Andi Watson is a British cartoonist, writer, and illustrator who has been nominated for two Eisners, a Harvey, and a British Comics Award. He is known for his fantastic works including Glister, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, Gum Girl.
We are so excited for this new book! Can you share the inspiration for Kerry and the Knight of the Forest?
Inspiration for any book is like a recipe–you put a bunch of the best ingredients together and hopefully something wonderful comes out of the oven at the end. Sometimes its a little crispy around the edges but that’s part of the charm.
One of the big influences on Kerry was the short animated film Hedgehog in the Fog directed by Yuriy Norshteyn. It’s a poetic and atmospheric folk tale from 1975. Hedgehog sets off on a journey to go meet their pal Bear Cub and encounters various creatures and hazards along the way. I love the textures of the design and the eerie atmosphere. Also Hedgehog isn’t very brave, I liked the idea of having a vulnerable hero. I didn’t want Kerry to solve problems with violence, rather he has to use wit and empathy to win the day.
I’ve always had an interest in fairy tales and wanted some classic moments from those stories woven into the Kerry book. There are talking animals, a spooky forest and a quest to save ailing parents. I wanted to give it the feel of an actual fairy tale without it being based on one.
Throughout the story Kerry is often seen as very trusting, sometimes to his detriment. Why do you think this is an important characteristic trait for Kerry to have?
A lot of the story is about who to trust and who to believe. Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. It’s a contemporary concern. All day we’re bombarded with news and information, particularly online. A lot of it is unsourced, toxic, and harmful. It’s an important life skill to learn which sources to trust and which to dismiss. Kerry has to go through the same process. He makes mistakes but learns from them along the way.
Going back to the idea of bravery, I think Kerry is very brave in trusting in others. To open yourself up to possibly being betrayed, tricked or lied to isn’t easy. Being vulnerable requires a lot of courage. I also think it’s not seen as a particularly masculine trait. Often the hero of this sort of story is a lone wolf who defeats their enemies through physical feats. I try and put a little of myself into my books, ask how would I react in any given situation. Or how I should react. I’m someone who sits in my studio all day writing and drawing imaginary friends. I should act more like Kerry and try and make more real world friends!
What new themes or ideas did you want to bring to the hero’s journey? Were there any particular pieces of the story that you found particularly rewarding or challenging?
As I’ve mentioned, the easy solution to any problem, particularly in comics, is to hit it until it stops moving. Kerry faces different kinds of opposition, whether in the shape of creatures or in the environment. I wanted to have as much variety as possible within the confines of the forest setting. So I take Kerry underground and through a swamp. The fun parts are always bringing the characters to life, giving them a back story and a reason for the reader to root for them. It was fun finding ways for the Waystone to be as expressive as a big boulder with an eye can be. It’s a case of making a good use of the comics form, having a rock look sad, angry and so on. There’s also a seedling character who is a very simple design and I enjoyed giving it as wide a variety of expressions as I could.
With regard to your art, what or who are your influences/inspiration? Do you have any tips for readers who are eager to become artists as well?
My influences and inspirations are varied. I’ve been around awhile, so I’ve picked up and left behind quite a few. I read prose as much as I can. I love films, reading plays, podcasts, museums and fine art, music, comics, design…I keep my eyes and ears open for new things. Inspiration can come from anywhere and it can take a long while for it to surface. I first saw the Hedgehog in the Fog on TV by accident a couple of decades ago. I thought it was cool but I never thought, “I have to do something exactly like that.” Rather it lay buried in my memory and inspired a bunch of different ideas for a story of my own. Also, art that I dislike can be just as inspiring as art I love. If it makes me think or makes me angry then it can spark new ideas or revisit old ones from a different angle.
I absolutely believe that art can be taught, it’s certainly been the case for me, but what can’t be taught is the pleasure you get from drawing or writing or the playing of a musical instrument. If you enjoy being creative then that tends to be it’s own reward. Do stuff you enjoy, whether as a hobby or as a profession. Drawing or painting or crafting will be rewarding throughout your life if you remember it’s supposed to be fun.
As I kid I was totally happy lying on my stomach in the living room with any old paper that came to hand and a box of crummy felt tip pens. Not to try and impress anyone, not because I was better at it than the people who designed the X-Wing fighters (because I definitely wasn’t) and not because it was my job, but because I was having a blast.
Anyone can be a cartoonist, all you need is some paper and something to draw with. Put your ideas down on paper, no matter how silly you might think they are. Done that? Cool, now you’re a cartoonist too!
Can you share some of your favorite graphic novels/comics that readers should be checking out?
Glancing over my shoulder at the bookshelves I can see: Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico and Karensac, Princess Knight by Osamu Tezuka, The Little Vampire by Joann Sfar, the Hilda books by Luke Thompson and for older readers Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. I need to read more comics myself so if anyone one would like to recommend their favourite titles, please do.