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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Thereza Rowe, Hearts: interview and review

Brazilian born illustrator Thereza Rowe has just published her first graphic novel with Toon Books. Here she describes the inspiration and process behind this universal tale of lost love.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_cover
A year or so ago Thereza Rowe came over to visit me with an idea for a wonderful, colourful, heartfelt graphic novel. Hearts has now been realised thanks to Toon Books, and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy at the recent ELCAF. The book is aimed at children who are just learning to read, so I have been reading it with Snarfle who is now two years old and in love with letters. He adores the story of a fox travelling through a rich landscape in search of lost love, and asks me to read it again and again. Thereza has a very special way of using clever arrangements of shapes to create a plethora of fantastical images, and although the book is aimed at small people it will appeal just as much to adults, who will probably more closely relate their own lives to this tale of learning to let go and love again.

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_Dolphins
Thereza Rowe_Hearts_lighthouse
When and where did you first dream up the central idea behind Hearts?
It was heading up to my final project for my MA in illustration and the core of my research was based on sequential narrative, comics more specifically. In parallel, my personal life was messy as I was dealing with loss; of a dear close one and that of my cat Flash, which happened within the space of a week. A hard time indeed. The narrative reflected this process of rescuing a little battered lost heart and keeping faith / hope alive that things would be ok in the end. Essentially, it kind of worked as a magical part of my own healing process.

Why is Penelope a fox? we all know of your special love for cats…
But I am a fox, didn’t you know?! Penelope the character just happened as I was doodling her whilst crying all over the paper. It was exactly how I was feeling at that particular moment. I wallowed a lot…

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_king and queen
Thereza Rowe_Hearts_spear
What was your process for putting together the illustrations for Hearts?
After that first scene of Penelope sitting on top of a cliff crying her eyes out, the process developed pretty much on a ‘wing it basis‘. That ‘making it up as you go‘ sort of thing.. after she accidentally drops her heart in the ocean, I suppose, due to the sequential nature of the story, each illustration worked as a response to cause and effect of the characters’ actions… I didn’t really know how it would end, up until the last minute. All I wanted is that she should triumph one way or another in retrieving her heart – but at some point that pesky heart had become so troublesome that maybe a new / renewed one would be the answer. But better not give the whole story away!

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_garden lost things
How did you come up with the Garden of Lost Things?
It comes from the thought of all the things we misplace or lose in life… from tangible ones such as ‘where does that odd sock end up when the washing machine decides to swallow it?‘ all the way to that childhood little something we wish we still had but have absolutely no idea as to what happened to it. And on a more abstract note, feelings and stuff that mattered and/or still matters and lingers at the back of our heads/hearts but we tend to shoo them away until life’s circumstances, for whatever reason, prompts us to look for them and revisit them again.

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_soldiers
When you first showed me your idea for Hearts idea it was far longer, how did you edit the whole into a book format that worked?
It was indeed a lot longer… (as I said, there was a lot of wallowing) and my initial idea for it was more like a wordless graphic novel. But when I showed it to Françoise Mouly (editorial director of Toon Books) we both agreed that it would make a great level one Toon book so together we edited it down to suit the first reader level and also decided to give Penelope a wee voice.

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_castle
How did you get hooked up with Toon Books?
The project was very personal and quite precious to me so naturally I wanted it to get published by a special publisher. I then made a little list with a carefully selected handful of publishers which I knew would take great care of the process of editing the book and that I would be happy to work with and submitted the proposal. As it happened Toon Books was on the absolute top in order of personal preference as I’ve always loved their books and luckily the fantastic Françoise got in touch straight away and I had no doubt that the project would have the happiest possible ending in every sense of the word.

Thereza Rowe_Hearts_Penelope
What new projects are you working on?
I am currently sorting out the storyline for my next children’s book and excited to return to working on a commission involving branding / identity which had to be put on hold for a while due to delayed funding but it’s now back on. And, of course, we are also working on an exciting project together, to be announced soon.

Hearts is published by Toon Books, and is available online and at all good bookshops now.


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