April 23, 2012

The Fireboy

Coincidentally with the talk about my work I am giving in the León bookfair, entitled "How to satisfy your inner child", I decided to put as free download an unpublished book of mine: "The Fireboy".

Originally, "The Fireboy" was a mini illutrated book in accordion inside a matchbox. I made it for my first visit to the Bologna children´s book-fair in 2006. There were a total of 70 copies that I rapidly give away and from which I only kept one.

After all this years I kept finding the story and concept of this little book particularly pertinent. Possibly the fact that I came with the concept, illustrated and produced it in barely a week helped. I still found it a pity that an idea I was still proud of had its place in such a limited production.

From the year I came second in the "Lazarillo" picture book prize I have kept participating stubbornly. Last year I decided to remake "The Fireboy" in the shape of a picture book to enter the contest yet another time.

The book itself speaks about misbehaved boys. The original idea came because from its shape. I feel very attracted by books-objects and making one inside of a matchbox seemed easy and accessible. The title came instantly, it sounded right and was suggestive. I decided that the ideal would be that the illustrations themselves were painted in fire.

In the original little book only the background were made by burning paper, but in the "remake" I decided to take this logic to its extreme. The illustrations were done using a welding torch on a 300g watercolour paper. I cut out aluminium stencils to limit the forms. In practice it was a very similar process to airbrush painting, with the difference that heat goes up and that the paper keeps darkening for a little while after you stopped burning it, so you have to anticipate to the effect as it´s easy to burn too much and end up with an ugly black spot in the middle of the illustration. Added to this, some details were drawn in burnt milk. It´s a trick I learned back as a kid. You can paint or write with milk on a white paper and the result becomes invisible, but it reappears if you apply a flame to it. Milk also has an obvious link to childhood so it seemed like a very appropriate addition. The silhouette of the boy is made in chalk. All illustrations in the book combine these three techniques. Given the fact that the burning technique and the chalk don´t allow for a very precise work the original illustrations were made in two times their printing size.

One idea I renounced to was to make a typography out of pieces of burnt matches. I made some tests and, though the result was good, I concluded that the process would take me forever and said no to the idea.

The book uses a very simple structure. The enumeration, a classic fairy tale resource, creates a "crescendo" in tension and intrigue towards an unexpected ending. Visually, the rounded framing emphasize the fantastic side of the tale and the constant zoom in reflects this growing tension. To complete the clean graphical style of the illustrations, the cover, inner cover and back cover use very simple symbolic images easy to recognize. The inner cover, which shows a fingerprint surrounded by a halo of burnt paper, concentrates this idea of a boy who burns everything he touches. To push this idea even further the page before has a hole like the it was burnt through it. The book is bound in orange fabric to match the warm colours of the illustrations and the endpapers are orange laid-paper.

I don´t feel particularly proud of the text but I think it works. Writing in verse is not pleasurable for me and it´s not something I take very seriously. If anything, it´s more of a pressure as it´s were more obviously one can give away how bad of a writer he is. But it was hard to imagine the book in any other way, in my head, the book had to have the rhythm of a childish song, I think it adds to its coherence and that without it there would be no chance for the humoristic part of the book to exist. Curiously, the original text I wrote for the miniature book was in English, as the goal was for it to be distributed in an international book-fair. For some reason it seemed easier to write in English than in Spanish. Maybe because I associate it with the works of Edward Gorey...

The first version of the book I bound (the one I entered the Lazarillo contest), had a 20x20cm shape. I gave it the standard picture book format in an attempt to put it inside that category. Later I realised my mistake: I was trying to impose a conventional format to an unconventional book. It felt forced, the illustrations and the overall design of the book were unable to populate a format that big. I did what the book was crying for: I made it small. It´s a great example of how the decision of the format can affect the book. In the simpleness and discretion of its new shape the book showed its best qualities.

The book is still unpublished as I barely showed it to anybody. In fact, the León book-fair will provide its first true audience and will give me an idea of how much does it appeal. I personally see it as a humoristic book, although some people tend to see the final twist as melancholic, which does n´t bother me at all. While it does have this comical facet I must admit that it might be a little bit adult in its humour, although I don´t like to underestimate the understanding capacities of a child. There´s only one way to find out and it might be that the León book-fair will serve to that purpose.

I am not satisfied with every illustration in the book, but the process was so tiring and I had to do so many tests and repeat so many of the illustrations that I had to content myself with what I had achieved, more so if I wanted to be in time for the contest. As an object, it´s a book that I really like, though I doubt I´ll find a publisher ready to print it exactly the way I designed it.

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