Help! We Need a Title!

This is a fun, postmodern picturebook. A group of characters realise that a reader has arrived early – the story isn’t finished yet and the author is too busy with other things to help them out much. After a lot of badgering, he gives them a short, cursory story; they find the pictures look good, but overall it’s only so-so.

The attractive visual style of the book creates the impression of a draft or work in progress, from the pasteboard format of the cover to the rough drawing and colouring style in the first spreads. A mixture of paint, crayon, marker and pencil can be seen here, with scribbled artist’s notes, remnants of tape and drawn-in page margins also to be found. Lines are messy and sometimes partially erased and redrawn, but also full of energy and expression. This style starts to appear more finished as the story progresses, while the author’s studio and his mini-story are also drawn in completely different, more controlled ways. The basic palette of vibrant reds, blues, greens and pinks provides continuity across these different sections.

The play with ideas of authorship and authority, and of neatness, creativity and completeness make this a very attractive read for younger children as well as for their adults.

It is a pity that Walker does not acknowledge the translator of the text from the original French, partly because literary translators are so under-credited in the first place, and partly because the translator of this particular book constitutes another ‘layer’ of a gleefully multilayered text, who, unlike the author, unfortunately remains hidden in the dark. Inis enquired with the publisher about this issue, and learned that the translation in fact involved a large team of people: an editor at Walker, another editor at Candlewick Press, the head of Walker picturebooks, Hervé Tullet himself, and Tullet's own editor. It would be fantastic to know a little more about how a process which, ironically (and very fittingly), mirrors that of the creation of this wonderful self-reflexive book.