrough for us.

DOM: Our work mostly involves me getting down a first draft of each spread and then running it past Ben. Then we do several iterations of back and forth, cutting things out and adding things in. Then when Ben is illustrating we do a few more tweaks on the text, and I sometimes help out on the images if Ben gets stuck on thinks like the technical details. I think it helps that I’m a very visual person and have some art and graphic design skills.

Ben how long did it take you to illustrate each book and do you work digitally or with traditional paper & paint/ink?

BEN: More than a year but less than two years. It’s difficult to judge the time it takes because I try to fit in other projects at the same time. In both books, there has been a lot of trial and error which at the time is incredibly frustrating but ultimately it is a detrimental part of the process.

My work is a mixture of both traditional and digital. Much more of Atomic Adventure was sketched out on the computer this time. Mainly because I wanted to illustrate with the text laid out in front of me. Frontiers of Space was illustrated in areas that I measured on the computer and then drew by hand.

Dom, there is so much information collected in so little space how long did it take you to put the text together? How many sources did you use to collate the information?

DOM: The first book took about 2 years, but now I have got the a book down to about a year. This might seem like a long time but as I’m working full time at D-Wave I use my evenings and weekends to write. Getting the word count down has definitely been something I have got better at though – it is almost like a crossword puzzle! How do I get what I want to say in as few words as possible, and it be very clear at the same time. It is super fun though.
For Atomic Adventure, most of the material came straight out of my head as Physics is a subject I have been studying for a very long time. Then I did a lot of fact checking to make sure I got it all right.

What scientific exploration will we experience next with Professor Astro Cat?

BEN: Well, there is a Professor Astro Cat space project out this summer and maybe even another project later in the year. Dominic and I are already working on his next adventure into science but it’s top secret.

DOM: I can say that the first draft of the next book is done, and I can’t wait to be able to talk about it. It is going to be a lot of fun!

Frontiers of Space was my favourite scientific picture book of 2015 and with Atomic Adventure you have given me my favourite for 2016 (it is a combination of engaging art and really interesting snippets of information) and since discovering your work I have seen more picture books dealing with scientific themes and information. Do you think we are at the beginning of a revolution in scientific picture books?

BEN: I hope so. It would be great to be a part of a movement towards engaging minds young and old in science. Children’s non-fiction has been an area well in need of some TLC for a long while now so finger’s crossed there is a resurgence.

DOM: I hope so too! I would love for science to become a bit more mainstream. When I talk to people, I find a lot of adults who think science is some mixture of intimidating, difficult or dull, and I think it is such a shame. When explained well, science is none of these things. In fact there are few things as enjoyable as understanding something new about the fundamental nature of the Universe. So if we can give the young people of today a more positive experience of science, that is fantastic, and I heartily encourage others to do the same.

For readers who fall in love with your work can both of you give a suggestion for further reading (both your own works and any other authors/illustrators that you think we may enjoy)?

BEN: I love Jim Stoten’s Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds as it is mind bogglingly illustrated and fun. Jim and I used to share a studio together when we were working on our books so he was a big inspiration. Also, Andrew Rae’s Moonhead is a brilliant illustrated story. It’s really funny.

DOM: If you haven’t read the Calvin and Hobbes books yet, I would highly recommend them. They aren’t about science, but are philosophical in the most fun way.

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption by José Domingo

pablojanex

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption is one of my favourite books, published by Flying Eye Books (the people that brought you the Kate Greenaway Medal winning Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill).

It is a brightly-coloured insane romp that appeals to the cartoon, adventure and monster loving young reader inside of me! The artwork sears itself onto the back of my eyelids so that each time I blink I catch flashes of the story, It is a bit like after-images of the sun when you walk inside on a really bright day.

But – for all the brightness, Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption is a dark, twisty adventure story filled with insane cat scientists, monsters, a heroic mouse and two children on an urgent journey through the monster dimension. The artwork is beautiful and incredibly intricate, it is what you get if you mash up Where’s Wally, Billy & Mandy and fever dreams that Roman Dirge & Jhonen Vasquez would shelve as being too far out there!

It is not just the story and art that is fantastic! Flying Eye has gone all out to make sure that Pablo & Jane feels as wonderful as it looks, from the gleaming soft-to-touch cover to sumptuous end-papers and high quality paper the book is a work of book-making art as well as being a bright and beautiful book to read!

This is an adventure comic book to read again and again, to revel in the art, and work your way over the pages marvelling at all the little things that you missed the first 50 times you paged through the book. If it was purely a written work it may be as long as War and Peace as so much is going on in the pages!

Seriously take a look at the image below:
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and that is just a part of one page.

If there was ever a book to buy to keep your kids quiet or partner out of the way or even just to full hours of time with looking in amazement at and enjoying the story; then Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption is it!

I don’t often say this, but, buy this book! Support Flying Eye Books and Nobrow Press as they challenge the boundaries of what picture books are and can be!

Find out more about the book and where to get it here:

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption

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Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption written & illustrated by José Domingo and published by Flying Eye Books is available now!