on Nobody Owns the Moon
Owns the Moon by Tohby Riddle
Published in Australia by Viking / Penguin
Inspiration for the book
Nobody Owns the Moon was inspired by a fact I came across about
foxes. The moment I read that foxes are one of the only wild creatures
in the world that can make a life for themselves in cities, I saw the
book’s first illustration: a fox snoozing in an armchair with
a cup of tea and a pile of books close at hand.
I knew right away
that I had a character – Clive Prendergast the fox – and
an interesting situation. I had my opening sentence too. I kept the
non-fiction style of the text going, while continuing to extend the
text’s meanings with the illustrations. This allowed metaphors
and themes about outsiders, misfits and newcomers to develop. With
this in mind, it seemed an interesting idea to throw in an animal
that has no reputation for being able to make a life for itself in
cities – and along came Humphrey the donkey (and also for a
page, a sad dancing bear). By now, the text had shifted from its non-fiction
beginning, into a fictional narrative.
Now, cities are
busy, complex places where just about anything can happen, so the
idea of serendipity appealed to me. Hence one of the story’s
major plot points: Humphrey finding a special blue envelope. I’d
also wanted to avoid depicting the city as harsh and dystopian –
a common enough depiction. Cities aren’t that easily summed
up: they abound with marvellous possibilities and enchantments too.
The serendipitous blue envelope becomes a catalyst for our two heroes
to experience another side of the city – a magical evening of
wonders and treats. And the experience leaves them with a triumphant
feeling – if perhaps only fleeting – that the city is
theirs too. That, as such, nobody owns the city – it is everyone’s.
The artwork style is a wide-ranging mix of media and collage. (Spot
the different media: pen, pencil, ink, watercolour, acrylic, coloured
paper, stamps, sponged-on paint, photographic images, black-and-white,
sepia, etc.) The intention of this approach was to reflect the collage-like
mixed-media of a city environment. Think how cities spontaneously mix,
juxtapose and layer materials, textures, people, ideas – even
the past and present (as represented in the artwork by black-and-white
or sepia buildings next to colour ones).
For further clues
as to how the illustrations were made, look at the book’s endpapers
All of the images
that make up the composition of the endpapers were scraps, offcuts
or collage pieces that for one reason or another didn’t make
it into a final illustration in the story. But I felt like they could
still have a life, so I arranged them on sheets of paper into what
became the endpaper artwork.I liked the result and feel these endpapers
somehow extend the world depicted in the story.
To further illustrate
some of the artwork techniques, here's a three-step sequence showing
the creation of Humphrey and Clive for the book's cover:
Humphrey and Clive are lightly drawn in lead pencil,
then drawn more firmly with a black pencil:
By this stage, Humphrey and Clive have now been rendered with watercolour,
sponged-on paint and some paper collage of clothing fabric specially
cut to shape:
The fully rendered characters are then cut out. Then they'll be positioned
on the cover:
There is further
scope for narrative expression in the way the book's illustrations
are constructed: what is signified by a figure being made from graph
paper, and elsewhere, another figure being shown in black-and-white?
What do the contents of Humphrey’s bag reveal about him? And
for the keen-eyed there are numerous verbal texts – in addition
to the type-set text itself – within the illustrations: signs,
posters, a book spine, an invitation, an engraved motto and more –
some in different scripts and languages, because a city environment
is also made up of these things too.
above all, what remains for me by the end of the story – and why
the story is dear to me – is an idea of inner wealth, a kind of
resilience of spirit best displayed by Humphrey: a donkey who wants
little and endures much; who when the smallest good fortune comes his
way is overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.