A conversation with Erik Brooks
What made you decide to illustrate this book?
The early frustrations and subsequent revelations of Jason, the main character, appealed to me right away. I loved his personality and the idea of illustrating his transformation. Honestly enough, I can really struggle with drawing people. However, I also love it when I succeed. Finding those subtle expressions and gestures that ultimately show a story is very satisfying. This book felt just right for that kind of experience because it is so much about Jason’s emotional roller coaster and his ultimate triumph.
What are the differences between illustrating a purely fictional book and a book like this, with both fictional and non-fictional elements?
In either case, I strive to show the reader something extra about the story: setting details, dramatic actions, character expressions, etc. This main objective doesn’t change. With pure fiction, there is a wonderful expanse. Anything seems possible (when exploring the story) and there is endless opportunity to create your vision. With fictional and non-fictional elements involved, there is just a bit more grounding. Part of the story is true, and thusly everything feels held to a definable standard. Two visions are required and the challenge lies in helping the reader distinguish fact from fiction. With this particular story, contrasting events took on added importance. Historic events were illustrated in subtly different textures from those of the modern day.
What is your illustration process like?
Quiet and contemplative: Silent, expansive chaos. But, the main characters are always a good place to start. Early sketches emerge right away in the margins of the manuscript, and on pages of my sketchbooks. I tape up numerous favorites on the wall above my drawing table and consider…then I start to pick apart my favorite scenes and do rough thumbnail drawings. Louder and industrious: A more frantic and inspired chaos ensues when I inevitably get sucked into a certain gesture or facial expression more than I should. True industry begins with the production stage for final artwork. I get totally enraptured in this phase, and time, ink, charcoal, and colored pencils truly fly!