Maureen Garvie, The Whig-Standard Magazine, 4/2/89
THE CREATORS OF children's books in Canada tend to be a fairly versatile group. Writers (like Margaret Atwood) may illustrate their own books. Illustrators often write their own texts, then turn around and illustrate a book for someone else. Some writers and illustrators (like Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko) form long-term relationships working together on book after book. Others are changeable if not downright promiscuous in their publishing relationships, switching partners every time out.
Tim Wynne-Jones and Ian Wallace have separately written and illustrated about a dozen kids' books. This past year they worked together for the first time on Architect of the Moon, about a little boy named David Finebloom who leaves his home one evening to rebuild the moon and returns to a perfect five-minute egg at breakfast. It received fine notices and many expected it might get a Governor-General's nomination: it didn't, but that's just one among many surprising absences from this year's lists.
Mr. Wynne-Jones wrote the text and Mr. Wallace illustrated it. The story, the author says, "took four years or 25 minutes to write, depending on how you measure these things." He started to write a poem about a boy named David Finebloom who had a problem of fading away each afternoon, but it wasn't until four years later, when he came across the phrase "the Architect of the moon" in a letter of Oscar Wilde that the idea for the book suddenly took shape. Ian Wallace visited McArthur College for a day last autumn. a long day of reading to school children and talking to teachers. When I arrived for an interview he was still in the middle of an artist-in-community group, and they weren't finished with him yet. On the table beside him were copies of many of his titles from The Sandwich to Very First Last Time.
Ian Wallace says it takes him about a year to do a book; he can't do the drawings in less than nine or 10 months, which doesn't leave him a lot of time for developing new ideas. Chin Chiang and the Dragon, his first picture book, took much longer. "I can't believe now it took me six years," he marvels. He needs time to "get in under the skin of the characters" a phrase he repeats more than once. "Psychologically, emotionally and spiritually I can't get myself around more than one story a year. The emotional link doesn't come in the short term: there's an evolution. David Finebloom (the hero of Architect of the Moon) wasn't born overnight: he took almost a year, from June to March
Ian Wallace sees his own response to a story as something to be taken seriously: how the reader, editor or publisher will react comes later. For Very Last First Time, he says, he researched the story for three months before actually sitting down to draw. Close examination of the pictures in it shows "the way that Eva would perceive those spirits, like an eastern arctic artist, very different from the way a western arctic artist would." So there are images of Eva's reality hidden in the ice formations.
In Architect of the Moon he used a new technique. Just as watercolor was right for Very Last First Time, so Architect needed its own medium. Doing the same thing over again is death to creativity, Mr. Wallace says. "I prefer to take a risk."
He points out the various influences on the book: Kreighoff, Cullen, a particular J.E.H. MacDonald scene, a Lawren Harris sky on the closing page. "I wanted the effect of stained glass ... I used pastel pencils on colored paper. I bought reams of colors and kept trying until I got the effect that I wanted I found a beautiful grey. You'll notice a texture to the paper, a horizontal line, spaces between the pigment of the pastel." He wanted each illustration "to shimmer, to look as if it was lit by an inner glow ... Initially the illustrations are contained within a framework, until David blasts off. Then the inside of the house becomes synonymous with the outside."
While he is speaking a woman in the front row studies the drawings. She raises her hand. "Why does it say September 24th on the calendar at night before David leaves, and October 3rd when he and his mother are having breakfast, she asks.
"Ah, a perceptive reader," beams Mr. Wallace.
"But he was only gone overnight, wasn't he?"
Apparently not. "In 1954, the moon went from a new moon to a full moon between September 24th and October 5th," the artist explains. In the book David Finebloom rebuilds the disintegrating moon out of blocks over that same period. As we mill about looking at the books and original watercolors a young man in a Queen's jacket scrutinizes Architect of the Moon. "Why 1954?" he wonders. "Maybe it was when Wallace was born?" Mr. Wallace is 38, born in 1950. In 1954 he would have been four, just about David Finebloom's age, surely. But it's Tim Wynne-Jones's text: who's the four-year-old Wallace or Wynne-Jones? Ian Wallace finally admits that he was drawing himself, in the house where he grew up in Niagara Falls. "I was skinnier than that," he says, but basically it's him. Which brings up the question of where does the writer leave off and the illustrator begin?
"It's a collaboration," he says. "We began with pencil drawings of the story. Then I was free to finish them off."
In fact, it's never quite that simple. "Ian is very diplomatic," Tim Wynne-Jones allows in a telephone interview, "I love the part where he uses his own house, his own background ... but we reached consensus after a struggle. Ian took a lot from me at one point and rose above it. It's like a modern marriage or the dream of a modern marriage. Sometimes it works easily, and sometimes it doesn't. But would you want a marriage where you totally controlled the other person's creativity and imagination? Its always a give-and-take situation, and the dynamics are different in every case," he says. "A lot of times writers aren't included in the process at all. But I've done all my children's publishing with Groundwood, and I used to be an art director and designer, and I have been involved."
The American rights to the book have been sold, he says. The American edition title will be Builder of the Moon because the Americans feel that architect is too difficult a word for kids.
Ian Wallace is now working on his ninth book, The Name of the Tree, written by Celia Lottridge. Although he doesn't discuss exactly how he's decided to do it, it certainly will be as different from the last one as it is from the one before it. Tim Wynne-Jones has a new children's book coming out this year as well. The Hour of the Frog, to be published by Groundwood, will be illustrated by Catherine O'Neill.
Copyright © Ian Wallace