where the character driven industries meet


March 5th, 2013

Pandora's Box, by Julia Dweck and Chris Robertson

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"The actions of characters reveal who they are. When we make interactive characters act, do they reveal who we are?"



Pandora's Box, a collaboration between Characters Engage members Julia Dweck and Chris Robertson




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JULIA:  Your illustrative style is very unique. What inspired the development of this style? Who are your major influences as an artist?


CHRIS:  My illustration style has been evolving and changing forever.  I've never approached a project with a singular visual voice.  I've always worked in the way that the assignment dictated.  I'm sure that in 10 years my style will have evolved even further, but hopefully still recognizable as mine.  During my editorial career, I was heavily influenced by many of my peers, including Edward Sorel, Peter DeSeve, and Carter Goodrich, and my work showed it.  I went through periods where I used a combination of watercolor and colored pencil.  Then I got looser with my style and started doing work in watercolor and pen and ink.  I even worked in ballpoint pen because I loved the quick spontaneous line that it could give me.  When I first started illustrating children's books, I started paying attention to not only contemporary children's book illustrators, but illustrators from the 50's and 60's as well.  When "Little Miss Liberty" came out, my style was humbly compared to that of David Small, who's work I absolutely love.  In my most recent books, including "Pandora's Box" and "I'll Trade My Peanut Butter Sandwich", the major influence definitely is from the artists from the 60's.  I've always admired and loved Mary Blair's work and recently I have discovered artists such as Abner Graboff, Virginia Lee Burton, and Roger Duvoisin.  

CHRIS:  Have you ever written a story with a certain artist in mind?


JULIA:  Well, Chris, I actually wrote “Pandora’s Box” with you in mind.  I thought about the type of story, which would provide a good chemistry between my words and your pictures… a happy marriage, so to speak.  I envisioned the way in which you use large blocks of color and how the Pole could offer a monochromatic canvas, which would juxtaposition nicely with a colorful ending.  The black and white penguin also served as a great source of contrast to the ending’s colorful finale.  I considered both elements and how they could heighten the excitement of the ending for young readers.  I also thought about how the colors you choose transmit the story as much as the content of your illustrations.  I kept all of this in mind while writing “Pandora’s Box.”  I’m a very visual writer and I could actually see each scene and the way it would look through your art as I wrote.  Your final illustrations came very close to what I originally envisioned.  The red bow on Pandora’s head was a pleasant surprise.  There again, the red color serves as foreshadowing to the secrets not yet revealed and highlights her independent streak.  So, anyway, in answer to your question, yes, I do sometimes think of an artist as I write a story, and in this case I definitely had you in mind, as you’re an illustrator I was very interested in working with.


Characters Engage members Chris Robertson and Julia Dweck have released their new children's e-book "Pandora's Box".  


The writer and educator Julia Dweck has written a whole number of top 20 e-books in the Amazon Bestsellers list in recent years, and the children's e-books of the writer, illustrator and assistant director at Fox Animation Chris Robertson, have also been very successful.  His title "Kit and Kaboodle" recently topped the Amazon list.


Characters Engage asked Julia, who wrote "Pandora's Box", and Chris, who illustrated it, for an interview, and in true collaborative spirit, the two decided to interview each other for us.




CHRIS: You were incredibly open to making "Pandora's Box" a complete collaboration between writer and illustrator. Is this how you typically approach a project?


JULIA:  Yes. I think it’s best to honor the talents that are brought to a project in order to get the most out of any collaboration.  The art is such a crucial element in a picture book.  I look for a partner whose talent I highly respect, whose art matches the story, and who will also honor the give and take of a solid collaboration.  I knew that you would bring your very best to the illustrations.  Therefore, I would never second-guess you from an artistic standpoint, although I knew you would have honored my input in that regard.  Additionally, I knew that you could bring other talents to the table, as well.  You’re an established children’s writer and you have a great sense of humor.  Therefore, it would have been shortsighted of me not to consider your input on the storyline, as well.  I think all egos need to be set aside in order to get the most out of any collaboration.  I think you do, too, and that’s why we gelled while working on “Pandora’s Box” together.


CHRIS:  Did you always imagine Pandora being a penguin, or was she ever any other animal?


JULIA: Pandora was always a penguin in my mind.  As I mentioned earlier, the black and white colors of the penguin seemed to be a good fit for the color direction of the storyline.  I also thought that the lines of the penguin would complement the lines of your illustration style.  Beyond that, who doesn’t love a penguin?  I wanted to develop a character that children would root for.  While all of Pandora’s friends warn her not to open the box, I hoped that the reader would feel invested and, perhaps, even see a little bit of himself or herself in the protagonist.  By developing a relatable, loveable character like Pandora, the reader would feel like a part of the adventure from beginning to end. 

CHRIS:  Is there a back-story to Pandora? Why is she such a loner?


JULIA:  Pandora isn’t a loner; she just has her own mind.  Pandora is an independent thinker and we need more of these in the world.  As a teacher, I try to instill creativity and resourcefulness in my students.  We don’t need more replicators.  The message is that you can bring about great change that will benefit others if you’re willing to take a risk and think outside the box.


CHRIS:  How would YOU survive in the Arctic?


JULIA:  I’d pack my parka, my Mac (so I could continue writing stories) and head straight for a Holiday Inn Express.

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JULIA:  "Pandora’s Box" was such fun to work on with you. What’s your favorite line in the book and why? What’s your favorite illustration from "Pandora’s Box" and why? 


CHRIS:  This book really was fun to work on.  I'd have to say my favorite line in the book is the last line: "Her playful prying brought delights, the splendor known as Northern Lights."  It's not only my favorite because the idea stemmed from a comment my cousin's daughter made, but also because of how it was interpreted so poetically and beautifully by Julia.  My favorite illustration would have to be the cover.  The landscape (horizontal) version's composition and color scheme is something that I'm really proud of.  I also love the fact that it not only introduces Pandora, but also the box and many of the secondary characters.  


JULIA: If you met Pandora, what advice would you offer her?


CHRIS:   Don't take any wooden icicles.  Or... one in the hand is worth two in the box. Or... if it waddles like a penguin and squawks like a penguin, chances are... it's a penguin.  Of course, if she was my daughter, I would tell her be your own penguin and follow your heart (not your flippers).


JULIA:   If you stumbled upon a mysterious locked box what would YOU most like to find inside?


CHRIS:   The security of knowing that my family would be safe and sound for a very long time.  Or maybe an In and Out Burger.  


Thank you Julia and Chris.  Please click the links below for the "Pandora's Box" Amazon page, "Pandora's Box" on Youtube, as well as Chris' and Juila's websites.