If you could travel back in time to any era, which would it be and where would you go?
There are so many historical events I’d have liked to be at it’s hard to choose. Sailing with Captain Cook? The building of Stonehenge? Watching Apollo 11 take off? But era? I’ll settle for the Middle Ages in London or at Corfe Castle – as long as I can take a good dentist.
How do you work with Terry Deary on the Horrible Histories books?
Terry and I rarely get together these days. He sends his marvellous manuscripts to the publishers and they send them to me. But we understand each other so well now that we know what each other wants. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who came up with what.
How do you research your drawings to make sure they are historically accurate?
I used to have piles of books all over the drawing board. The more pictures of the thing you are drawing the better. These days it’s made even easier with Google images and the like. Although you have to be careful – not all the pictures are what they say they are. Libraries are still excellent for getting information and the staff are really helpful.
Which drawings did you find the most difficult to draw?
Although complicated buildings and street scenes are fairly tough, people are usually where I come unstuck. Probably because we can all see when they look a bit wonky. I can generally get them the way I want them in the end but sometimes it takes ages.
Which drawing from the Horrible Histories books is your favourite?
Really I’m a cartoonist rather than an illustrator so I might not go for the best artwork here. Rather I’m most proud of some of the gags I’ve written – not all funny I have to add. Page 74 from The Stormin Normans – with the seal, or perhaps page 28 from Ireland – “scary in’it”.
What has been the most significant event in your own history?
Not drowning while on holiday in Queensland when I was 10 was pretty important. And deciding to stay in the UK is up there too – but it’s hard to beat having a family.
What is your favourite children’s book?
At the moment it’s Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister or The Heart in the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers and always Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
What is your favourite place?
The Grampians National park in western Victoria, Australia.
Do you have any drawing tips?
Heaps, but I’d need something the size of a book to write it all down in. But here are the main ones.
1 – get lots of pictures of the thing you want to draw. It helps you remember how the thing you want to draw looks. That might sound obvious but sometimes it’s hard to keep the way something looks in your head while you’re trying to draw the thing you want to draw.
2 – have fun. If you enjoy drawing you’ll do it more often and the more you draw the better you’ll get. – any style, any subject. Cartoons are good because they can be as silly as you like.
3 – don’t worry if it doesn’t look ‘right’. Sometimes we stop drawing because our picture doesn’t turn out ‘right’ (whatever that is). Who cares? When I play football not every kick is perfect – hardly any in fact. But that’s not what I play for. This is the most important tip. We play football because it’s fun even if we are rubbish at it. Same with all sport. And singing. And dancing. And all kinds of things. And it’s the same with drawing too. You don’t have to be good at drawing to draw just like I don’t have to be good at football to play football. I play because I love it – same with drawing. So draw – and don’t care what it looks like!
4 – If you insist in wanting to draw more realistically, you can. You can learn how. Drawing isn’t magic. I wasn’t born with some sort of special drawing arm. I taught myself drawing technique – from how-to-draw books. No one is born able to read and write, play the piano or juggle saucepans. We have to learn how – learn the techniques. And it’s exactly the same for drawing. Luckily we don’t have to draw realistically to be good at drawing. Which is good – or I’d be out of a job.