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Joseph Namara Hollis

Winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize 2022

Piere’s New Hair by Joseph Namara Hollis is a book that you respond to instantly. Something about the eponymous lion character depicted on the front cover shakes you out of the expectation that comes with daily reviewing of new picturebooks. You immediately sit up and take notice. Here is a dynamic, expressive character that has a lively freshness that does not feel derivative or attempt to conform to trends and fashions of the market. There’s an assuredness in Hollis’s voice (strange choice of words to use for the visual), and his images have child appeal – a tremendous sense of playfulness without resorting to sentimentality or the saccharine. So we are delighted that he is this year’s recipient of the Klaus Flugge Prize, which highlights the most promising and exciting newcomers to picturebook illustration.

Illustrator and judge, Flavia Z Drago explains some of the reasons that made Joseph Namara a winner. “Joseph’s work is instantly recognizable and original. He conveys a wide range of emotions through the use of line, texture and dramatic use of colour. His characters are expressive, charming, quirky, fun and have so much personality, which makes them relatable and endearing.”

We invited Joseph to write a short blog to tell us something about the influences on his work:

As a child, I cherished Richard Scarry’s books (I still do). I could play with these books for hours without the help of an adult. In that sense, they were mine. Special. Hidden. The pages of his books contained whole worlds. Whole worlds for you to explore and get lost in. His pictures allow the child to imagine their own stories. I remember tracing each character’s activity carefully with my index finger, imagining where they had been and what they’ll do next. Part of the appeal for me is the convincing worlds Scarry creates. Every detail has been covered, each town has its own poet, bookprinter, watch repair cat and detective agency. So, I could close the pages of the book, confident that these worlds, these characters would continue to live on, at their own pace, with their own free will. They’ll do just fine without me!

Scarry is playfully inventing, embracing the absurd. Cats driving tubes of toothpaste, a rabbit driving an alligator, Lowly Worm driving his applemobile (still my favourite car to this day, and probably the reason I have very little interest in automobiles of the ‘real world’. I’m still waiting for its release).

I didn’t realise his work had influenced me so much until I looked back at his pictures whilst writing this. His imagery clearly fuelled my interest in drawing animals on wheels, which lead to Pierre’s interest in roller-skating. In the early stages of developing Pierre’s New Hair, the story would be shaped by the types of scenes I wanted to draw most. I longed to draw big scenes that encompass worlds of intricate detail and strange goings-on. That probably isn’t the most sensible way to construct a plot, so as the process developed, it became less of a focal point. Still, I suspect the joy of ‘reading’ Richard Scarry was a subconscious motivator to work deeply into the background details.

I find the ‘world’ depicted aside from the words most compelling to draw. Whilst drawing certain actions is compulsory (for the plot), they feel more like ‘work’, whereas the ‘extra’ details feel like fun. The important stuff is out the way, now, you can relax and play. Those extra details are also the elements I return to when studying a picture book, I imagine they also lure children in for a second or third read. At the endpoint, a convincing world and convincing characters are clearly a necessity. But working into these details during the process helps me convince myself that the characters I’m chasing or discovering through drawing are worth establishing. It’s a way of getting to know my character more intimately. To be real, they must breathe, dance, visit the watch repair cat and do whatever it is they do in their world. This is worked out with my dip pen, but the hope is it’ll be explored by a child’s little index finger at some stage too. Whether this work seeps into the background details of the finished product or is discarded entirely, those experiments aside from the plot are integral for a character to reach maturity. As a picture book maker to have my characters behave convincingly on the page, I need to know what my character does (off-page) when the pages of the book are closed.

If those ‘extra’ details find their way into the finished book, I hope they give the reader as much joy as I experience drawing them. Joy is my only trustworthy gauge when making because the inner critique always misbehaves at some point with its seeds of doubt. Often joy is contagious. So, if it’s fun to make, it’ll be fun to read? If in doubt, do what you love most.

Just Imagine comment: Joseph’s blog piece prompted us to think about the number of illustrators we have spoken with over the years who have cited Richard Scarry as significant in their formative years. It’s fascinating to read Joseph’s reflections about this.

If you haven’t yet read Pierre’s New Hair, do pick up a copy.