Interview: Minky Stapleton talks about Roo and Vladimir
Minky Stapleton is a multi-faceted illustrator with a range of styles, all with a heavy dash of dark humour.
She spent her formative years as an award-winning Art Director and later Creative Director in Johannesburg, working in some of South Africa’s best advertising agencies. After many years of corporate life, she threw it all in to follow her first love, illustration. She now resides in Auckland, where she balances a number of local and international illustration projects with running classes for kids on how to design scary monsters. Minky talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Roo and Vladimir.
Roo is a dog who loves his life. There is just one problem. Roo scares other dogs because he is the size of a house. This makes him sad. But one day Roo meets a small but tough pekingese dog called Vladimir and they become firm friends, playing, chasing and napping with each other. The other dogs admire how brave Vladimir is but Roo is just happy to finally have a best friend.
When a storm causes a bridge to be washed away, Roo and Vladimir find themselves stranded in a park with a group of local dogs. Because of his large size Roo is able to piggy-back the dogs across the river. Roo has saved the day and is the town hero, and the other dogs realise they no longer need to be scared of Roo.
What inspired you to write and illustrate this book?
Roo’s story was inspired by my own pup, Scooby. Scooby is a large 45kg bull terrier mix that we adopted from the SPCA when he was a year old. Most dogs are nervous of him, and he doesn’t help matters by being overzealously friendly. People usually cross the street when we arrive and I keep him on the leash as he could hurt the smaller dogs if he steps on them. That said Scooby loves puppies and have absolutely no problem with small extremely bossy dogs. This little story of Roo came to be as I was thinking how the way Scooby is perceived as scary and dangerous because of the way he looks is such a prevalent issue in our society. It always breaks my heart that i can’t let him play off the leash with the other dogs at the dog park. This exclusion / feelings of not belonging also mirroring my own and my children’s struggles of finding our place in a new country.
What research was involved?
I decided to make Roo even bigger than my dog so I did research the world’s biggest dog breeds for a bit, and decided on a combination of Irish wolfhound meets chunky flooffy bear. I wanted even the pittie in the book to be dwarfed by Roo! But all his mannerisms are based on Scoobie. His clumsiness, his inability to catch a ball, the way he sleeps - see pic attached. Even though Scooby didn’t get the main part in this book, he is one of the featured extras!
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Well, I have been illustrating book for other writers for a while and never thought to that I would actually write my own book but have jotted down ideas for stories through the years hoping to palm them of one someone else to write. So I don’t really have much of a process for writing books, but I guess I better see what I can do to replicate this process!
Illustrating books has long been a joy and I always like creating a little back story for myself and inserting little jokes/easter eggs here and there to (mostly) entertain myself as I go. I would always interrogate the content of each page to make sure I have squeezed the most out of it and not just illustrated the obvious. I also like choosing a theme / look for each book and then expanding it on each page. I usually do small mockups to make sure close-ups and wides are interspersed and that I can see the whole book in my head before I go in and finalise each page.
I also like creating typefaces for each book and design them front to back which is a big part of the whole journey for me.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
"This Is Me" From The Greatest Showman
"Scars to Your Beautiful" by Alessia Cara
What did you enjoy the most about creating this book?
I had the most fun creating all the characters. As an illustrator character creation is a substantial part of my job. These characters all come with backstories and quirks that makes me giggle when they appear on a page.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
We were deep into the second COVID lockdown while I was finishing this book for printing and I was just happy to be able to have some days off from the computer and relax. What do you hope young readers will take away?
My hope is that this book could open the way for some discussion about inclusion and exclusion with your child. All children experience this at some point - humans judging other humans (and themselves) on how they look or are perceived. Wouldn’t the world be an amazing place if we could all accept each other and ourselves (most importantly) as just right?
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
As a designer/illustrator I am easily seduced by books with beautiful covers and sometimes buy books just because they are a joy to look at. One such book was ‘This is not propaganda’ by Peter Pomerantsev. I finally got around to actually reading it and it totally blew me away. What’s next on the agenda for you?
Well, I guess I better see if I can replicate this process and come up with another book. I had so many cool little characters in Roo and Vladimir that maybe some of them could get their own spin-off? Hmmm, that’s an idea...
Scholastic New Zealand