Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you can’t have missed Luke Pearson’s intrepid beret wearing adventuress Hilda – although under a rock is exactly where you’ll find Hilda in her new book, which takes us deep inside the mountains near her home, a vast networks of tunnels and caves inhabited by the local population of fierce, unknowable trolls.
Hilda and the Stone Forest explores something that’s been preying on my mind more and more as the series has progressed – as Hilda is out rushing headlong into danger, what must her poor mother be going through at home? Hilda’s addiction to adventure is covered by a succession of barely believable fibs, and finally it becomes to much for her mum, who grounds her wayward daughter before finding herself inadvertently dragged along on Hilda’s most dangerous journey yet. Proof that parents don’t always have to be left behind in a good children’s adventure.
Hilda’s creator, Luke Pearson kindly agreed to share the books that first got him excited about reading and inspired him to draw and write his own stories. And slag off Andy Serkis.
The book that first got me excited about reading.
A children’s book I do remember reading over and over, which was originally read to me, is The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss. I liked all the funny details in the drawings and the weird contraptions. But I was particularly gripped by the atmosphere of it. The sense of unease, the steady progression from something funny, to something increasingly serious and doom-laden.
The book was written during the cold war and is an allegory for an arms race and mutually assured destruction. It was definitely communicated to me that this wasn’t entirely just a made-up story and I believe it helped me see and understand the senselessness of all war from an early age.
The book that my parents read to me.
The one I’m going for is my dad reading the whole of The Hobbit to me. Which seems surely too long for a bedtime book! But he got through it. I can’t actually remember but I’m certain he would have sung the songs in it. One thing I do very strongly recall is the sound he made for Gollum, which I firmly believe is far closer to what Tolkien intended than whatever the hell Andy Serkis was doing.
Every scene in the Hobbit feels iconic to me and stuck in my head for a very long time. There’s so much simple, evocative imagery in it. I can recall my imagination going into overdrive to picture it all as it was read to me. I actually only re-read it myself just before those movies came out and was amazed how much had stuck with me (and how much I enjoyed it all over again). Shame about the films.
The book that I most wanted to write / draw.
Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell was maybe the first book that after reading it I really felt like “I want to make stuff like this.” It’s a children’s fantasy novel, the first in The Edge Chronicles which seem to have run on and on, though I only read the first three. It’s very heavily illustrated by Chris Riddell, which some might consider removing an element of imagination, but in this case I felt that it added a lot (and obviously being a comics guy, I generally don’t mind the whole pictures thing). The drawings are extremely technically impressive and full of detail. It’s a fairly straightforward journey/quest type story but it’s overflowing with ideas and distinct, memorable scenes. There’s a huge variety of cool, weird and frightening creatures and characters in it and the illustrations made them feel tangible.
The book feels important to me because it made me want to write and want to draw. Very soon after reading it I started plotting out a fantasy novel for the first time in my life. It obviously never went anywhere, but it was a big step.
The children’s book I read and re-read the most.
I would get Full Moon Soup and its sequel Full Moon Afloat by Alastair Graham out from the library over and over again. They’re wordless books, where each spread is a cross section (the first of a hotel, the second of a boat) full of characters and details and every time you turn the page the story has advanced slightly. So you could pick one character and follow them all the way through the book. Or pick one room and follow what occurs in it. You could even pick out one small object and it would have its own little adventure.
The main plot of them is that the full moon makes a bunch of weird stuff happen (the soup comes alive, there’s a werewolf on the loose etc) and havoc ensues, but there are all kinds of micro-stories that unfold. Honestly it still excites me just thinking about it. I loved the physicality of it. Even more so than a comic it feels like an animation playing out in slow motion and I enjoyed being able to ‘direct’ it in my head. I spent many frustrated years not being able to remember the name of them but miraculously my sister got me a copy for my birthday a couple of years back and I was very happy.
The book I read as a teenager that blew my mind.
I thought I was going to have to say Harry Potter, which would in some ways be true, but they never felt like a proper reading experience for me, as I didn’t get on board until I’d seen the first film. Reading His Dark Materials was more of a truly mind blowing experience and again, one that actually made me want to write. On top of all the great concepts and the atheist subtext, it’s just a world that I loved getting lost in. It felt as cosy as it did intimidating.
The imagery of Northern Lights in particular – the journey from Oxford to the arctic, the airships, the witches in the night sky, the weird mix of science and fantasy, all captured my imagination very strongly. I visited a hunting/expedition museum in the north of Norway on a family holiday and looking at all the old photos and equipment I realised I’d wandered into that world for real and it was very exciting.
I think about it a lot still and it was certainly a point of reference when coming up with the world in my Hilda comics (you’ll notice zeppelins dotted around the sky in the backgrounds, which are really nothing more than a reference to Northern Lights)
An old book that I discovered late in life and which had a profound effect.
Seems like it’s a popular answer, but I would have to say the Moomin books. I recalled the 90’s animated version very fondly, but I didn’t properly discover them until I was at university and since then they’ve had a huge effect on my work, both writing and drawing. Tove Jansson is and I’m sure will continue to be a hugely important figure to me. I can’t really think of anyone better to aspire towards. She mastered prose, illustration and comics and there’s a kindness and incredible thoughtfulness that comes through everything she did. I often wished I’d discovered them sooner and had them growing up, but looking through some old school books (because I seem to bestow sentimental value on everything) I found a review I’d written of Moominsummer Madness in primary school, with little drawings of the characters at the bottom, so apparently I wasn’t totally without them.
One of my own books.
Hilda and The Midnight Giant. It’s not the best drawn book (in fact it’s probably the weirdest looking one) and there are a lot of visible growing pains in it, but it represented a big step forward for me. Hildafolk/Hilda and The Troll, was very slight and incidental and with this one I was striving for something bigger, which has set the pace for the following books.
It’s also the most thematically cohesive and probably still the most satisfying story I’ve managed to write. I feel proud of it in a way I don’t quite feel about the others. I just sort of wish it could have come later so I could have made a bit of a better job of aspects of it.
Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson is published by Flying Eye Books.