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An interview with Stéphane Jorisch, illustrator of Jabberwocky

Lewis Carroll's (1832-1898) Jabberwocky first appeared in Through the Looking Glass

Ages: 10 Up

Stéphane Jorisch Wins the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustration

Kids Can Press was thrilled to learn that Jabberwocky, the first book in the new Visions in Poetry series, had won the 2004 Governor General's Award in the category of Children's Literature - Illustration.

This is Jorisch's third Governor General's Award for Children's Literature - Illustration, and his first win in the English category.

The jury said of Jabberwocky, "A picture book for adolescents, this is a sophisticated, risk-taking interpretation of a classic poem. Stéphane Jorisch instills his art with a strange and terrible beauty in his arresting and often disturbing drawings."

Stephane JorischQ. What led you to choose Carroll's famous poem to illustrate?

A. The aspect of unseen danger and paranoia that I saw in "Jabberwocky" appealed to me. And before this, I had never illustrated poetry seriously. I also thought it would be a great challenge to illustrate a book for all ages, and it would allow me to interpret the poem with a little more complexity. So I was excited to be asked to participate in Kids Can's VISIONS IN POETRY series. Now that I have the beautiful printed copy in hand, it's a thrill and an honour to see my name alongside Lewis Carroll's on the spine.

Q. Picture books are usually thought of as a genre for younger children ~ this series is aimed at older children and adults. Why do you think this medium works for those audiences as well?

A. Adults are just as visual as children. In the Victorian period most illustrated books were oriented toward adults. It was a new way to introduce the public to visual images accompanied by text. I think the beginning of the twentieth century saw the birth of a specific children's genre in the picture book. Since then, we have simply classified picture books as children's books from habit, as the adult public shifted its interest to the movies.

Q. Your interpretation of "Jabberwocky" is certainly unique. Can you tell us about it, your ideas behind your vision and how it evolved?

A. The key element for me in "Jabberwocky" was the words "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!" This brought to mind the questions of family relations ~ the roles that are often expected of us and the difficulties and deceptions that can result. While I was researching Carroll, I learned that he came from a large family of eleven children. And after reading his biography, I realized that perhaps family pressures and relationships were reflected in his work and in the text for "Jabberwocky."

Another significant factor in my vision for this poem is what was happening in the world at the time. When I started this project the imminent war in the Middle East made me wonder about a question I had heard posed in the news: What if there was a war and nobody came? All the media hype about the danger that nobody seemed to confirm ~ weapons of mass destruction ~ had an impact on my interpretation of "Jabberwocky." What struck me was that tall tales and the manipulation of fear will eventually set people on a path that they will, however reluctantly, follow.

After reading the poem dozens of times the flow of the poem's words, more than their content, made the images appear. The book really started to come together for me once I figured out the ending ~ the final image of children poking a tiny dead Jabberwocky. The beginning and the end of the poem have the same bucolic and calm feel, but in the middle, almost like a bugle call, the intensity changes and the phrases that carry more "sense" appear. The characters in the visual narrative form I chose to take are the marginalized son, the frustrated and angry father, the good daughter, war-torn veterans, the ever-present media and, of course, a Jabberwocky of mass destruction that we only see completely at the end of the book.

Q. What do you hope readers will take away from your version of "Jabberwocky"?

A. For me, this interpretation of "Jabberwocky" is about society, government, the media, family relationships, our fears and how they can be manipulated, and how nonsense is sometimes spoken by those in authority. But I think it's up to the reader to make the parallels that concern or touch him or her.

Q. What inspires you to illustrate? Where do your ideas come from?

A. What interests me most are people and their environment. I love drawing people ~ big, small or weird ~ and creating the worlds they live in. In terms of illustrated books, weaving the images together to make each spread work with the previous spread is an inspiring challenge. When I worked on "Jabberwocky," I thought of it as a theatre play with each spread as a tableau.