Ben Newman is a children’s illustrator who combines a contemporary fusion of bold shapes, bright colours and playful characters. He has worked for a wide range of clients, including The Tate Modern, The New York Times, BBC Radio 4, Google and The New Yorker. Ben Newman’s work also extends outside of just commercial work, he has also had his work exhibited around the world, and dabbles with paintings and three dimensional collaborations. Most of Ben’s time these days is spent on his work on the Professor Astro Cat children’s books which he does with his longtime friend and scientist, Dr. Dominic Walliman. The series are published by Flying Eye Books and have now been translated into 18 other languages. When not illustrating, Ben Newman can be found delivering lectures at various Universities and conferences across Europe. Please enjoy my interview with Ben Newman…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I am a children’s illustrator. I have authored and co-authored a couple of books but I still don’t feel comfortable using the term ‘author’ about myself.
I’m reading two books at the moment, The Private Island by James Meek, which looks at the effects of privatisation and the demonising of the state. I’m also reading Unreal City by Michael Smith, it’s about his life in his late-twenties, drifting through London and odd locations in the south east of the UK. I really love the way he describes his surroundings, characters and mood. His film work is also brilliant.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I vividly remember getting my first copy of an English comic called The Beano when I was very young. I can’t remember whether it was my gran or aunt that gave it to me. I know that I was given it because it was a comic that they enjoyed when they were a child. I remained sat on the sofa for ages, mesmerised by it while the rest of my family were in the garden having a barbecue.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
Barcelona Plates by Alexei Sayle. It’s a collection of short stores and is so much fun to read that it ignited my passion for reading again in my late teens.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Gosh, its hard to pick. Either when I put window hinges together on a conveyor belt in a factory for 8 hours a day or when I had to deliver milk to the wards in the hospital.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I don’t read as many books as I’d like to but I do read plenty of sequential narratives and comics. Luckily, I have to travel for events quite often so I make sure I read plenty then.
Bone by Jeff Smith. Its jaw-dropping and made me realise that in order to made something good, it takes time and patience.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
American Tabloid by James Ellroy. I’ve read it 3 times. A book needs to be pretty incredible for me to read it even twice. Brutal, elegant and kept me gripped. I love how Ellroy weaves in the historical events because it makes me read up on events in American politics after so that I understand the context better.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Anything by Raymond Chandler. I regularly buy second hand copies of his books to give to friends whether they want it or not.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I love Crime as a genre. Chandler and Hammett are two of my favourite authors ever.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Full of screens, lighting up pale faces.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Yes, any of Brian K Vaughan’s creator owned projects. He is one of the greatest writers in the comics industry. His imagination and narrative pacing are utterly amazing. I never get bored of reading any of his work. Y: The Last Man and Private Eye are some of my favourite stories ever.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
Not if publishers continue to make books that are beautiful objects. I think that there is space for both but I guess it’s the next generation that will decide.
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
Something that effectively communicates and persuades people to be more empathetic. Racism and xenophobia is on the rise and we need to fight harder to understand each other and discuss problems effectively. Humanity is becoming too individualistic.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Wow, that is tough. I own and have read so many books that have all had an impact on me for different reasons at different times that I just can’t pick.
There are books that I remember vividly from childhood like Angry Arthur by Hiawyn Oram, Not Now, Bernard by David McKee and the Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves have remained deeply ingrained in my memory for 30+ years so they should be mentioned. They all inspired me from a young age and not just visually.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’m hoping to finish The House of Saud by David Holden and Richard Johns before 2018.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
The Scenic Route.