A lot of illustrator friends tell me that their least favourite thing to draw is . . . CARS. They dread it. I suppose I wouldn’t want to be known as someone who specialises in cars, but drawing machinery can be loads of fun. When Philip Reeve and I came up with Oliver and the Seawigs, Philip had the Crisp family arriving at their new house in something called an ‘Explorermobile’. It played quite a small part in the book, but I got all excited, imagining what it could look like. Philip told me about how his family used to spend all their holidays in a camper van, and showed me the photos.
That’s little Philip with his writing notebook:
Mr & Mrs Crisp and Oliver had driven the Explorermobile all around the world, so it had to be something sturdy that they could live in, but they’d been on lots of weird and wonderful adventures and I wanted it to reflect that nutsiness. I live in London and there’s a nutsy-looking yellow half-boat-half-bus that takes tourists on ‘Duck Tours’, so I started by looking up photos of amphibious vehicles. (Eek, I just saw a news article today that the Duckmobile caught on fire!) Here was my very first sketch of our Explorermobile:
But this vehicle looked too small for Mr & Mrs Crisp and their child, Oliver. No room for more than a suitcase.
So I upgraded them. I stuck on the sort of roof you get on a VW camper van. My sister had one of those in her hippie days. The lid flipped up and a person could sleep in a hammock just beneath it. Check out the solar panels and wash line, Much more practical for domestic harmony in the middle of nowhere.
But it didn’t look very cool. I tried again. This one’s based on the Bedford Dormobile Caravan. Some of those beasts have the most fabulous old-school paint jobs, go Google them. Note the handy wind turbine and balcony seat.
Still . . . not cool enough. I know people in the suburbs who’ve driven things like that. So Philip suggested adding a half-track. ‘Vehicles are always cooler when they drive on half-tracks.’ Now we’re starting to get somewhere. Definitely more kooky.
I remember a family trip, being stuck for hours on a mountain road in a traffic jam, because someone’s silver Winnebago Airstream had caught fire. I had a lot of time to study that Winnebago. They’re bizarre, a real retro vision of the glittering space-age future.
But again, the Explorermobile was looking a bit dumpy. Maybe something more sleek?Hey, what if I could mash up a Harley Davidson with a camper van? How cool would that be? And I could give it a little side car for Oliver, so he could sit up with the driver, like Sean Connery riding next to Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Ha ha, is this silly or what?
I posted these sketches up on my blog and had people vote on their favourite and there was overwhelming support for this last mash-up. Hurrah! We had our Explorermobile.
Here you can see it as the Crisp family zoom around the headland, approaching their new house for the first time.
Ha ha, and this was the ONLY TIME the Explorermobile was supposed to appear in the book. Did I just totally geek out over something that small?! Anyway, we all liked it so much that we gave it another appearance on the title page.
Oliver and the Seawigs is full of quirky, fun details, both in the text—(don’t miss the Sarcastic Seaweed!)—nd in the pictures (spot Colin the crab!). Philip and I hope you enjoy it! Check out our blogs if you want to see what we get up to. And if you feel like getting creative, why not try making your own Explormobile mash-ups?