Ben Mantle is a children’s author and illustrator from Brighton, England.
There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight is published 4th August, by Random House. Written by Penny Parker Klostermann, it’s a brilliantly humorous spin on the classic tale There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly…
Said the Mudwaffler… ‘A classic retold; fresh and fun, with a belly full of laughs!’
There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight is hilariously entertaining from the very first page. The end pages are fantastic! So brilliantly done. Ben captures the whole story in the tiniest of details in these pages. Sheer genius, made to look so simple. Below is the left half of the end pages from the front of the book (notice how it differs in style from the rest of the book – a real Fairytale feel to it, and another piece of wonderstuff from Ben). Here I’ve placed it next to the title page, just because I love the galloping pose of the knight and his steed. And we’re not even on the first page of the story yet!
The text begins in that familiar rhythmic way we’re used to, and yet it’s fresh and so much fun! ‘I don’t know why he swallowed the knight. It’s not polite!’ The dragon sits down for a rest, but the the knight’s steed is restless – it can’t stop galloping in laps around the dragon, which the dragon finds very, very annoying… and so down goes the steed, and on goes the dragon… he spies a squire to calm the steed (still clip-clopping inside the dragon’s belly!), and down goes the squire…
The dragon swoops across the Kingdom, swallowing all he sees, each designed to fit the previous swallow-ee, until eventually he can swallow no more.
Bloated, and pretty much unable to move, the dragon rethinks all that swallowing and decides to take action to remedy his bloated belly…
I was already a huge fan of Ben’s work having gawped at The Best Birthday Present Ever! for some hours. This book is getting the same treatment. I think this story is one that could be read quickly, because its basis is so familiar to us, but the extra little details Ben adds heightens the humor to a degree that it almost slows down the pace of the story and allows you to engage with it more fully – to really absorb everything the text doesn’t tell you. A prime example of this is on the first spread of the story; the text asks you to start on the right page, but if you start on the left you can see the trail of destruction the dragon has left in its previous knight meals. I love the scorched silhouette of the knight on the rock and the mustache still on the skull!
The illustrations are styled in Ben’s trademark look – there’s no over-crowding (again, as exampled above), but the page is brimming with things to look at. I particularly like the way Ben’s sky melts into the ground seamlessly without the need for a horizon or a distant feature to bridge that gap, and the textures he applies to the sky are wonderful.
The Mudwaffler Knight can’t get enough of Ben’s lovely illustrations!
Now, it’s WAFFLE time! Ben Mantle joins us for a Q&A…
What inspired the artwork in ‘There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight’?
As soon as I read the text I wanted to read it over and over. The rhyme is so great and has a wonderful flow. Because it is an update on the classic ‘There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly’, it has that classic feel to it, but Penny Klostermann has done such a great twist that is feels very modern at the same time. For every book I work on, I always start with the characters first and as I drew the Dragon, it became clear that I wanted to reflect the traditional aspect of the story and the setting. There was something about having the artwork painterly and light that contrasted with the slight darkness in the story. I mean the greedy Dragon is just going around and feasting on whoever/whatever he fancies.
What are you currently working on (any sneak peek news!?)?
I tend to work on a few projects at the same time. I like flitting between them as I like a variety of different styles. One of the projects I’m currently working on is an exciting new author-illustrated picture book series that I can’t really tell you much about. I can say that it is with Macmillan who published my first authored book ‘The Best Birthday Present Ever!’ which has just been awarded Mumsnet Rated Macmillan Book of the Month and that the second book in the series ‘The Best Christmas Present Ever! is coming out later in the year. I’m also working on a second book with Penny, which is a called ‘A cooked Up Fairy Tale’ that will be out spring 2017.
What is your favourite thing to draw?
Tricky one! I really like variety in what I draw, but if I had to pick, then it would be scenery/landscapes. You have so much scope with composition and lighting which I personally really enjoy.
Who (or what) are your influences?
I have a real respect for traditional, technically skilled artists. People like J W Turner and John Constable for example. My background is in Animation, so a lot of my influences come from that. Disney artists Mary Blair is so good with colours and mood and Gustaf Tenggren whose work on Pinocchio, I just adore. I would also put Raymond Briggs, Bill Watterson and Hayao Miyazaki in the list too.
Do you have any advice for illustrators/writers who are just starting out?
Find what you enjoy and work hard at it. It’s easy looking from the outside to underestimate or just not see the work involved in writing and illustrating. I don’t really subscribe to the idea that talent plays a big part in your success. It definitely helps, but you have to really want it and be willing to give up whatever is necessary. Oh, and don’t forget to be lucky. There’s definitely been some serendipity involved in my career that I can take no credit for at all. Maybe try to get pooed on by a bird or carry a rabbit’s foot with you at all times.
and three for fun…
What are three words that best describe you?
Haha, I just asked my studio mates what words they would choose and I really can’t write what they said. I however would go for:
Rule breaker – see what I did. 4 words! In your face rules…
What is your favourite colour?
Oh, this is changes quite regularly. Let’s go with burnt orange today, but I would give you a different answer tomorrow.
If you could share a cuppa with anyone (alive or dead), anywhere, who would it be and where would you go?
Just one person. OK…erm…I would go for Hayao Miyazaki. I love pretty much every Studio Ghibli film ever made. They are jam-packed full of creativity, imagination and superb story telling. But what I really love is the attention to detail, whether it be the beautiful backgrounds, charming music and or spot on animation. I would happily chat away with him all day, enjoying a cuppa whilst lazing on the back of Totoro or riding in the catbus. Perfect.
Many thanks to Ben!
Swamp Hugs! Till the next time…