We are truly privileged to be part of the blog tour of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer. Our conversation with Anne Timmons and Mo Oh is also perfect for Kidlit’s Interview Wednesday which is hosted this week by Tina Nichols Coury from Tales from a Rushmore Kid.
A warm welcome to you, Anne and Mo and congratulations on your Sydney Taylor Honor Award win in the older readers category for illustrating Lily Renee, Escape Artist! It’s been quite awhile since we’ve featured illustrators/artists in our site, so this is truly refreshing.
mo: Hello Myra! I’m so honored to have been able to take part in this project, and so proud to see the efforts of so many people be recognized. I feel a little nervous as I’m not certain how much I actually contributed to the book, being the inker. This was my first job working with a publisher as an inker, so the process was very new to me and, with everyone’s patience, I learned a lot along the way.
Could you share with us your experience doing the artwork for Lily Renee – what was the collaboration like between the both of you as artists of the book? I could see from the Anne’s website that she lives in Vancouver Washington while Mo lives in Massachusetts, how do you collaborate given your geographical differences?
mo: Due, in part, to the tight schedule, I don’t think I actually spoke with Anne during the project, though I did take a look at her website and was promptly intimidated with the breadth and quality of work she’s done. I received her pencils through the internet and inked them, then sent them back to the publisher to send to the colorist, similar to the process Lily Renee would have gone through when she was working in comics. It’s always nerve wracking to work on another person’s art, in this case, more so because I don’t know Anne – I hope she’s not too disappointed in my work! I had not worked with Trina before and the script was going through the last bit of revisions when I first received it, so we didn’t talk.
Anne: I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mo yet. Most of my collaborations over the past few years have been with people in other cities, states, and even countries, so I am used to using email, FTP, and the occassional phone call to iron out issues. Working with Lerner is especially nice, because the editors are very clear on their needs and very helpful in providing reference material.
How long have you been working with Trina Robbins who now currently lives in San Francisco? How would you describe your working relationship with her?
Anne: Trina and I have known each other for over a decade. Nearly all of our correspondence and communication is done by email. We have had the opportunity to see each other at conventions and Trina visits friends in the Portland area, too.
What were some of the thoughts that went through your mind when you learned about the theme of Lily Renee’s life story narrative which details her experience during the Holocaust as a teenager?
mo: I thought it was an amazing story – obviously as a holocaust survivor, and then as a successful woman cartoonist. It was inspiring. It’s a true happy-ending story that I felt needed to be told and happy that I was asked to be a part of it.
Anne: How frightened Lily must have been not knowing if she would ever see her parents again. I watched the documentary “Into the Arms of Strangers”. It helped get an idea of what these children went through when they were sent to England on the Kindertransport.
Could you share with our readers the research that you needed to do in order for you to render justice to Trina Robbins’ retelling of Lily’s life as the readers are taken to Vienna, England, then the United States between the 1930s-1950s thereabouts.
Anne: Trina sent me many pictures of the Kindertransport and the Kristalnicht. She’s also very familiar with clothes of the period and shared lots of reference on hair and furnishings. The web has lots of pictures as well but it was a trip to the library that really helped. Great pictures on everything and since I had never drawn a tank in my life, I was fortunate to find an entire book on just German tanks used during World War II!
mo: I was lucky enough to work with Carol and Robyn from Graphic Universe who provided a lot of reference photos. Also, I believe Lily herself provided a lot of photographs of the places she stayed, and the people in her story.
Any graphic novel depiction of the Holocaust would remind the reader of Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II as well as references to Raymond Briggs’ Ethel and Ernest (and Where the Wind Blows) – would you say that you are likewise influenced by these graphic novelists/artists? Who are your other influences in your work?
mo: Of course! Both books left deep emotional imprints when I read them. I think anything I read/experience inherently ends up affecting my work, so when I’m asked this question, it’s hard to name just a few and some times hard to say how exactly they influence me. For example, I read Brigg’s The Snowman as a child and had no idea who wrote and drew the book. It was only later, reading Ethel and Ernest and having such a strong reaction to his story telling and art that I looked up Briggs and realized who he was.
Anne: It was the documentary called ” Into the Arms of Strangers” that really helped me get a sense of what was happening to the children at this time.As for artists that have inspired my work personally, I would have to say, Kay Nielsen, Eyvind Earle, Kevin Nowlan and Tasha Tudor.
Please share with our readers what your creative process is like in doing your graphic novels/comic books. How long did it take for you to complete Lily Renee?
Anne: It took me several months to complete the 79 pages. I was glad to have the reference work but sometimes it’s challenging to fit objects into a story. Lots of reference is available of Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty but sometimes trying to illustrate a simple scene like chains fastened to tables and chairs legs, so that they won’t glide across the floor of a ship’s dining room can be quite difficult.
mo: This particular process of being the inker, as I mentioned earlier, was my first. Anne did the hard work of laying down the foundation of the drawings and placing detail, which was great because I felt like I could just sit back and relax about layout and story telling decisions. The schedule for this book was a little tight for me (originally about 2.5 months, but in the course of things ended up being around 5 months?), so I felt crazy through most of this book (haha), but in the end it meant I was able to pencil a couple pages myself, which is a huge honor.
What does comic books mean to the both of you? Who are some of your greatest heroes (comic book creators/artists) from this genre?
Anne: I have loved drawing and storytelling from a very young age. My mother and father encouraged me to express myself with art, sometimes to their regret when my schoolwork suffered! I always liked stories from the past, especially Victorian England, so I would draw Sherlock Holmes and romantic vampire stories. As far as creators go, I really admire both Joseph Clement Coll and Bernie Wrightson, although I draw nothing like them. The art of the Brothers Hildebrandt is something I really admire and aspire to. And of course Trina Robbins!
mo: I think comic books are a beautiful way of telling a story. In the medium, I love the space between panels that add a visual element of time and pacing. I love how simple or complex an artist can make a picture to allow the reader to interpret characters and movement according to his or her style. I’m a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki as a comic artist as well as a distinct storyteller. But mostly, I have to admit, these days, many of my greatest heroes in the field are my fellow artists working in the field with so much dedication and passion for the medium that I can’t help but be inspired.
Many thanks again Anne and Mo for your time in answering these questions for our readers! And again, our heartfelt congratulations for a much-deserved recognition of your artistry.