We are thrilled to share a behind the scenes look at the making of The Greatest Magician in the World illustrated by Garry Parsons written by Matt Edmondson and published by Macmillan Children's Books.
In this fabulous book, we follow Elliot on his quest to find the greatest magician in the world and join him as he encounters an enchanting cast of magicians. Garry's illustrations perfectly compliment Matt's witty storytelling; the book is filled with curiosities and quirks from the magical world as well as seven amazing magic tricks for the reader to learn. We spoke to Garry about his working process, his research into the world of magic and his exciting visit to the mysterious magic circle.
Can you tell us how you created the characters?
Working out the characters for this book was like assembling a cast for a film or a play. The hero of the story, Elliot, was fairly easy as he has a resemblance to the author as a young boy, but the various magicians he encounters were more complicated. We wanted to keep them as varied and unique as the tricks they perform. Between them they span three generations, so I looked at magicians from all sorts of eras and genres including circus performers, mystics and mesmerists as well as the illusionists of today. Once I'd gathered all this reference it was a matter of piecing the characters together and arranging their surroundings to complement their nature.
We always look forward to receiving your sketches, and seeing how the book is developing. How did you go about designing the compositions?
At the start of the project the designer, editor and I all agreed that rather than placing the text on areas of white, we would incorporate the text within the scenes as much as possible. We initially scribbled out a vague plan of how we might do that and went from there. I drew thumbnail sketches for each spread, with a nod to where the blocks of text might sit and then developed them to full size roughs. Each magician has a strong character so that led the composition for each page they were featured on. The story allows for a lot of visual fun and we wanted to exploit that.
With the inclusion of magic tricks this isn't your standard picture book, how did it differ from others you have worked on?
Because the book is aimed at slightly older readers it gave us scope to be a little more adventurous with the elements we could include, which was great. As well as the tricks, the book has a sliding pull-up panel on spread one, decorated vignettes throughout and comic book style sequences, borders and digital graphics. My picture book work is almost exclusively hand painted using acrylics but some of the pull out elements, like the backs of the playing cards, I made digitally. It was great to combine all these styles and make them work together.
The pull-out tricks are a wonderful part of the book. Did you enjoy this additional element?
Definitely, yes! Each magician Elliot meets on his journey gives him a magic trick to master, which the reader can learn too. Each trick is housed in a neatly designed envelope or pocket, it was really exciting to have all these extra elements to illustrate. I worked closely with the designer to come up with ways to keep each magician's character running through the items needed for the tricks. So for example, Finn Ayre makes things disappear; his trick is contained in an envelope that pays homage to Magritte's "Empire of Light" painting, with the clouds taking on the forms of the things he'd mistakenly made disappear that day. Another character Hans Kuff is an escapologist, so we disguised his trick as a chained and padlocked casket.
Do you have a favourite spread in the book?
I'm particularly fond of the scene inside Cadabra's Magic Shop, which is filled with magicians doing their shopping and has shelves crammed with magical curiosities. At the start of the project I visited Ron MacMillan's International Magic Shop on Clerkenwell Road in London to get some inspiration. It's a wonderful place and the shop in the book is quite similar to the real shop.
To the non-magician the purpose of the equipment on sale is mostly unclear so I tried to keep the items on the shelves odd and mysterious too. However, I found myself being drawn to the more mystical things like phrenology heads and ouija boards. The text only describes the shop as small and busy so I had license to really ramp up the atmosphere, including the magicians and their peculiar stage costumes.
Did you enjoy working closely with the author, Matt?
Matt and the whole team at Macmillan were great to work with, the project was very fast paced, so we all had to work closely together and really pull things out of the hat, excuse the pun! Matt's enthusiasm for magic is infectious, the first time we met he wowed us all with a magic trick and continued to do so at each meeting after that. This culminated in a trip to the Magic Circle to record the 'How to...' footage, which accompanies the book. Visiting the Magic Circle was a real treat for me, even the sign on the front door gave me a shudder of excitement. Matt and I will be at the Bath Literary Festival this weekend performing tricks together and introducing people to our cast of magicians. I love doing events and live workshops, when you work on your own from your studio it is fantastic to connect with the audience.
What are you working on at the moment?
I've just completed a picture book with authors Adam & Charlotte Guillain for Egmont, which is due for publication next year. This book is set in Fairyland with unicorns and flying cake, which was a fun and challenging departure from dinosaurs and dragons into pink and glitter. But right this minute, I'm immersed in the world of Dino Poop as I'm working on the fifth book in the series. I'm also enjoying drawing the roughs for another Dragonsitter title by author Josh Lacey, which incredibly, and unashamedly, will be the ninth in the series. I'm thrilled to be working on these books as they get better and better.
See more of Gary's work here