Korky Pauls world: youth and imagination
By Ines Min
Witches live in large, spooky houses, have frazzled manes of hair and wear offbeat, quirky clothing like striped socks. Right?
For Korky Paul, award-winning children’s book illustrator, that’s exactly what Winnie the Witch should look like. Known for his depiction of the silly, benign witch — whose inaugural adventure in 1987 saw her magically paint her black cat so as not to sit on him in her monochrome mansion — Paul helped evolve the image of magic in the imaginative world of children.
Since the tale’s sweeping of the Children’s Book Award a year after publication, Paul, 59, has continued with his distinctive style, optimistic hope for imagination and realism within the industry. Winnie the Witch — now published in 30 languages with more than 3 million copies sold — continues her ventures in Korea as well, with the recently-released “Winnie in Space.”
“I’m always amazed by why my books do so well in Korea because you’ve got such wonderful artists in this country as well,” Paul told a group of reporters last week in Insa-dong, central Seoul.
But it is the illustrator’s keen understanding of that youthfulness — himself a vibrant personality who sports his own Winnie socks, compliments of a Spanish fan — that keeps the franchise alive, the latest being the 11th in the series.
“Winnie in Space” is the first to boast endpapers illustrated by children themselves. Put to a competition, a boy and girl (ages 7 and 11, respectively, an attention to age vital in prepubescent interactions, according to the artist) captured the likenesses of Winnie and her cat Wilbur exploring the vastness of the universe.
“The kids, they see the drawings and they understand they’re children’s drawings,” Paul said. “They’re really fascinated by it, so a lot of discussion happens around it.”
“I encourage children to draw from their imagination when I do drawing workshops, rather than them trying to copy my artwork, because I think when you do that it’s frustrating,” he said. “Because it doesn’t look exactly like my artwork and they’re not happy with it. And you know how children, they want it to be perfect or something, and they get really frustrated with it.”
Paul’s own liberty with imagination is what led to his success. Originally portrayed as a grass-roofed, cottage house, Winnie’s residence was soon switched for a stately, curio-filled mansion, in an endeavor to avoid the cliches of the time.
“It gave a great environment for the story to happen in, interesting things to draw, much more interesting than a little cottage,” Paul said, adding that the only description given by “Winnie” author Valerie Thomas was the minimal “a black house.”
These days, detail and personal references are included in the “Korky Paul World,” with crowd scenes providing cameo opportunities for friends, family, and other Paul creations like Professor Puffendorf. The artist, who lives a portion of the year in Greece with his family, always makes sure to include Greek words and symbols, while throwing in a dash of superstitious fun on his leading witch’s behalf (the number 13, “M” for magic, etc). An attention to minutiae and blooming of ideas within ideas is what makes Paul’s work so well-received: an expansion with the story, progression without detours.
But multiculturalism is perhaps a key influence for the Zimbabwean-born Paul, who studied in Europe, the United States, and got his first start in the illustrating business with a Scottish editor for a Greek publisher — working on an English-education picture book by the very man who first taught him the language in South Africa. With an array of cultural dabbling behind him, the artist manages to appraise new worlds with an open eye.
“Koreans have a particular sensibility, a particular way of looking at things and it has all to do with your culture, the brushes.”
He added that he wished the U.K. would open its children’s book markets to include work from other countries, as his network of editors seemed hesitant to break down the cultural boundaries.
“Picture books aren’t necessarily photographically real — they’re a view of the world,” he said of those work hailing from other lands. “They look so fresh, I think, to my eye, and so different.”
And what’s next for Winnie and her companion cat Wilbur? “Winnie Underwater,” Paul revealed.
“I was thinking, ‘From space, where do we go? We went up, now we go down.’”