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Interview: Raymond McGrath talks about Big Little Blue: Sandypants!

Raymond McGrath is an award-winning animation director, illustrator, designer and writer who has been working in children’s television and advertising for around 20 years. As well as illustrating books for other authors, such as the award-winning The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo! and Susan Brocker’s true-life animal stories, he has written and illustrated several books himself, including That’s What Dragons Do! Raymond lives in rural Auckland with his wife and four children, some cats and a Schnauzer. Raymond talks to NZ Booklovers about Big Little Blue: Sandypants!

Tell us a little about Big Little Blue: Sandypants.

Big Little Blue: SandyPants! is the first volume in a brand new junior graphic novel series for young readers published by Scholastic NZ and Australia. Big Little Blue is an engaging, character-focused journey of discovery. It is calm, thoughtful, philosophical and funny, with positive stories that provide our young friends, a reflective view of how to see yourself, others and your place in the world.

The stories are familiar, the emotions are real, and our tamariki will laugh loud and sing louder as they watch Big Blue and Little Blue take each day one penguin step at a time, one rock pool at a time and one joyous song at a time, on their seemingly endless summer holiday.

What inspired this book?

Many things…

My children. I have four of them (aged between three and eleven years old). They are constantly trying to make sense of friendships, relationships, their own sense of self and well-being. As a parent, I wanted to make something that might help them decipher some of the unpredictability of life as a kid.

My own life growing up, days spent rock-pooling with friends on east coast beaches. It usually began with boredom, no direction and no plan – yet somehow we wound up discovering the world.

My own philosophies as a parent and children’s media creative. I see children’s content getting more and more fast-paced, digital devices demanding kids' attention and becoming the preferred way children want to occupy their time and the idea kids feel like they need to be constantly entertained by something else. I worry that we can sometimes forget that slowing things down, learning to be with ourselves and others, and discovering the world around us are important to a healthy mind and spirit.

My love of screenwriting, illustration, visual storytelling, music and the natural world around us…

What research was involved?

Hmmm…I’d like to sound super smart here and say I researched everything deeply from the pedagogical to the ecological. Ha! But, no…

Most of my work is based on a random mix of experience, observation, inspiration and imagination – although I do reference NZ species throughout the books. However, I am not too concerned with accurate representations of the creatures, and they are stylised to suit my drawing style and the creative direction of the series.

I am always inspired by other writers and illustrators and have a big library of picture books and graphic novels that I use to springboard my own concepts from. For this series, I did delve deeply into graphic novels for junior readers to help me find my own direction and look for my own niche in this form of storytelling for kids.

What was your routine or process when writing and illustrating this book?

It’s pretty simple really.

I daydream for a while, procrastinate forever, panic for a bit, then just get on with it. But, if I was to break it down, it’s a little boring to say out loud.

First I plan and structure my stories and create a simple treatment of them and then, I write a screenplay (because good GN’s are dialogue driven and so are films). Next, I plan out the whole book in a rough format, arrange text, design new characters if needed, and generally plan out the whole volume. Then I colour it digitally (photoshop for this one) because I have trust issues with my own sense of colour and like the flexibility for change it provides as the deadlines were very tight. (I completed three volumes in the space of about 4 months).

I did create an original font for this series…which was a new thing for me.

Because I work in film and television animation, a lot of the practices I use are similar to production – a lot of planning, prep and organisation of spreads and ideas before committing to final artwork.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Actually – Big Little Blue has its own soundtrack already! Big Little Blue is also a TV series concept and I have roughly 40 songs written for the series. Stay tuned for later in the year. I’ll begin releasing these through Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music…

What did you enjoy the most about writing Big Little Blue: Sandypants?

All of it, to be honest.

I had never paid graphic novels much attention because they were never on my radar as a kid. But My daughter started bringing them home and loved them.

So I started reading them too.

I have a couple of MA’s, and one is in screenwriting. I work on EMMY nominated series Kiri and Lou as a storyboard artist, and I write and illustrate picture books, and am the senior animator on BBC series Tiny Wonders. I’ve discovered GN’s actually combine the best components of those four things I’ve already been doing a lot of – dialogue-driven story telling and structure, sequential storytelling, visual design and character-driven performances. The REAL question is why has it taken me nearly 30 years to figure that out? Ha!

What do you hope children will take away from reading your book?

To be comfortable with life and friendships going at their own pace sometimes.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I started another book. Books are funny, things as a creator because for me, by the time they are released, I’ve already moved on to the next thing…I tend to just sit back enjoy seeing people enjoy the work. I don’t like too much of a fuss…

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Books are BIG in our household, so this kind of question is like asking me what my favourite song is. I can’t answer, really. BUT I have been loving Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series and Colin Melloy’s Wildwood series…among many others.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

More books. Get the Big Little Blue TV series off the ground next year.

Record and release 20 songs for the series over the next year and a half.

Continue to create weekly animated clips for social media.

More books…(I’m always pretty busy).


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