Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
By Mélanie Watt
One day I vacuumed a fly—by accident! After realizing what had happened, I wondered what the bug was thinking. Did it know it had been vacuumed? Was it upset? Or was it just buzzing around inside the machine, without a care in the world? This is how the idea for Bug in a Vacuum (Tundra Books, 2015) was born.
Grief is something of a dark subject, but it can be defined in different ways: the loss of someone dear, a plan that goes awry, or a frustration of some sort. Everyone, young and old, goes through a whirlwind of feelings and emotions, but I wondered: Could I explore this universal experience with kid appeal, inspired by the five stages of grief?
Did I mention that this idea came to me more than a decade ago? I had just finished working on my first “Scaredy Squirrel” (Kids Can Press) book and my career was taking off thanks to this neurotic little critter. Plus, I was working on an idea about an egotistical cat with a red marker named Chester (Kids Can Press, 2009). So, the bug idea was put on the back burner for a while.
Why now, then? I was exploring different art styles and feeling enthusiastic about the 1950s retro art I was working on during my spare time. Furthermore, I was reunited with my longtime super-editor, Tara Walker. Everything was aligning to get things moving along.
Also, it felt right to me personally. I had lost many close relatives in a short period and working on this book was just what I needed to help me cope with difficult questions regarding grief. You could say Bug in a Vacuum was my personal self-help book for many, many months.
The vintage furniture in the book reminds me of my grandmother’s house. The kitschy 1950s cheeriness and picture-perfect, squeaky-clean look suited my overall vision and contrasted well with the discarded, unclean, and unappreciated housefly. I was eager to transport readers back in time. I decided to merge every stage of grief with a particular house product to introduce each emotion in a light, retro way.
Artistically, it was a challenge to tell a story from inside a dark vacuum, so I decided to introduce a sidekick—a dog named Napoleon. Having Napoleon lose his toy allowed me to take the story to another level and make the artwork more interesting. Both characters are going through the same frustrations, but for different reasons.
What I’ve discovered while working on Bug is that a 96-page book takes an eternity to create. But seriously, I learned to accept that I can’t control everything. Interesting fact: Scaredy Squirrel and Chester both have control issues! I guess it’s a topic I keep revisiting.
P.S. If you’re wondering what happened after I vacuumed that fly that fateful day? I emptied the bag.
All text and images are courtesy of Mélanie Watt and may not be used or reproduced without her express written consent.