Behind the Book: Ben Mantle’s ‘Dinostars’

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On What Inspired the Story

Like many kids who grew up in the 80’s I loved my children’s TV.

Shows like Thundercats, He-man, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were personal favourites.My background is in animation, so I naturally lean towards projects that have a more filmic quality to them and so I decided I would create my own version.

I was idly doodling in my sketchbook when I started drawing a group of jungle animals in space suits. I liked the mix of animals and technology  – and that was where the idea was born. I played around with some names of my team of animals and created a quick poster image.

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That’s right ‘Astronimals’ was what I decided on. Don’t pretend you don’t like the way I merged ‘astronauts’ and ‘animals’… sometimes I amaze myself! 

On the process of developing Dinostars

I sent the poster to my editor Laura Roberts at Macmillan, who I had just worked with on my first two authored books (The Best Christmas Present Ever and The Best Birthday Present Ever), so I knew she is always up for developing ideas.

She replied saying she liked the idea, but suggested one little change…How about the jungle animals become dinosaurs! How could I possibly refuse, I mean who doesn’t like the idea of dinosaurs in space.

I began to sketch out the dinosaur characters:

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I knew that I wanted the dinosaurs to be instantly recognisable, so I went for the classics! Tyrannosaurus Rex would be the leader of course. And then there would be a Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and a erm…Parasaurolophus – well, one dinosaur that no one knows and is hard to pronounce would add to the educational angle of the book! It was also at this point that I decided they would not be in big space suits, but something a little less obscuring and more simple – sartorially speaking.

Because this was very much influenced by my love of cartoons, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the character traits and talents of each of the dinosaur and designed a vehicle for each one too. All I needed now was a story. I had my heroes, but no 80’s cartoon was complete without some pesky villains and where better to start than Pirates! Or Space Pirates to exact. And what would they steal? Well, planets of course!

On the Creative Process

It generally takes around 3 months to create the artwork from rough pencil thumbnails to fully rendered pages and I knew early on that I wanted the images to be painted. It’s a process I have used on last few books, and I really enjoy the act of painting and the added texture it adds to the final image. All the shapes are painted individually and scanned into my computer, where I then add the details. I spent quite a bit of time flicking paint onto paper to create custom brushes for the stars and general space dust.

On presenting the first of the Dinostars books to 50 excitable reception children…

Bright have really been behind Dinostars, and it has been great to have that support.

To launch ‘Dinostars and the Planet Plundering Pirates’ Bright invited 50 school children from High View Primary School to The Bright Emporium for a special book reading and craft event. They were really great and quite frankly their Dinosaur knowledge was better than mine!  (Read all about the Dinostars launch here!)

What’s next!

When the project began, there was always the idea that this would be a series of books, which really fits with the idea of the Dinostars travelling through space – on a journey of discovery. Whilst working on the first book I started to think about where the Dinostars might travel and who they will meet along their way. I got to work on the second book, pretty much as soon as the first was completed and it is now all done and dusted. I can’t really say much about it, as it isn’t out until September, but I can show you the front cover and tell you it will focus on Rolo, the Dinostars scientist…

Dinostars 2 cover

Ben Mantle is represented by Bright Group International

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