Illustrated notes on Nobody Owns the Moon

Nobody Owns the Moon by Tohby Riddle
Published in Australia by Viking / Penguin

The 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
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 below:

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:

1. Humphrey and Clive are lightly drawn in lead pencil,
then drawn more firmly with a black pencil:

2. 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:

3. 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.


But 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.
– Tohby Riddle