Interview with Axel Scheffler and "The Horror Handbook"

German-born Axel Scheffler is best known for his partnership with Julia Donaldson, where his trademark style has brought to life such well-loved characters as the Gruffalo, Stick Man and Zog.  In his latest collaboration, Axel has joined forces with Dutch author, Paul van Loon, to create The Horror Handbook.

The essential book for all fans of scary stories, this almanac of things that go bump in the night is the perfect gift for any fan of ghouls, goblins and monsters.  More Scooby Doo fun than Hammer House, the book is just the right side of scary, and ideal for children aged 9-11, or any horror - or Scheffler - fan!  Read on for an insight from Axel Scheffler into his unique style and work.

Interview with Axel Scheffler

Q. How old were you when you first started illustrating?

I can't remember when I first drew something – as a small child. It depends what you mean by “illustrating”. But if you mean illustrating a text, it was a bit later than that… I’ve drawn since I was a child, and I’ve been illustrating professionally since 1986.

Q. What drew you to The Horror Handbook?

The Horror Handbook was published in Germany first – about twenty years ago. I thought the text had a nice humorous touch and I enjoyed illustrating it very much.

Q. Out of every book you’ve ever illustrated, which was your favourite and why?

I don’t have one favourite book. I like some more than others – usually the more quirky ones like Highway Rat, Stick Man or The Smartest Giant in Town.

Q. You’ve illustrated books in many languages – do you have a favourite language to work with?

I’ve only illustrated books in three languages – German, French and English; although, of course, some are translated into many languages afterwards. I don’t really read French very well, so that’s a bit more difficult. To illustrate a text it doesn't matter to me which language the text is in – as long as I have some understanding – however, I think English is a great language for picture book texts.

Q. What was your favourite book growing up as a child?

I think my favourite was about a little bear called "Petzi" – it was originally a Danish comic strip (but without speech bubbles). The cover is on my new website – Petzi is a bear with red dungarees with white dots and has many adventures with his friends which include a penguin and a pelican. This would’ve been my favourite when I was five or six.

Q. What is your favourite book now?

I don’t have one favourite book but many. Nowadays I tend to read less fiction, more non-fiction, in German as well as in English.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a young artist, what would it be?

If you mean an illustrator – I feel it's a little self evident but: draw lots, go to museums, be curious, look at lots of (good) illustrations.

Q. Do you have a special place where you draw?

I work from home, in a studio at the top of the house: there is chaos, and I wish there was order. Every now and then I tidy my desk, but three days later it looks the same again. It used to be even smaller – I bought a bigger one, but the mess just grows with the table surface. I have given up hope that it'll ever be tidy.

Q. Your most well-known project to date is The Gruffalo – were you inspired by anyone in particular when creating it?

I wasn’t inspired by anything – it’s not based on somebody I know! The Gruffalo is just a furry monster… he’s sort of how I imagine monsters, living in deep, dark woods, with a name like that.

Q. If you could organise a dinner party to be attended by characters from books, which three guests would be at the top of your list?

I’ve got no idea! I think I’d probably invite the three little pigs, so they can shelter from the Big Bad Wolf.

The Horror Handbook is available now from all good retailers, RRP £7.99.

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