Julie Hunt, the imagination behind KidGlovz

When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.

Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.

Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.

The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.

I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.

This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.

Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.

Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.

Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.

Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’

Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.

Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.

It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous  smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.

Review: Superman, Vol. 1 – Before Truth by Gene Luen Yang & John Romita Jr

Before TruthThe Superman titles have undergone a renaissance recently, sparked by the arrival of Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder on ACTION COMICS, and followed by Geoff Johns’ and John Romita Jr.’s brief stint on SUPERMAN. Now Gene Luen Yang steps up to the plate – the acclaimed writer of American Born Chinese – with Before Truth, the first volume in his run on SUPERMAN. And with Romita Jr. by his side, he’s redefining Clark Kent for the ‘New 52’ generation. Fans rejoice: we’ve finally got a Superman who’s emblematic of the character we know and love, who stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way; but also renewed and rejuvenated under this new stewardship.

Before Truth picks up where Johns’ The Men of Tomorrow arc ended. Superman has discovered a new power – a solar flare that obliterates everything in its radius, but leaves him powerless for up to 24 hours. Why introduce a new power into Superman’s mythology, you might ask? Well, this version of Superman is de-powered; he’s not quite the God-like being readers have become accustomed too, so the solar flare ability is effectively a ‘last resort’ option. When all else fails, when Superman has got to lay it all on the line, he ignites. This allows Yang and Romita Jr. the opportunity to showcase Clark Kent’s misapprehension of the human condition; a few sips of alcohol leave him inebriated, and he’s developed a newfound appreciation for food. These are small touches, but they add layers to a Clark Kent who has been fairly uninteresting since DC relaunched with the New 52.

Before Truth introduces the villain Hordr, who has learned Superman’s secret identity and threatens to expose him to the world unless he does precisely what’s demanded of him. Aided by Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, Superman deliberates between his desire to maintain a normal life as Clark Kent and refusal to bow down to the villain’s command. But ultimately, it might be a decision that’s taken out of his hands . . .

Gene Luen Yang and John Romita Jr.’s SUPERMAN is, simply, a rip-roaring superhero tale. They haven’t aspired to redefine Superman’s character or continuity; rather, they’re focused on telling a good story and implores readers to pick up the subsequent volume. There’s no doubt about that. Solid characterisation, rapid pacing, great Romita Jr. art – it’s all here. A Superman story for readers, old and new, to enjoy.

Buy the book here.

A Journey into Graphic Novels

secondsI consider myself a big nerd and comics seem to go hand in hand with the social status. I never really got into comics (or graphic novels) and when I did attempt I never knew where to start. There are millions of reboots and story arcs for the thousands of different superheroes out there but which ones are good and where do I start? It was Scott Pilgrim that started my journey into graphic novels and with Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds recent release, I thought now would be a perfect time to talk about the graphic novels I love.

As an easy way to distinguish between comics and graphic novels, I call single issues (30-40 pages) a comic and a graphic novel is the anthology that contains a full story arc (normally 4-5 single issues). What I find really interesting about a graphic novel is that it is simply a new way to tell a story. It is not always about the superhero, graphic novels can explore high concepts in a whole new way.Maus

Take the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Maus by Art Spiegelman. In this story we read about Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, it is biography of living and surviving Hitler’s Europe. The graphic novel not only addresses the holocaust and life in a war torn country it does it in a unique way. Exploring the reality and fears of surviving in a visual way, the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazi’s hunting them as cats.

persepolisThere is also the autobiographic story of Marjane Satrapi  in Persepolis, a coming of age story of a girl living in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. The whole concept of cultural change works really well in this graphical depiction. There is even an animated adaptation which is worth checking out (even if it is exactly the same). If you prefer a more quasi-autobiographical story maybe try Ghost World by Daniel Clowes or even something by Chris Ware like Jimmy Corrigan or Building Stories.

sex criminalsFinally, if you prefer your graphic novels to be about superheros or people coming to terms with their new found powers, I have some suggestions for you as well. Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction is the first story arc in this new Hawkeye series and explores a life of a superhero outside fighting crime and saving the world. Also by Matt Fraction, with the help of Chip Zdarsky is the weird and wonderfully dirty Sex Criminals. This is a story of a woman that discovers that time freezes after an orgasm and the shenanigans she can get up to with so much quiet time. This graphic novel will not be for everyone; if you want something very different that is full of dirty visual puns then I would recommend it.

I would love to recommend more comics but some of my suggestions are not yet released as a complete story arc yet. If you are interested in more graphic novel suggests let me know in the comments below. I hope this will give you some suggestions if you have never tried a graphic novel before. I’m also happy to take more recommendations in the comments below. Happy reading.

Review – Wonder Struck by Brian Selznick

When I first lifted this groaningly weighty tome, I cringed. Yes, the cover was mesmerising, as was the title – but my goodness me – did I really have three weeks to wade through this brick? No, I did not.

Just as I put the book to one side, I noticed the oddly-shaded page ends. Curiously, I opened the book right to a central page, and there I was – my feet swept away from underneath me and tumbling forward through the page, expedited into another time and place.

It was instant. I was struck.

Wonder Struck, by bestselling Caldecott-winning author Brian Selznick (of The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame) is quite an extraordinary book. Comprising arguably 70 or even 80 per cent illustrations, this graphic novel come picture book come fiction novel is a feat in creativity. Striking pencil-sketched images and text tell a parallel journey between a half-deaf boy of the 1970s (Ben) and a deaf girl from the 1920s (Rose).

Ben has just lost his mother, and is pining for the father he never knew. He is living with his aunt when one dark and stormy night, he returns to his mother’s house to find a book with a curious inscription inside. He also discovers a book mark that quite possibility holds the key to finding his father. When he phones the number on the book mark, a lightning rod strikes the house, rendering the boy unconscious – and profoundly deaf.

Waking up in hospital, Ben soon plans an escape to New York, where he’s determined to pursue the search for his father – and where he uncovers extraordinary family links at the American Museum of Natural History.

Rose is the daughter of a famed movie star. Her profound deafness means she is relatively house-bound, and hardly ever sees her mother. She, too, escapes her miserable life and ends up in New York where a man named Walter takes her under his wing. But who is Walter? And moreover – what ties Rose and Ben together? And how can a fifty year separation bring them together?

This beautiful tale, told in two parts – the text talks of Ben, the images talk of Rose – is a delicately-penned story with an emotional ferocity that stuns. The blending of carefully plotted threads, images and divine historical and faunal referencing is a joy. Adults will swim in the heady detail and emotional swirl, children will be wide-eyed at the imagery and mind-challenging twists.

Enriching, clever, astonishing, and possessing the power to wrap you up snugly until the last page is turned, this film-like book renders the iPad useless.

A must-read.

Wonder Struck is published by Scholastic Press.