When I was young, I had a wonderful book called Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson (see my article here), about a boy with a magical crayon that becomes a pathway to adventures by bringing what is drawn with it to life.
It was one of my favorite books as a child. It was the kind of book that tugs a reader’s imagination off into their own flights of imagination — in short, the very best kind of children’s book (if not the very best kind of book in general).
I found the concept inspiring, and it remains a favorite on my bookshelf today. I have to assume the same can be said for illustrator and author Aaron Becker, who has taken a similar concept and spun his own magical story — and a beautifully illustrated one at that — in the form of his new book, Journey.
In a way, Becker takes the core concept — a drawing instrument that produces its own reality in the hands of an imaginative child — and extends it into an additional dimension, both in the level of the art, which is a beautiful blend of line and color, and in the depth of the story.
The story, by the way, is told wordlessly — a particularly demanding level of graphic storytelling — and Becker manages it with aplomb. It’s a prime example of how aspects of painting like value, contrast, controlled color ranges and compositional placement of key elements, can be used as storytelling tools.
There are sample illustrations on Becker’s website that give a taste of the book. Fortunately, these are reproduced fairly large (in the Prints section) — as they are in the delightfully-sized book itself — to give a broad canvas for the detail and finesse with which Becker has created them. I have to emphasize, however, that part of the joy of these images is how they work together in sequence to tell a story — something you don’t get from seeing them in isolation.
There is also a video trailer for the book, that Becker animated, and a “Making Of” video, along with a portfolio of Becker’s film design work, reflecting some of the 10 years he spent as a concept artist in Doug Chiang’s studio.
You can also find a discussion of the process of creating the elaborate castle illustration in a post on Gurney Journey. In addition, there is an extensive process oriented interview with Becker, with lots of images, on Seven Impossible Things.
There is also a blog, devoted to the release and promotion of the book.
The care Becker has taken both in the wordless presentation of the story, and in the structure, design and rendition of the images themselves, lends the book its most marvelous quality: Journey is not only a beautifully illustrated book that invites lingering and re-readings, but a platform for the reader’s own flights of imagination — in short, the very best kind of children’s book (if not the very best kind of book in general).