October 10, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #44: Antje Damm

Author-illustrator Antje Damm has created over twenty-five books in German, and though she ventured into English books about fifteen years ago with Ask Me, I'm excited to say that her latest English book Waiting for Goliath marks the beginning of a much stronger and prolific foray into the English market. She was such a thoughtful person to interview, and I hope you enjoy our conversation.

About the book:
Bear has been sitting and waiting since dawn. "I'm waiting for Goliath. He's my best friend." At last the bus pulls up, but no one gets out. "He'll definitely show up. You'll see!" The robins fly south and the first snow falls. When Bear wakes from a long sleep, he hears a noise like a hand sliding slowly across paper. Goliath is coming!

But Goliath's identity is a big surprise.

Let's talk Antje Damm!

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about how the main character in Waiting for Goliath evolved? Did you always see him as a bear? As you got to know him better, how did your illustrations of him change? 

AD: Since the beginning of developing this book, I was convinced, that it must be a bear waiting for Goliath, because a bear seems so patient and faithful. The bear should be the epitome of a good friend, and he was in my head from the beginning. So I didn’t actually have to develop him, really, and I always thought of having a big difference between the two friends. So when you discover who Goliath is, you will be really surprised. 

Bear has so much confidence and obstinacy in this strange friendship, and he has all the time in the world. He doesn't hurry. This is a characteristic that I love very much. Waiting and experiencing boredom is so often considered arduous and negative. We want to be punctual and managing time is so important. But Bear is the opposite of this; the year passes, winter is coming, but he is imperturbable. 

LTPB: Can you describe your process for creating your diorama illustrations? For Waiting for Goliath, how did you make each spread feel like part of a singular same world?

AD: It was very easy to change the spreads. I worked with only one model and changed it for every picture, such as sticking on/adding leaves, letting flour rain, and I additionally tried to work a lot with the light. I am not a very good photographer, and this was my main problem while creating this book. Really, I want to learn it, and I hope that I will improve.

LTPB: How do you come up with new story ideas? What is your inspiration?

All my books are very different. I don't have a specific style, and I always try to discover new ways to make children’s books. But one issue is very important for me, and that’s philosophizing with children. I think we can (and ought to) confront them with the big questions of the world: our relationships, death, happiness, and life. I also made various books with questions to talk about different philosophic "themes" with children, like "time", "nothing" or "lies and truth." Right now I'm working on a book about nature. What is nature, why do we need it, is it always positive, would it be nice to live in the wilderness, could trees fall in love with each other, how does winter know when to come…? I have collected so many wonderful and amazing questions and present them with many illustrations and photographs to start a conversation.

My first very important and successful book was Frag mich! ("Ask Me!"), which was translated into many different languages. It is a book with many different questions to discuss with each other.

LTPB: How does your background as an architect influence your children’s book illustrations? How did you first get into children’s books?

AD: I think creating a vision for a house is similar to creating a book. You must develop a concept, and you have to decide for whom and why you want to make something. I already liked drawing, and studying architecture was exploring shapes artistically. When I had my daughters (I have 4), I decided to work less, and I started to make little picture books for them. Coincidentally, a woman working in a famous German publishing house saw my works and encouraged me to send it to publishing houses I liked. This was 17 years ago and the beginning of my new work. I loved to work as an architect, but it is very hard with little children, and making children’s books is more flexible. And I love this work. In my opinion sometimes you must make a detour to reach your aim…

LTPB: What are you working on now? Any chance we’re going to see Der Besuch published in English soon??

Der Besuch ("The Visitor") will be published next by Gecko Press. I am very happy about that, because it is a great publishing house. Der Besuch was actually my first book using the technique of building a model and taking photos of it. I was interviewed about it in March 2015.

LTPB: Last question: if you could have one illustrator, dead or alive, illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

AD: I adore Lilo Fromm, a German illustrator. She illustrated many books in the 70s that I grew up with. The book Karlines Ente has had such an impression on me that, as a child, I tried to draw like her. You can discover so many details in her drawings and her work is really timeless and wonderful.

Thank you so, so much to Antje for taking time to answer questions and share her process, and a huge shout out to Antje's agent Anja Mundt for translating Antje's answers! Waiting for Goliath published from Gecko Press in August!

Special thanks to Antje and Gecko Press for use of these images!

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