Hi Katherine! Thanks so much for stopping by the Village to chat about your latest book — the early graphic novel, Cranky Chicken!
Before we get to Chicken and Speedy, would you care to introduce yourself to our site’s readers?
Thanks for having me! I am the author and illustrator of a whole bunch of quirky picture books, like Trouble and Perfect Pigeons and the Squish Rabbit series. I’m also a fan girl of comic books, ice cream, mischief, tea, and travel. I grew up by the beach in Australia but now live by the mountains in Canada. I can be found most days either making books, reading books, or sharing books with my little girl (and occasionally even my dog).
Okay: let’s get to the book! I’ve read elsewhere that you are not (or at least were not) a fan of chickens. I believe you are (or at least were) SCARED of them. How did you end up creating a book all about one? (And are you still scared of them?)
Wow, you have done your research! Yes, I’m scared of chickens. Surely I’m not the only one who knows that ALL chickens are cranky chickens? They have beady little eyes and sharp beaks and you just can’t trust them (I have been chased by many chickens). But then I met this tiny girl during one of my author visits and she had the audacity to laugh at my fear. She said, “Chicken’s aren’t scary – they’re hilarious!” I couldn’t stop thinking about her. So I decided to spend more time drawing chickens to see if I could discover what she so loved about them. Cranky Chicken is what emerged. It turns out we’re both right: chickens are cranky AND hilarious.
As an illustrator, I strive for simplicity, and I was blown away by how economical and powerful your linework is. Both Chicken and Speedy are wonderfully expressive, yet so simply designed — I already know legions of kids are out there drawing Chicken and Speedy in their sketchbooks (and probably in the margins of their homework!). Can you share about the development of these characters?
Thank you! Whenever I design my characters, I always strive to make them as simple as I can. To use as few lines as possible. In part it’s because I like to leave lots of room in my art. Kids are incredibly clever and I want to leave space for them: space to think, space to imagine, space to put all the story pieces together themselves. Space to maybe even see themselves on the page. I also think emotion is the most important puzzle piece of any story and I love the challenge of trying to capture it with a single quizzical line or an arched brow. So much can be captured with so little.
It brings me great joy to think of kids drawing my characters, especially knowing their own personalities and quirks will shape the way they draw them. I used to obsessively draw Sandra Boynton characters as a kid. I can now see her influence in my work. There’s nothing quite so special as getting to become a small part of a child’s life through your stories.
When you’re creating a character such as Chicken, does the drawing come first, or the personality? Do they come together? Is it always the same, or is it different with every character/project?
As an author / illustrator, the process of writing and drawing for me are inextricably linked. It’s tricky to figure out which came first and I think that’s because they always happen together. I play with a character in my mind for many months (sometimes years) before I ever touch pen to paper. I watch them move, observe their quirks, see how they react and interact with the world — all in my mind. I watch them from every angle, refining their shapes and lines, so by the time I finally drew Chicken she pretty much came out the way she appears in the book: squat, unibrowed, and spectacularly cranky. But her softer curves do betray the fact that underneath that firm outer, she has a generous heart. So her form and her personality developed together, as I got to know her.
It’s a little bit different for each project, but typically I discover a character and follow them around my mind and then the page until I figure out who they are and what their story is. Some characters reveal themselves quite quickly. One rather elusive character I’ve been trying to figure out for over ten years. I’m glad Chicken didn’t make me wait that long!
I am a HUGE fan of cranky characters. Give me all the curmudgeons, crabs, and grumps — I think they are wonderfully fun to read about. Do you enjoy telling stories about Chicken? Why do you think it’s enjoyable to create and/or read about such ill-tempered individuals?
I love a good grump, too. Maybe we love cranky characters because they have permission to say and do things we don’t get to out in the world. Most of us have to be more polite, more thoughtful, more considered — and for good reason! But curmudgeons in literature can show the world exactly who they are and even be celebrated for it. Part of why Chicken so appealed to me as a character is that in stories we so rarely celebrate female grumps. I immediately fell for her — she was spectacularly grumpy and somehow more lovable for it, so I wanted to put her front and centre in a book that joys in all her cantankerous ways.
What made you choose to write about a pair of unlikely friends? And why did you choose to tell their stories in comics?
I tend to feel more like my characters find me, rather than that I create them. But I can see why I am particularly drawn to mismatched friendships. In many ways people are much more interesting when they bump up against others, especially those who are quite different to themselves. Chicken was intriguing on her own, but she only became real to me once she met Speedy worm. Suddenly I had a much more vivid sense of who she is and what she likes (and doesn’t!). The beautiful thing about friendships is they often challenge us to be more than we ever could have been on our own. In this way, Chicken and Speedy remind me a lot of me and my childhood best friend (we are still besties to this day!). We are so very different but our friendship is much richer for it.
As for why comics, would you believe I’ve always wanted to make a comic book? I grew up reading comic books and graphic novels and I never grew out of them. But I do remember realising at some point in my youth that all the comics I had access to were made by men. It was (and is) a somewhat more male dominated industry and I think in ways, at least subconsciously, I felt that world wasn’t for me. I’d published ten picture books before my agent asked me if I’d ever considered making a graphic novel and the question opened up a door insider me I didn’t even know was there. It was immediately clear I desperately wanted to make one! Then I just had to wait for the right idea to come along. As soon as I met Chicken, I knew she was it. She had the perfect comic energy to pull off a longer book and provided so many opportunities for physical humour and quirk and even a dose of heart. I had so much fun making this book. I hope I get to make many more.
All right, here’s the question everyone is wondering: are you more Chicken, or more Speedy?
I remember vividly back when I first discovered that, ultimately, … all my characters are me. Or parts of me. I was horrified. I recall thinking: do all readers of my books know this? I felt like everyone could SEE me. The secret inside parts of me. Now this fact just makes me laugh! So I am here to comfortably admit: I am Cranky Chicken. We are both introverts who need time to process the world. When confronted with new things, we frown (thinking takes a lot of energy). Anxious chicken brains are good at anticipating what can go wrong, so we see the flaws in every plan. Luckily, just like Chicken, I have plenty of upbeat Worms around me who make me laugh and help me see the more playful parts of life. To be honest, I have plenty in common with Worm, too. I smile. A lot. And I am very, very silly.
Please, please, PLEASE tell me there are more Cranky Chicken books on the way…
Yes! Your enthusiasm is delightful. I have already finished the second book, which comes out June 2022. AND I am writing the third book as we speak, which will be out in 2023. These characters are always getting up to mischief in my mind, often when I’m trying to do other things. I have reams of notes about their misadventures, so I would be happy to make many, many books about them.
Katherine is a fan girl of ice cream, tea, travel and all things papery. She is also the critically acclaimed author and illustrator of ten picture books, including Little Wing and the popular Squish Rabbit series, which have been published around the world. Her books have had glowing reviews in The New York Times, received starred Kirkus reviews and have been shortlisted for numerous awards. She is regularly booked to speak in schools, libraries and at festivals and she is a passionate advocate for literacy and the arts.
In another life, Katherine worked as a paediatric occupational therapist, specialising as a children’s counselor. She has also studied graphic design and loves typography, fabric and vintage teacups.
Katherine grew up by the beach in Australia and now lives in Canada with her poet husband, their book obsessed baby and a rather ridiculous dog.