The last of Roald books, illustrated in his life Esio Trot and The Minpins. I worked on the first, while the other was on behalf of Patrick Benson. Benson is an artist I know and admire; his book was a large format and in color, and he made something beautiful, the dramatic and detailed views of fire and smoke and the forest and clouds.
Early in the year 2015, 25 years later, my publisher, Penguin Random House, addressed to me with regard to a possible reillustration of the book. This was not because of dissatisfaction with the existing work, but because the penguin had, over time, become aware of the fact that there was no way that could appear in the existing version, except in the original format, the scaling and the Details of the images, which would not allow it. The publishers realized that a book that could sit alongside the other Dahl titles, in paperback and in pockets stuffed be needed. Would I do this?
I was reassured to know that the original version kept to be in pressure. Although my text was identical, it would be Billy and the Minpins be called, that was the subtitle appears, Roald’s handwriting on the original manuscript. The new book, small format, would be about 120 pages; the words would run on almost 60 pages, so that almost half of the area available for illustration.
“The Minpins, a further wage be described as eccentric headgear – the end of possibility.’ © Quentin Blake, 2017
I said, “the new book”, and to me, it seemed very much like a new book. Forty years after I first read the manuscript, The Enormous crocodile, I was a story that felt exciting, that I really know. Now words and pictures ran together, very closely, hand-in-hand. The text was divided into chapters; I was allowed to invent the title but even more interesting is that it meant I had to cut and the text (in the old-fashioned way) and make a complete layout of the book: Billy’s increasing panic, for example, as he followed the terrifying Gruncher – the order of the expressions on his face and the amount of smoke is followed over several pages.
The accompanying revelation for me was that Billy not every little boy in a scary situation, and was more of a Person, another of the company of Roald Dahl, the young hero and heroines. I wanted him to look, distinctive and distinguishable from the other, and I still have the sketch book in which I began to imagine what he looked like – a rather small, slim and agile. The Stand-up hair, so I hoped, would suggest something of the vitality and rebelliousness in his nature.
As soon as the Swan appears, the mood changes dramatically, and Billy finds himself in a series of extraordinary experiences … ‘ © Quentin Blake, 2017
And then I was able to get very close to the Minpins. Dahl mentioned that these old-fashioned costumes in brown and black, two -, or three-hundred years ago, and I suppose my Minpins are confused in a kind of 17th-century clothing. They are also described, such as with eccentric headgear – a more rewarding possibility. And it is known as present in a thousand: this is more of a writer than an illustrator. I hope I can be forgiven, in the pictures for you, only numerous. What I most wanted was to be in the close-ups show the diversity of shapes and sizes, and work in as many possible permutations as I can with the pen could think of.
My feeling, as I neared the end of my work on the drawings was that there is something very special about the book, almost in any way carefree. Billy’s carelessness contributes to the threat of the Gruncher not personally, and there is no threat of an individual. And then, as soon as the Swan appears, the mood changes dramatically, and Billy finds himself in a series of extraordinary experiences that fly in the clouds, through the night and in the bowels of the earth. Dahl is a storyteller, not a poet, but he was also a flyer, and what we have here is an expression of his own poetic vision.
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