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  • Johanna Gousset

Xessus I – The Magistrate’s Son

As some of you might already know I am currently working with Mike Thexton to illustrate his series of books: Xessus. The first book, “The Magistrate’s Son” was published this January 2017. In this article I will tell you a little bit more about how I got the job, the creative process and the ups and downs (well...mostly the ups really) of working with a writer.

While in my second year at Middlesex University I received an email from my tutor telling her students about a competition organised to find an illustrator to illustrate a full book, the Lanista Partners Competition. I was quite ahead in my university projects so I decided to have a look. Most of the book was already on the competition website so I printed all of it, to the great dismay of my university printer. Reading it then was fast as I have always loved reading and I quickly grew quite fond of the various characters.

I submitted three illustrations for the competition. A few weeks later I received an email from Mike Thexton telling me that I had won the second prize for the illustration competition and asked me to pitch for the book. He also asked me if we could meet so he could give me the prize in person. To that my tutor, my boyfriend and my mother all teamed up to warn me against old creepy men looking for young pretty girls. I went however, and Mike was revealed to be a perfect gentleman with wife and children. Pleased with our meeting and with my ideas about the book Mike finally picked me to illustrate his book. I was super happy and excited! My first professional illustrator’s job! And then I remembered that the book was 42 chapters long and that I had agreed to do two illustrations per chapter and a full-coloured cover... Keeping in mind that I was a full-time student!

But it all went well in the end. I did the work during my summer holidays, working on my mother’s kitchen table, in the South of France. This allowed me to balance my work with swims in the Mediterranean Sea and horse rides in the Pyrenees. I think it is definitely important to do other things to clear your mind when you’re working on one big full-time project. It will help you work more efficiently and not stay stuck on one problem. Luckily I worked in collaboration with the brilliant designer Luisa Hiromi who took care of the design of the book which included typography, layout, dealing with the printer, etc. She is very professional and her “designer vision” was definitely a plus in our team.

For Mike working with an illustrator was a first so it wasn’t less challenging for him! It was funny to see how differently our minds work. As an illustrator I think everything in images but Mike, as a writer, thinks in words. One day he asked me if I could “take off” the cape that one of the characters was wearing. I answered that yes, I could “take off” the cape but that the back of the character wasn’t going to magically appear behind it. It would mean redoing the entire image, which would have been fine of course. We, illustrators, are quite likely to have to deal with annoying commissioners who are making us redo the illustrations multiple times. *wink* I was already sighing and preparing a new blank sheet of paper when Mike said: “Oh right! I hadn’t thought about that! That’s okay. I will change the text instead.” To my great amusement this answer came up multiple times. The last time only a couple of weeks ago when Mike discovered that I love drawing horses. There are no horses so far in the story but he said that he was going to try including more of them in the following books! It’s very rare for an author and an illustrator to work directly together like this. Usually the publisher gets in the way and doesn’t let the author have a say about the illustrations. Our publisher, Neil, is admittedly “evil”, as he calls himself, but he does not interfere in our way of working.

After three months of work and a full box of graphite pencils used the book was ready to be printed! After some proof tests and little bits of reworking the book was officially published on the 31st of December 2016. Two very successful book launches followed and I am now getting ready to start illustrating the second volume of the Xessus series which is planned to be published at the end of this year...


#book #publishing #edition #illustration #illustrator #mikethexton #johannagousset #themagistratesson #xessus #art #luisahiromi

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