This might be my most ambitious and exciting feature ever! Today, I am thrilled to be sharing a multi-illustrator interview with the creators of the ground-breaking new picture book, Hey You!, written by the world-class, Dapo Adeola.
There are some books that you just KNOW are going to be special from the moment you hear about them. Hey You! is one of those books. It is a celebration of inclusive storytelling on so many levels. This is Dapo’s first authored picture book, and it is the first ever picture book to feature 18 Black illustrators. Alyissa Johnson created the typography and the other 17 illustrators created a spread each: Jade Orlando, Reggie Brown, Chanté Timothy, Sharee Miller, Diane Ewen, Onyinye Iwu, Gladys Jose, Bex Glendining, Dunni Mustapha, Charlot Kristensen, Camilla Sucre, Jobe Anderson, Joelle Avelino, Nicole Miles, Kingsley Nebechi, Derick Brooks, and Selom Sunu.
At the start of the book is a letter from Dapo, explaining how he wrote this book in response to the events of 2020. This lyrical picture book is a message to our children, to show them how much we love and cherish them. To remind them they can achieve anything and be proud of their Black heritage and stand together. Reading this with my girls, I felt incredibly emotional. This is the book I wish I’d read as a child, and I feel so grateful to be able to read it with my children now. Dapo speaks from the heart and the way the illustrators have brought his words to life blew my mind. Each artist has used their own unique style, but there is a connectedness that binds this book together. Each spread flows into the next, and the power of the words grow with every page turn. The ending is perfect.
I knew from the moment I read it, happy tears streaming down my face, that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to do this stunning, ground-breaking picture book justice in a review. Dapo is a breath of fresh air in children’s publishing – super talented and super supportive of other creatives. So, it’s not in the least bit surprising that his first authored picture book is an empowering story for Black children, and that it pushes publishing boundaries. Hey You! inspired me to think outside the box when it came to this feature post. Dapo created a fabulous platform to showcase 18 gifted Black illustrators and so, I thought, what could be better than a JOINT illustrator interview! I hope you find it as fascinating as I do!
Hi Dapo, what was your inspiration for writing this – your first authored picture book – and when did the idea form to showcase the talent of so many amazing Black illustrators throughout the book?
Dapo Adeola: My inspiration was from feeling helpless after the events of last summer’s BLM protests. The frustration and trauma of seeing innocent Black people killed or put in harms way had reached somewhat of a boiling point for the vast majority of folks in the Black community. I wanted to do something that could empower and celebrate us while at the same time shine a spotlight on the talent within the community.
Since entering the industry I’ve been trying to shine a light on black illustration talent, even before I was published myself. This was the perfect opportunity to bring all my efforts together.
Hi Chanté, what was your reaction when you were first approached about the project?
Chanté Timothy: I was thrilled to be involved in such a new and exciting concept in children’s book.
Hi Derick, how did you find the process of working alongside other illustrators?
Derick Brooks: Normally, I believe we’re all used to working on a whole book by ourselves. With Hey You we were able to focus on creating just one great illustration. For me, that made the entire process a lot less stressful and time sensitive. It allowed me to relax a little more and have fun while creating my portion.
Hi Selom, please can you tell us who are your favourite illustrators/creatives?
Selom Sunu: The majority of my influences work/ worked in Animation rather than books, so I’ll start there. I’m going with the legends and keeping it to 6 each because the list of contemporaries I’m inspired by is way too long: Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Glen Keane, Tony Fucile, Eric Goldberg, and Bruce W. Smith.
In terms of book illustrators it has to be these old school few in no particular order: E.H. Shepherd, Ronald Searle, Beatrix Potter, Eric Carle, Quentin Blake, and Alice and Martin Provensen.
Hi Bex, did you always want to be an illustrator?
Bex Glendining: I always wanted to do something with art or something creative, but I never really thought being an illustrator was an option. For a long time I wanted to be an architect but my math was too bad haha. I studied and worked as a graphic designer for a while but the pull to drawing was too much and I moved to pursue illustration as a career after I finished university. Thankfully it’s working out so far!
Hi Gladys, how did this project compare to other picture books you have illustrated solo?
Gladys Jose: It’s hard to compare this experience and working solo. When I work solo I get to know the story and each image as I go. It’s thrilling to create a world from beginning to end. By the time I finish the final art I’ve already been staring at the artwork for months and months and the surprise factor sort of fades until you see the final printed book.
But with Hey You! ….. It was an entirely wild, sort of, magical feeling, I had goosebumps when I saw the art all together and how beautiful each piece was. I felt that shock factor at every stage because I didn’t KNOW what the other illustrators were doing. Having only one page to work on was a fun challenge too. When you work solo and you have a full book to tell a story, here we all had limited space to tell as much of a visual story as possible. Each illustrator’s page tells its own mini story but at the same time we all felt deeply connected Dapo’s brilliant text so it all felt really whole when put together.
Hi Jobe, can you share a little bit about your creative process?
Jobe Anderson: If I’m drawing for myself I’ll start of by doodling random characters and faces. From those characters and faces I can either create a story / comic around the characters or carry on doodling until I have a whole sheet full of ideas I can work from.
If it’s for a project I will sketch out mini thumbnails and decide which idea works the best. I will then create a bigger version of the thumbnail and go over it with cleaner lines which will bring me to the final outcome.
Hi Diane, how did you work with Dapo and the other illustrators throughout the design process?
Diane Ewen: Well, Dapo initially contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in doing the project, I think he explained the concept and of course I was over the moon to join in. Dapo arranged for illustrators to chat with him on zoom and in this meeting I was able to meet Chante, and Dunni. We had a good chat at that point, and we were able to ask questions that we had about the project. Dapo was always there to answer questions along with the puffin team (Monica). Dapo also set up a Hey You! group on Instagram where we can all keep in touch and get updated on Hey You! things.
Hi Dunni, what are your favourite picture books?
Dunni Mustapha: There’s a series of books called The Questioneers, which I really love. They’re written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. I also love Oliver Jeffers’ books.
Hi Nicole, what do you hope readers take away from the book and your spread?
Nicole Miles: What I hope readers take away from the book is the variety of Black representations. The book obviously does this visually, but I think the fact that so many Black illustrators have come together from several different countries to contribute to the book also speaks to that variety. I hope it’s a start towards breaking down the idea that Black people all look/sound/present in one way, while simultaneously showing unity, understanding and support.
As for my spread, I hope it reinforces that Black people have a rich history even in areas from which we have often been intentionally excluded and that that legacy is there to call upon for strength when needed even in the loneliest of places.
Hi Onyinye, please can you share a little about your journey as an illustrator?
Onyinye Iwu: I began drawing as a hobby to pass the time as an only child but quickly realised art was my favourite subject and decided to pursue a career that allowed me to draw constantly! I secretly loved illustration but i felt the cultural pressure to follow a more standard career path, so i choose to study Architecture at university. i illustrated my way through the whole degree and six months after graduating i began posting my work online. I also became a secondary school teacher of design technology a couple of years later but still pursued illustration in my free time. I began working on book covers, commissions with individuals and companies in the UK and abroad. In 2019 i was contacted to work on Too Small Tola by Walker Books and ive been blessed to work as an illustrator and author of childrens books ever since then.
Hi Camilla, what advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Camilla Sucre: Consume all the media you can! If you don’t like reading listen to an audiobook or pick up a graphic novel or picture book. I’ve you can’t sit through a whole movie watch it in parts, or watch a tv show.
Practice, practice practice. While you shouldn’t be dissatisfied with your work or get discouraged when you aren’t at the level you want, you should always strive to improve. If you’re genuinely trying to be better you will be!
Build your portfolio by doing and making projects that make you happy because you’ll never have more time to do things that you enjoy than during college or before becoming a working artist. Building a strong portfolio in my opinion is the best way to get your work noticed. Invest in a domain name and a good web-builder. Create work that fits in the professional world that aligns with your interests: redesigned book covers, make up your own book cover, character designs for a world you’ve fleshed out, animatics, etc. When people see your skill with real life applications you are suddenly more hireable. Stretch your creativity!
Never overbook yourself! It’s a whole mess! And you’ll be a husk at the end of it.
Hi Jade, how did you feel when you saw the finished book with the final illustrations all together?
Jade Orlando: I was honored to be part of a group of illustrators who came together to create one amazing whole. Each artist’s work was a piece of something bigger, and seeing all the different perspectives tied together into one cohesive story was so powerful.
Hi Charlot, what is your favourite spread in the book that you didn’t illustrate yourself?
Charlot Kristensen: This one is difficult to pick, I love every spread but if I have to pick one it’s p.9 – “You stand on the shoulders of greatness”. It really spoke to me. Everything from Dapo’s words to the way Onyinye Iwu interpreted it, is so powerful. It’s now become a mental image I remind myself of when I feel in doubt about my potential. I wish I had known as a child of the many greats before my time.
Hi Joelle, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out as an illustrator?
Joelle Avelino: One thing I know now is that you don’t have to say yes to everything! Starting off a lot of my decisions where based on fear – fear of not getting more work so a lot of work that would come my way I’d just say yes yes yes. This meant me over working which lead to a burn out and also working on projects that didn’t really excite me and I started dreaded switching my laptop on and getting to work. I now no longer feel like this at all! I confidently say no knowing better opportunities will come my way…
Hi Alyissa, what was this experience like for you – could you share a little about how you went about creating the perfect typography for an eye-catching cover?
Alyissa Johnson: I created the typography for the cover and introductory pages. It was a great experience, especially seeing all the sketches from the artists and watching the book come together. I had to think about the audience, about who would be picking up the book and reading it. At that point I had seen the sketches of the cover and knew the type needed to coincide with Dapo’s adorable baby illustration. So, I leaned into a playful style for the title and a more juvenile look for the artists names.
And finally, Dapo, another question for you… Hey You! is just amazing – it is a celebration of inclusive storytelling on so many levels. Do you think there is scope for more picture books to include multiple illustrators in the future?
Dapo Adeola: I think there has always been scope to do something like this, and I’m surprised it hadn’t been done up till now. yes, this is the first time but I’m hoping it won’t be the last time, at least not from me.
I am so incredibly grateful to Dapo and all the illustrators of Hey You! for agreeing to take part in this interview.
Hey You! was published by Puffin, 10 June 2021
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.