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    Rob Ryan: The Invisible Kingdom


Publication: We speak to Rob Ryan on his charming new book The Invisible Kingdom

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Many people will be familiar with Rob Ryan’s work with his whimsical paper-cuts and charming single-scene narratives much-heralded over the years. But with his new book The Invisible Kingdom – the first in a trilogy– Rob is breaking new ground in terms of the scope and ambition of his practice.

The story tells of a young prince whose eyes are opened to the world after a boatman in the palace gives him a magical pen. We spoke to Rob about how this superb new title car about…

When did the idea for this book first surface? What were the initial inspirations?

The basic themes of this story were based on some things that I’d been thinking about for quite a few years. Thoughts on feeling as if you didn’t fit in, thoughts on forging your own path in life and surviving alone in the world. I’d drawn and written little parts of this story over the years as mini stories in their own right but I always felt as if they were connected to the same big story. It was just a matter of sitting and thinking and drawing it through.

As a teenager the thrilling adventure survivalist story Rogue Male truly fascinated me (it was written by Geoffrey Household, such a domestic name for the most undomestic book!) as do films and stories of castaways on distant islands. Stories of survival in extreme situations are fascinating and exciting, but in our own city these stories happen everyday.

I always felt everyday life was as incredible as the remote and exotic; it was just a matter of appreciating it and being able to see it.

Creatively do you approach a book like this as you do your other work or do you work in a different way?

No, it’s a unique and mammoth task and the work on it is quite intense. It requires at least six months devoted solely to it, a luxury of time I can’t really afford; as such I gave it four days a week over six months.

I clear a wall in my studio and create a space for 60 pages to be laid out and pinned up as the ideas are sketched out and improved on and added too; this way I can see how the whole book is looking as work on it progresses.

Like most things, the hardest part is getting started. The first ten pages are the hardest, very, very slowly beginning to feel happy with the tone you are setting until you begin to feel more comfortable and more confident with the story.

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    Rob Ryan: The Invisible Kingdom

Creatively do you approach a book like this as you do your other work or do you work in a different way?

No, it’s a unique and mammoth task and the work on it is quite intense. I clear a wall in my studio and create a space for 60 pages to be laid out and pinned up as the ideas are sketched out and improved on and added too; this way I can see how the whole book is looking as work on it progresses.

Like most things, the hardest part is getting started. The first ten pages are the hardest, very, very slowly beginning to feel happy with the tone you are setting until you begin to feel more comfortable and more confident with the story.

Did you know the whole story when you start or does it come together as you write? At what point do the visuals come in, after the story or at the same time? 

I know how it starts and how it ends but a lot of it in between is a big question mark! I prefer to keep it quite loose so that new ideas and images that occur to me as I work can be fitted in as it develops. Also I have a list of some specific scenes and mini themes I want to fit into the story but I’m not really sure where or when until I really get cracking on it.

I keep a record of images in sketch books that I can imagine being in the book and weave the words around them; other times it’s the other way around.

Also as the pictures pinned up on the studio wall grow, they get swapped around and some words that were written for one picture end up living with a different unintended picture entirely.

“I know how it starts and how it ends but a lot of it in between is a big question mark!”

Rob Ryan

With a book like this who do you show it to while you’re working on it? Whose advice do you seek?

It’s quite a solitary task in general but I do work with the visuals very closely with my studio designer Libby Wright on every page as it’s drawn for layout only and we share thoughts and opinions on how it looks.For the writing I send some pages to a friend Eileen Daley to see what she thinks of how it reads grammatically and gives me her feedback.

I find writing long bits of prose quite hard. I didn’t pass my English language O Level until the fourth attempt! As an artist that uses words in my work, I’m usually happy to be unrestrained by the laws of grammar in my pictures but unfortunately a long narrative story has to read more clearly.

After I’ve written a few pages out I read and record them into my iPhone, then play them back to myself no sooner than 24 hours later; you can live too closely to things sometimes and putting some time and space between work can help get a better overview.

Finally I sit down with Jocasta Hamilton (the book’s editor) and we go through the whole story together. Some pages stay untouched others need a bit more work on them, like a lot of work you’re never quite totally happy with it; but you have to call it a day at some point or nothing would ever get finished. What can you do ?

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    Rob Ryan: The Invisible Kingdom

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    Rob Ryan: The Invisible Kingdom

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    Rob Ryan: The Invisible Kingdom

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    Rob Ryan: The Invisible Kingdom


Posted by Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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