Illustrating the words of such legendary lyricists as Paul McCartney and John Lennon must be a daunting yet rewarding assignment—one that will land on the drawing board of relatively few artists. To discover what this experience might involve, PW spoke with two illustrators who recently had the opportunity to tackle the task in very different Beatles-generated book projects. Here’s what we heard from Kathryn Durst, who illustrated Hey Grandude!, Paul McCartney’s original picture book text about an eccentric man who whisks his grandchildren off on magical adventures (Random House, Sept.); and Henry Cole, who provides a visual interpretation of the song, With a Little Help from My Friends, by John Lennon and McCartney (Little Simon, Dec.).
Kathryn Durst, on Hey Grandude!:
What was it about this story relaying kids’ magic-propelled adventures with their grandfather that appealed to you?
This story especially resonated with me because I have wonderful childhood memories of my dad taking my siblings and me on exciting adventures, just like Grandude does in the book. He would take us on lots of day trips and would always have something fun for us to do. So, I took inspiration from that. My favorite kind of stories to read are adventures with a touch of magic, so this book was a perfect fit for me.
What was your reaction to having the chance to collaborate with Paul McCartney?
I am a huge music fan and hobbyist musician myself, so it was very cool to work with a music legend like Paul. It has been a real treat to collaborate with such an inspiring and accomplished artist. Paul’s lyrics have been so iconic and timeless, and I think his writing translates really beautifully into a children’s picture book. His excitement and passion for the project was infectious, and we both wanted to make an exciting and beautiful book that kids will want to read again and again.
How did your collaborative process work?
I was lucky enough to be able to speak directly to Paul over the phone from the start for the project. He initially told me how much he liked my drawings, and from there we chatted about his vision for the book. He had lots of ideas about the personality of Grandude that he wanted to come through in the illustrations. Paul suggested he should have a messy house full of interesting artifacts from his travels, and musical instruments scattered around the space. He gave me a good starting point but left me lots of freedom to create the images. It was a great collaboration, and he was involved in every step of the process when sending sketches back and forth to the publisher. I appreciated the opportunity to get feedback from such an amazing artist.
In what ways was this project a departure from your prior children’s book illustration—stylistically or otherwise?
Starting the book was the hardest part for me because it was so high-profile. Because I knew who it was for, it was a little bit more nerve-wracking. But at some point, I had to decide to trust my intuition in drawing—so I just went with my gut. It was also unique in that there was a bigger team working on the book—Paul’s team, Puffin U.K. and Random House U.S. all had eyes on the book while I was making the illustrations. However, they were all wonderful to work with and it went quite smoothly.
Stylistically, I was inspired by the classic illustrations by Quentin Blake, who designed characters such as Willy Wonka and Mister Magnolia. Grandude had a similar personality, so I took inspiration from those characters. But since Paul had said he liked my own drawing style from seeing my sketches, I just decided to treat the book like any other project and trust that he would like my illustrations.
Henry Cole, on With a Little Help from My Friends:
Why, from your perspective, does this celebrated song lend itself to picture-book adaptation?
At first, it didn’t. I pondered over little vignettes on each page, with animal characters just being good friends. But Dan Potash at Simon & Schuster helped me create and develop a real story line, and then the song became something totally different and more meaningful to me.
Did you have freedom to create your own thematic and graphic interpretation of the lyrics?
Yes! I loved the fact that Dan and I were able to work on a theme that we felt was important, and from our hearts. Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Epic Rights were such amazing partners throughout the book process, and they had final approval of the illustrations.
You visually interpret the song as the story of two girls, best friends who are separated geographically when one moves away—yet manage to remain close. Did the vision for that interpretation come easily, or did it take some time to find?
Originally, our vision of the story began at a summer camp, with the two characters bonding there. We then switched to a school, thinking that school is something that every parent and child can relate to. It was a lovely experience to thumbnail back and forth with Dan, whose sense of humor and imagination made brainstorming a lot of fun.
You have created such a wide array of picture books, illustrating your own words and those of other authors. How was this project a different challenge for you?
Well for one, it’s Lennon and McCartney! So, the pressure in my mind was pumped up a bit. When I work with others, I want everyone to be happy with the final product, and it seemed especially so here. But the main goal is always the same: to draw my heart on paper.
Hey Grandude! by Paul McCartney, illus. by Kathryn Durst. Random, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-525-64867-3
With a Little Help from My Friends by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, illus. by Henry Cole. S&S/Little Simon, $17.99 Dec. 978-1-5344-2983-3