An A to Z of Monsters and Magical Beings – book review

Illustrated by Rob Hodgson and written by Aidan Onn

Lawrence King Publishing ISBN: 9781786270535

Review by Rachel Morris

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This is a richly illustrated, alphabetical meander through a selection of fabulous monsters.

The text is highly amusing and the illustrations strike a brilliant balance between the boldness of the shapes and the detailed elements. Each featured monster gets its very own double page, so you can get fully absorbed by the Eloko without being distracted by a Far darrig.

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With excellent facts on each spread, such as how to rid yourself of a tricky Hobgoblin, there’s something for readers of all ages. It would be a brilliant way to help a child to rationalise and embrace a fear of Monsters, after all, it’s fun to scare yourself silly, isn’t it? This sumptuous book is also a great introduction to the ancient tradition of myths and legends.

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I caught up with illustrator Rob Hodgson and asked him a few questions about the process of creating this monster feast of a book.

Rob Hodgson: I try to have a personal thing I want to try with each book project. Like, I think it’s cool to use a book as a vehicle to try out an idea you’re into at the time. With this one it was wood block prints. I knew there wasn’t time to do the whole book like that, so I wanted to make some wood cut elements that would repeat throughout in different ways.

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Also I knew I wouldn’t be as experimental if I was buying expensive hardwood to use, so I pulled a load of old wood out of skips to use. I like using pre existing stuff like that. You get all the weird effects from dents and scuffs. My girlfriend always makes fun that I steal stuff to use like a magpie.

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Apart from that, my process for this one went something like this:

- have list of monsters (above)

- write down as many initial reference points that come to mind e.g. Ray Harryhausen for the Cyclops

- sketch the monsters

- research the monsters

- sketch the monsters again

- design each page

- lay pages out in order

- design each page again

- get pages approved

- do the artwork

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When you started working on the A to Z of Monsters and Magical Beings, how tight was the brief?

RH: I seem to remember having maybe 2 months to do this one. Which sounds quite tight now, but I devoted the whole 2 months to it. There were a few weeks of development, a few weeks of generating materials I was going to use, and then a solid month of doing the art. It sounds tight, but I had the whole vibe of it in mind, so it was a project I just did beginning to end with no faffing around.

Did you work closely with Aidan Onn?

RH: I only met Aidan maybe a year after the art was finished! He’s a really nice dude, but our paths didn’t cross on this project. I didn’t even have his text to reference, only the name of the monsters! I really love what he’s done with the text though, he really struck a good tone. We worked on something again recently.

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And on a similar note, how involved in the book design process did you get on this one? Choice of paper and finishes…things like that.

RH: I was involved in the design of the pages, in so much as where the text was going to go. But the paper, dimensions etc were all planned out before. I was sent a blank book for reference, which was nice and doesn’t always happen. It’s always good to illustrate knowing the finish of the paper. This has really absorbent paper which is way more forgiving than glossy paper, so where there are lots of different mediums and colours clashing together, they get a softer home here. Kind of like using analog recording equipment in music, if that doesn’t sound too stupid.

The colours you use really sing out! How do you arrive at the palette you use? Is it a case of using your instinct, or is it ever more scientific than that?

RH: I can’t say anything too interesting about that. Colour has always been a mystery to me, it’s just a feeling to put different colours together. I think maybe it comes from looking and observing a lot? Who knows, I’ve never sat down and deconstructed it, like I have with other parts of my process.

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And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

RH: I’m working on a new kids book I’m writing about some foxes. It’s a follow up to The Cave which came out earlier this year. This one won’t be out till 2019 though – isn’t that a crazy thought? Got a few other kid book stuff in the works and I’m trying to finish a more adult book of short stories about the internet. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with that yet.

So, lots to look forward to for! Meanwhile An A to Z of Monsters and Magical Beings is out on 7th August.

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