William Grill’s new book illustrates the real-life tale of an Asian timber elephant named Bandoola
Retelling the emotional and stirring story of Asian elephants is no easy task, but Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue does it with simplicity, care and sensitivity.
- Ayla Angelos
- 28 October 2021
Around ten years ago, William Grill stumbled across a book named Elephant Bill. Intrigued by its imagery of elephants “hauling enormous logs and building bridges,” he took it home only to start conjuring up some concerns about animal welfare – especially on the topic of Asian timber elephants. He went on to address the issue in his most recent accomplishment, a book named Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue.
“At the time,” adds William, “I shelved the book as it was before I even entertained the idea of making books.” In 2014, the London-based illustrator started his career in narrative illustration and publishing, drawing much of his inspiration from the natural world. His debut publication, Shackleton’s Journey, explores this topic and was awarded the 2015 Kate Greenaway award. His second, The Wolves of Currumpaw, won the 16 Bologna Ragazzi prize for non-fiction. Both explore “our relationship to nature, animals and contained a message about how we might better live alongside them.” Extending this subject matter into his latest illustrated tome, William has turned his attention to an elephant named Bandoola.
Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue, then, re-tells the story of an Asian timber elephant named Bandoola – a creature “raised with kindness and patience,” William tells It’s Nice That. He was bought as a calf rather than an adult, which is abnormal for elephants raised in captivity and those who are forced to live in forest camps, dragging and pushing logs to build structures for human civilisation. He was also the first elephant to be enlisted into the British Army during WW2, helping to build hundreds of bridges and evacuate Myanmar refugees to India.
An emotional and stirring story, the book continues William’s legacy of adapting real-life tales into picture books. “Struggling as a reader when I was younger and being dyslexic has led me to try to push the picture book format in terms of layouts and displaying information in an engaging way,” he adds. “From watching a lot of documentaries and films, I think I’ve naturally arrived at re-telling stories in third person, as an omniscient narrator.” With this in mind, William’s creative practice has always been driven by drawing, particularly pencil linework and a limited, simplistic colour palette. “I hope my work has a distinguishable style; it’s not that easy to stand out amongst so many people. I would say my visual language is observational but has some underlying character and emotion to it, hopefully, it comes across as warm and not cold.”
William’s style is calming and an aesthetic he achieves by using his pencil on the side – a trick that makes his imprint textured and soft. “My drawing style is somewhat naive and simple, I try to tread a line between observation and impressionism,” he notes. Working in a manner that he perceives as being “quite basic,” this charming and uncomplicated aesthetic only adds to the emotive side of his storytelling, especially when it comes to drawing his characters. His figures are made slightly chunkier and angular than the rest, like Bandoola, for instance, who is drawn in a comparatively bold manner to the rough and hazy backdrop. Conceived from a palette of yellow, blue, red and black, William works in layers and adds his colourful scenes to Photoshop to make the process easier. “Some of the finished artworks have more of a pop and more depth to them than some of my earlier coloured pencil drawings,” he continues. “Sometimes, I would get a happy accident in the way layers overlapped which I liked. It was quite liberating to be able to draw certain parts of an artwork quickly and be able to change things up if I needed to.”
Now that the book is finally out in the world, William has started to reflect back on the process of it all. He finds it enlightening, “especially in discovering what you need more practice at drawing!” The elephants, the jungle, reflections on the water and depicting the trees were all challenges for the illustrator, but nothing he couldn’t handle. “Equally challenging for me were the hurdles to overcoming the writing, boiling the story and all the supporting information down into a book wasn’t easy,” he says. “You never want to cram too much in, which is difficult when you feel there’s so much to say!” For Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue, William has shed light on the experiences of Asian elephants, all the while addressing important parts of history such as the British colonial rule and WW2 in Myanmar. “Retelling aspects of a story in a sensitive way can be hard, especially for younger readers. But hopefully, when done in the right way, it can be a place where people uncover something new and learn something from the past moving forward.”
William Grill: Cover of Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue (Copyright © Flying Eye Books, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.