HE is one of Scotland’s leading illustrators but Ross Collins still has to frequently fight his corner for a prominent credit on the books he illustrates.
One the back of the current Pictures Mean Business campaign, Collins has told The National of the continuing frustration at having to ask for proper recognition on book titles.
The campaign was launched earlier this year to give illustrators equal prominence to writers and is supported by bestselling authors including Malorie Blackman and Joanne Harris.
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Illustrator and writer Sarah McIntyre began the push for greater recognition after noticing that The Bookseller’s sales charts only listed the author even for picture books like Superworm, a co-production between Gruffalo writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.
Omissions like this make it harder for illustrators to become known and gives the impression the drawings are an afterthought when they can actually make or break a book.
AS a result of the campaign, The Bookseller now includes the names of illustrators in its sales and the Carnegie Medal website has started to list both contributors but there is still progress to be made, according to Collins.
He has established himself as one of the UK’s leading illustrators of picture books for children after gaining a first from Glasgow School of Art and winning the MacMillan Children’s Book Prize for his acclaimed debut The Sea Hole.
He has gone on to illustrate more than 100 books and has won many prestigious awards, including The Royal Mail Book Award and three Scottish Children’s Book Awards. His book The Elephantom was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal and was adapted as a play by London’s Royal National Theatre. Collins has also worked for Walt Disney, Axis Animation and Laika Animation Company on animation character development for films.
DESPITE his reputation, Collins often finds his name excluded from the front covers of young fiction books.
“There is usually a great quantity of illustrations in the book because of the need to bridge the gap between picture books and young-reader books so they do serve a very important function,” he pointed out.
“Sometimes you find that your name is not going to be on the front of the book even though you have contributed a massive amount and have had a longer career than the author.
“I am often told there is not enough room for my name on the front but there is enough room for everything else. However, I am belligerent enough that when I make a stand on this issue I usually win.”
When it comes to picture books, the author is always credited first no matter how famous the illustrator and the fact the pictures are arguably the most important part of the book.
“There is a disparity there but if we acknowledge that we might have to have an argument about who is the most famous contributor on every book published. It would be like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman on who gets the first credit on Towering Inferno and would be petty and tiresome. It is maybe better that the standard is there to follow.”
FRUSTRATIONS aside, Collins feels lucky to be able to make a living from his art when it is so difficult for artists in any field to find enough paid work.
“There are lots of challenges with the main one being how to put across your story as concisely as possible but for it still to be exciting, fun and fresh. It’s not easy. I am very precise about what I do, so I work out exactly how I want everything to look. Once that is done I have to revise it and breathe life into it to make it as energetic as possible. Making it fresh rather than staid and set is very difficult.”
While it can be tough, Collins loves his work and finds it tricky to pick out his favourite books.
“It’s very hard to nail one down but two books I really loved were Dear Vampa which allowed me to run riot with my Gothic sensibilities and I don’t get to do that very often. It’s about a vampire family who find their new human neighbours very strange.
“The other is Medusa Jones about the young Medusa growing up living a normal life apart from the fact she is a Gorgon. It is the longest book I have ever written and I became very attached to the character so that was a pleasure.”
COLLINS has also enjoyed working on his most recent picture book, There’s a Bear in My Chair, about a large, smug polar bear sitting on an angry mouse’s chair.
“It will not get off no matter what happens which sends the mouse slowly insane. It is a one-rhyme book and I love it for its simplicity,” said Collins.
The other book he has worked on recently is The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, a young fiction book about a little girl kidnapped into a future populated by animal pirates.
“It is just about the funniest book I have ever worked on,” Collins said.
In the New Year, he will embark on the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by Scottish Book Trust and sponsored by Scottish Friendly Assurance. The tour visits both primary and secondary schools and has reached over 70,000 children since it began in 1998.
Collins will be sharing his top tips for illustration with more than 900 pupils in Nottinghamshire in January.