August 1, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #34: Mariachiara di Giorgio

Recently I read a book that I know will stick with me forever. I'm both ashamed and delighted to admit that when I picked up this book and read it (read the illustrations, that is -- it's a wordless book) I had no idea what was going to happen at the end. I was totally and completely swept up in the illustrations and the day-to-day activities of the protagonist's life that even the title of the book, Professional Crocodile, didn't tip me off about what I'd find at the end. And that's one-hundred percent because of the immaculately detailed world-building author Giovanna Zoboli and illustrator Mariachiara di Giorgio did for this book. Readers can't help but get swept up in this fantastic world, and it was such a pleasure to talk to Mariachiara about how Professional Crocodile came to be.

About the book:
Mr. Crocodile loves his job. Every morning he gets up with an alarm. He brushes his teeth. He chooses the right tie to match his outfit, eats a quick slice of toast, and heads off to work on a crowded train. But what exactly is his job? The answer may surprise you Readers will want to pore over this witty, wordless book again and again, finding new details and fresh stories with every reading.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.

Let's talk Mariachiara di Giorgio!

LTPB: Professional Crocodile is a slow story with a lot of world-building -- we wordlessly observe Crocodile as he travels from panel to panel and page to page, journeying to work for the day. And we get SO many points of view. How did you create the world we experience? What steps did you take to combine the lives of humans and anthropomorphic animals?

MdG: This book gave me a chance to portray daily life. I was happy about that. I'm lucky because I live in a neighborhood where you can feel you're part of the community. You can wave hello to people while walking down the street. The day starts, each person has their own life. Different points of view. The reader can either identify with the way the crocodile sees things, or with the kid at the traffic light gazing at a big reptile wearing a scarf and a Borsalino hat.

The reader can also -- not unlike many of those who commute to work -- choose to ignore details. For them, daily routine hides incredible things! That's why my book was going to be as realistic as I could make it. Take the image of the escalators in the subway station:

I drew a fairly typical setting, so that's where the reader will usually read fast, taking for granted those pieces of information he's getting from the image, and he will miss a cheetah in plain sight! So when I point that out to readers I enjoy seeing their gaze change entirely, becoming active, hunting for the story hidden in the picture.

I was inspired by my own life: there's my home, my streets, my stores. If I think back to what I read as a kid, Raymond Briggs' Santa Claus comes to mind; also, No Kiss for Mother, by Tomi Ungerer. They both depicted a daily life that felt like my own. They drew me in, too, which is what I tried to do with this book.

LTPB: How closely did you work on this book with Giovanna Zoboli, the author? What kind of text did she provide you with so you could translate it into a wordless image-driven story?

MdG: Giovanna had written the story years ago, though none of the artists that got involved ever got to actually work on it. So it landed on my lap. Though I've worked on simpler stories, this book didn't take much editing. I had a lot of the imagery already in me, and it worked well with that Giovanna had in mind. She invited me to freely edit it, but I never felt the need to, and I only added a bunch of narrative elements -- the granny in the subway with the grandchild reappearing at the end of the book and the dream sequence at the beginning. 

I took something I'd already drawn and Giovanna and Paolo liked it so then we decided that the cover was going to have to do with the dream (it's under the dust-jacket in the US version, which you can see here).

LTPB: How does your past as a storyboard artist and cartoonist influence creating a wordless picture book? How do you “repurpose” those skills for the sake of illustrating a children’s book?

MdG: Doing storyboards has helped me a lot. I also love movies that show cities. Take Truffaut or Woody Allen, where you see the protagonist wandering around the city, then we lose him in the crowd, then we zoom and find him again. Giovanna's story felt like it was made for a short film. 

Cinema's grammar came in handy at times -- the sense of rhythm, the cuts, the lighting. I was able to pick the shape of the book, and I made it horizontal. It felt more dynamic, with whole pages of cinemascope. 

LTPB: What are you working on now?

MdG: I'm working on a bunch of things. I hope that one of them, Matilda, for Portuguese publisher Bruàa Editora, will come out in the US too. 

LTPB: If you could choose anyone to illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

MdG: I'm thinking comic strips, namely Charles Schulz. I'm impatient like Lucy Van Pelt and my hair's a mess like Peppermint Patty's.

A million thanks to Mariachiara for taking time to provide many words about a wordless book! Professional Crocodile publishes TODAY from Chronicle Books!

Special thanks to Mariachiara and Chronicle Books for use of these images!

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