Return to Neverland

panfinBack in 2006 I received a call from Molly Dallas, then Art Director of OUP children’s books. She had an interesting and important job for me, but I had only ten days to complete it. Brian Froud had been involved in painting the cover, but there had been a bit of a falling out and he left the project. At the time I was in possession of fully functioning eyeballs and could work quite long hours if required, so I said yes to the mission. Brian’s original cover hangs in my friend’s (Todd and Carol) house, a stone’s throw from where I’m typing this, guarded round the clock by a Pointer dog. Brian had used their son as a model, hence its current location. You can Google it to get a better look…

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Todd and Carol had met the Frouds when working on Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and their house is filled with props and art related to the film, along with various eminent local mythic artist’s work, even my own (here I am painting a massive tree mural in their kitchen).

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The job involved the first official sequel to JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, written by Geraldine McCaughrean. Barrie had bequeathed the ownership of his work to Great Ormond Street Hospital in the 1920’s; due to some terribly complicated rights issues that are too tedious to go into here, the Hospital decided to commission a follow-up story.

I seem to remember the cover being completed very quickly; here’s the only rough I can find in the archive. The title had already been designed by master typographer Stephen Law, which proved very helpful to me in deciding the basic layout. As a homage to Brian I was keen to get a multitudinous swoosh of Fairies in there, though in the final art they lost their rainbow colours.

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As well as the cover, a number of chapter heading illustrations were required. To save time I thought it would be nice to make silhouettes, reflecting the illustrations of Rackham and Co. that were prevalent around Barrie’s time. Unfortunately, having little experience with pure silhouettes before, I completely underestimated how difficult they would be to produce. I tend to rely on exciting angles and perspective to add drama to my illustrations, and suddenly those tricks are rendered null and void in the flat-lands of the shadow image.

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Anyway, the job was completed in time and the book launched in a spectacular, celebrity packed event at Kensington Palace in October 2006. Shortly after that I was commissioned to illustrate the original Peter Pan novel in a similar style, and then Geraldine adapted her story for a picture book version, published in 2008…

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Since then, the images (both fully painted and silhouetted) have been used in a staggering amount of merchandise licensed by Great Ormond Street, including jigsaws, chinaware, Christmas decorations and now some of the silhouettes have been re-imagined onto 50p coins… I had to do a bit of remedial work to fit the Royal Mint’s requirements, but the hard graft came in signing several hundred special presentation packs. It’s surprisingly difficult to keep sane whilst repeating a signature over and over.

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So thanks to Mr Froud for inadvertently opening a doorway to Neverland for me! Here he is a few weeks back sitting at the other end of the kitchen I mentioned earlier, with Todd and Carol (patting Tilly the Wonderdog, whose owner, Terri Windling is hidden behind Alan Lee).

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