Even if the world does not travel as much anymore, Arthur continues… Caroline Ferrero Menut, a lawyer by vocation, and Nicole Devals – illustrator and graphic designer – have not finished making us travel through their stories which awaken curiosity and enthusiasm in children and adults alike.
Could you share a bit about your professional background and how you came to give birth to Arthur?
Caroline: I created the character of Arthur. I’m a lawyer and have two children so I am used to expressing myself through writing. I wanted to introduce my children to Europe through playful stories. I remember the days when my parents would take us to a city or museum – it was always quite off-putting.
I thought it was a shame to bring my children to cities like London, Brussels, or other international cities, without them knowing anything about the city. At the time, I looked to see if there were any books to awaken their curiosity about these destinations but it was unsuccessful. It was then that I decided to write a story about Arthur in London, which was the first destination. I read the story to them to see if it piqued their interest. It worked out really well, they had never been to London and said to their father, who wasn’t coming with us to London, ’Daddy you’ll see we’re gonna go visit Big Ben and Tower Bride’ ’. Once there, they had their schedule, they knew exactly what they wanted to do.
Nicole: I started drawing when I was a child, I was passionate about cartoons, also quite hooked to Disney like a lot of people during their childhood. I quickly started developing a passion for comics too. For me, drawing has always been something that adds more to the text. I decided at one point to venture into this, knowing that making a living from drawing was not easy. I first trained in the gymnasium and then in a drawing school, I then started working as a graphic designer in a printing house. Caroline found me through my website, we met and that’s how I found out about Arthur’s stories. I understood and saw the character straight away.
Caroline: I have no artistic talent so I looked for an illustrator, luck did it right and I came across Nicole. I immediately liked her style of drawing and a friendship was born from it in addition to work.
How can you keep your “child-like mind”?
Nicole: For me, it’s the enthusiasm we have when we are children and we keep. I have never lost it by continuing to be in the spirit of discovery. Having my own children also allowed me to continue living through them.
Caroline: I would say it’s really curiosity. I always feel like a child, I had children and now that they are grown up I feel like I am more childish than them. The child-like mind is really about curiosity and being open-minded. I’m interested in everything – knowing how a little seed grows, knowing how to clean a horse, how a building is made. Children can be entertained with anything and I think they can be interested and learn anything, you just have to put it within their reach. Within their reach is to keep it simple and natural, I think you won’t lose your child-like soul if you have had it. Laughing and playing is also part of it! My kids always tell me to stop being a kid.
After Venice, London, and Geneva, do you know where Arthur will travel to next?
Caroline: There are two destinations that I had in mind – Amsterdam or Barcelona. Barcelona because the city has a lot to offer on the artistic set which, in my opinion, remains quite accessible for children. It’s not too complicated, it’s a southern city, on top of that quite trendy. Amsterdam is more for matters of the heart, I have always enjoyed this city very much, it’s just beautiful. It’s an easy town for children, it is easy to walk around and Nicole is of Dutch origin as well!
Nicole: I came to Switzerland at the age of four but I have Dutch origins so I have a little preference for Amsterdam. It’s an easy city for children and there is something about Holland that you really can’t find elsewhere – the canals, all the crooked houses, the bike rides, the windmills …
Can you explain the 4-handed work to us? Does the text come first or do the drawings come first?
Caroline: I write the text and then give it to Nicole. I find that when you work in pairs, everyone has to stick to their know-how. Nicole has a lot of freedom, I just told her at the beginning how I imagined Arthur, she made me 2-3 sketches of Arthur until I found one that suited me. We both work in complete freedom.
Nicole: In terms of technique, in the very first book that was about Geneva the illustrations were completely hand-drawn. Normally I do drawings on the computer, on a tablet to be specific so it remains hand-drawn but it still makes it easier to edit afterward. I then print it on watercolor paper and paint it by hand. I started out like that so for me there needs to be a follow-up in that sense – that’s what makes the book so much more special. There is something alive with watercolors, the lights are different in every city, and watercolors are able to show the movement and life of each place.