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illustrations courtesy Random House of Canada.

Illustrator Graham Roumieu speaks about new novel

IT’S A BOOK kids should never read and adults will die to get their hands on—Highly Inappropriate Tales For Young People by famous Canadian novelist and artist Douglas Coupland. The novel is more akin to a series of short stories and emulates a child’s “picture book,” but one with highly inappropriate content.

The sarcastic and witty tone of the book is complimented by Graham Roumieu’s illustrations, another well- known Canadian author and artist. The brevity of the short stories may remind readers of comedy sketches—similar to Saturday Night Live—and readers may find that the calibre of work found in the book can be attributed to the relationship between the illus- trator and the author.

“I’m not in con- trol of everything, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing,” says Roumieu. “It’s wonderful, espe- cially when [you’re] working with a calibre writer and a person as fun and  interesting as [Coupland].”

“[You] mostly [are] hands off of [the novel] and just really let it run. We’re both work- ing to our… major strengths, as writing being one of [Coupland’s] major strengths and mine being illustrating.”

Coupland sought out Roumieu as his illustrator after receiving Roumieu’s novel, Big Foot, from a mutual friend, but this practice is becoming an uncom- mon one. According to Roumi- eu, there are hardly any more books being published that revere illustrations just as much as they do the text.

“I think it’s a very classic—or at least it seemed like it was— thing for a long time and now it seems like a rarer interaction to have a well-known author and reasonably well- known illustrator,” he explains. “[For example, Alice in Wonderland] is a book that’s been [around] for however many decades—if not a century now— and is still being republished in its origi- nal form with the original illustrations, which are seen as integral to the piece of work itself. They are inseparable.”

The British Colombia native still finds pleasure in transforming words into a picture, no matter how difficult this task may be.

“Hundreds of times a year I’m pro- ducing illustrations for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail—all these different outlets—and sometimes that can be a struggle to come out with an im- age that’s suitable,” says
Roumieu . “In this case … I drew quickly and physically couldn’t move my hand and move my hand fast … It was the ability to absorb the content, the energy, and what was intended by [Coupland] and reconvert it into something else.”

Highly Inappropriate Tales For Young People may be a satire written creatively with flair, but according to Roumieu, get- ting jokes across through illustration was one of the biggest challenges.

“It has that pseudo-ironic kid’s book stuff going on [and that is what] has to be placed in the mind of people,” says the Toronto-based artist when asked about his work on the novel.

“[Some of the other difficulties were] using the illustrations to both carry the story forward and draw what is right there in black and white,” says Roumieu.

“I have secondary narratives that go on in my drawings, often to the point that if you flip through pages surrounding the illustrations, you [won’t] actually be able to find anything that directly points to what- ever I have drawn but it is simply another elementtothestory,”addsRoumieu.
“It’s not so much the difficulty but the challenge is the right balance of that.”

—Sofia Hashi