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How Andrew and I Introduced Each Other to a Boy Named Janner

[Editor’s note: Rejoice, Kickstarter backers! The presses are rolling on The Warden and the Wolf King. We’ll send out a Kickstarter survey in the next few days to collect shipping addresses, so keep a close watch on your email.]

Around two years ago, Andrew Peterson and I were just shooting the breeze now and then about a nice illustrated map for the fourth and final chapter of his acclaimed Wingfeather Saga. I was pumped about it and itching to get started, but I was secretly telling my wife Gina, “I wonder if Andrew would let me do some other art as well. Like, for free.”

Well it just so happened, while we were on the phone about this time last year, that he popped the question. And I said, “NO, Andrew! I’m happily married!” Wait . . . that’s not how it went at all. We were discussing the map when he kind of fished around, wondering if I would be up to doing some additional art for the book. It kind of sounded like this:

“Well, I would REALLY love to have the book be heavily illustrated, but we don’t have a budget, or any money at all . . . so I probably can’t pay you much—or anything—but I’m sure we’ll find a way to pay you something, somehow.” [Editor’s note: Let the record show that thanks to all the generous Kickstarter backers, we did indeed pay Joe for his hard work.]

I didn’t care about the money. I had no major projects in front of me, and I was worn down from my endless search for work amongst the NY publishing elite. I was ready to just do some real art for once, and this series already had a fantastic fan base. So, I agreed to do some art—for free. We weren’t sure how it would all work out, or turn out, but we were excited to collaborate and make something great, no matter what it took.

Justin Gerard’s work had embellished the pages of previous Wingfeather books, but there was never the budget to allow him to accomplish a grand vision (ah, the wonders of Kickstarter). I wanted to honor his designs, while still digging in with my own style, and really explore the fine details of Aerwiar. Justin left a lot of room for interpretation with his airy, smokey visuals, but I always went back to them, really wanting this new vision to feel a part of the world he had begun to depict.

I asked Andrew to send me a list of all the characters of concern, along with detailed descriptions. After looking them over, I decided to begin with our young hero, Janner Igiby. (I’m playing it safe in case there’s a slimy Fang of Dang lurking about. His real name is Wingfeather—but don’t read that aloud.)

I have a tendency to lean toward a slightly playful flair when creating characters, but my first attempt at Janner looked very much like a clumsy Disney squire. Andrew quickly explained that he was really hoping we could design the characters with a sense of realism that lent itself to the darker tones of the story. I decided to ramble out a slew of facial concepts and see where it led us. Again, I ran these by Andrew and he narrowed it down to a few different faces. After I combined the best aspects of these, I stumbled upon a face we both felt was right on target. It needed to convey a sense of responsibility and weight while still being the face of a 12- or 13-year-old boy.

Once I finished the design of Janner’s full appearance, I stopped to look over it and it felt right, like it belonged. Andrew loved it—like, REALLY loved it—and that was a good feeling, but there’s something strange about coming along late in the game like I did and fleshing out characters that already exist, visually, inside the heads of thousands of readers. Its a responsibility I didn’t take lightly. I didn’t want to tamper with the mind’s eye of the Wingfeather fan.

Several months later, we began the Kickstarter campaign and fans flocked to my Instagram feed. I was nervous, but as I read through their comments I began to see exclamations such as “That’s exactly how I pictured him!” Likewise with the other characters. I even got to talk with some kids at Hutchmoot who were fans, and as they thumbed through my sketches I would ask them who it was they saw on the page. The kids had no trouble naming the characters I had sketched, even without names on the page! I was on the right track.

In the coming months, I look forward to sharing even more stories and characters with you, and I can’t wait to hear your reactions once the book lands in your mailboxes.


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