"I wanted to make something that gets people's imagination going by using illustration to create an atmosphere which they could get absorbed in."
When we featured Redbubble artist Alex G. Griffiths on this blog back in June 2014, he mentioned that he was working on a book. Well now we’re thrilled to report that Alex has released The Middle of Nowhere, an illustrated tale about a fox who sets off on an imaginative and darkly whimsical adventure.
We caught up with Alex to discuss the process of creating, releasing, and marketing The Middle of Nowhere, including why it’s important to share your work with others, listen to criticism, spread the word, and most importantly, be persistent.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you were very much focused on putting together your book, The Middle of Nowhere. And, now, it’s out. Congratulations! How do you feel now that you’ve accomplished this goal?
Thanks! It definitely feels great to have it finished, and I’m so happy that it turned out how I wanted it to. Although I tried to plan it out fully beforehand, you can never really tell how it’s going to all come together into one piece of work, but seeing it printed and being able to flick through the pages felt really good.
What can you tell us about the plot of the book?
It starts with a lonely fox that receives an anonymous note asking him to follow, so he packs up his stuff and sets off on a journey. He travels through different environments and landscapes and meets a few different characters along the way that help him out. The who, where, and why is left up to the interpretation of the reader. I wanted to make something that gets people’s imagination going by using illustration to create an atmosphere which they could get absorbed in. You know when you wake up from a dream that doesn’t make sense, and you spend ages thinking about what it could mean? Kind of like that. I wanted there to be a sense of mystery surrounding it.
What was the process of creating and putting together The Middle of Nowhere like? How long did it take, and did you face any interesting challenges along the way?
I think it was a fairly smooth process, but I probably did it the wrong way round. The idea came from a one-off drawing in a sketchbook I did a couple of years ago that I really liked. I decided to try and make a book based around what happened before this scene took place, so I was kind of working back to front. I put a storyboard together and made a small mock-up with all the basic layouts designed, and then pretty much just started on the illustrations. It took me about a year from starting the first drawing to having it all printed. I have a full-time job so this had to be done in the evenings and weekends.
There were definitely plenty of challenges, and I made some mistakes too. Apart from the usual challenges you face as an illustrator, the big thing I found is that my style and technique developed over the course of making the book, so I ended up with the final pages looking noticeably different from the first pages. I ended up having to go back to the beginning to redo some of the original drawings so they matched the rest of the book, which was frustrating but also satisfying to see that I had improved.
The main mistake I made was not discussing it with anyone at the beginning. By the time I did show it to my wife I had done so much already that making changes were really tricky. She spotted things that I had missed straight away, and I ended up having to add bits and rearrange things to make it fit together. In the future I am definitely going to get more input and advice along the way.
I’ve noticed that you’ve eschewed using dialogue entirely, and tell the story using only the illustrations. What influenced you to make this choice?
When you take away the words, it puts all the focus on the visuals to tell the story, which was the main point of the book for me. I was hoping that by making it a purely illustrated book, it would allow the reader to get more absorbed by the story, and let their imaginations fill in the blanks. If I had added words, I don’t think it would have had the same effect, and it would have taken some of the mystery away from the book. It was also a great challenge for me to illustrate all the different environments, emotions, and expressions without the words to back them up.
If I recall correctly, this is your first published book. How have you been handling marketing for the book in particular? In our last interview, you mentioned that Facebook had been a great vehicle for your work; has this also proven true for The Middle of Nowhere, or have you needed some additional measures?
Yeah absolutely. My Facebook page has definitely been my main marketing tool, as I have the most followers on there, but I’ve found Instagram and Behance have been really good too. I tried to build a bit of a buzz around it by posting regular updates, sketchbook drawings, and finished illustrations so by the time it was all done I already had some pre-orders and people waiting for it. Once it was all printed I tried to take some nice photos to show it off. I also made a video which was really popular when I posted it. I then submitted it to Gosh! Comics in London, and was amazed that they wanted to stock it in their independent comics section. I’ve just tried to get it out there and not worry too much about overdoing it. The more people that hear about it the better.
What is one thing you tried in your marketing plans for The Middle of Nowhere that just didn’t work the way you thought it would?
While I was making the book, I planned ahead by trying to find places where I would love to see my work featured, and ended up with a pretty long list of blogs and websites to submit to. There were a few that I highlighted as the ones that I really hoped that I would hear back from, but so far I haven’t heard anything. Maybe they will get back to me eventually! To be honest though, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the response so far, I can’t be too disappointed that I haven’t heard back from a few places.
Now that you’ve finished and published The Middle of Nowhere, what is your next goal?
I kind of started my next project before I finished this one. I’ve been wanting to make a proper children’s book for ages, so I’m collaborating with my wife, who’s much better with words than I am. So far we’ve written half of it, and I’ve been working on some different character designs, as well as experimenting with colour too. Once we have the full story written and some finished spreads illustrated, I’m going to start submitting it to publishers and see what happens. It’s going to be a long process, but we’re both really excited to see how it turns out.
Is there a particular feeling you want to leave people with after they experience The Middle of Nowhere?
The book is meant to be dream-like, melancholy and a bit eerie, so those are the feelings I’m trying to get across. I think most people will interpret it differently, so they will be left with different feelings and thoughts, but maybe if it gave them some inspiration for their own work that would be great.
If you could have any one celebrity or famous person, alive or dead, fictional or not, endorse your work, whom would you choose as your spokesperson, who would it be and why?
I think I would choose Quentin Blake, his pen and ink drawings have been a huge inspiration to me. I also love the work of the children’s book illustrator Jon Klassen. Fingers crossed they read the Redbubble Blog.
And, finally, do you have any advice for any of the readers of the Redbubble Blog who may be planning on putting together a book, zine, comic, or graphic novel of their own?
I think I would say don’t try to work in isolation, discuss your ideas with people and get constructive criticism. If you don’t already have one, start a blog or webpage, post your work in progress, and gauge from people’s feedback if you’re on the right lines or not. And of course, don’t give up! It can become a bit of a struggle but it really is worth it when it all comes together.