Illustrated novel:

Why must everything change!

The project

In 2006, the Ministry for Family and Social Affairs of the Madrid government published a novel written by Carmen Olaechea and illustrated by me. It is titled “Why must everything change!” (Original title: “¡Por qué todo tiene que cambiar!” 128 pages, 45 color illustrations). The bookforms part of the collection “The family relates”, which aims to underline the importance of the family in society. The novel’s first edition of 100,000 copies has been distributed to schools, libraries, and organizations in the field of family and social affairs. The audiences are children between 9 and 13 years, families, educators, and other adults with a personal or professional interest in the subject.

What is the story about?

The Minister of Family and Social Affairs writes in her prologue to the book:

“With the story “Why must everything change!” we want to offer a tale to be read in the family, and invite the readers to reflect on the situations and conflicts of the protagonists. It is a tender text that feels familiar and yet entertaining, accompanied by colorful and detailed illustrations. Like many children whose divorced parents find a new spouse, also Ana, the main character, has mixed feelings, which burden and confuse her, and make her resist the emerging changes in her life. The book does not only tell how Ana adjusts herself to the new conditions, but also describes her profound inner transformation triggered by new members entering her family. Love and unremitting dialogue provide the principal guidance of this change; time, respect and honesty of all persons involved allow sustaining and overcoming even painful moments”.

How did the illustration evolve?

From the depth of my heart. What Carmen Olaechea tells in her story happened also to herself, her sons, their father and me, Carmen’s new husband. Some may say that, what she describes is too good to be true; too good to be invented, I say.

On the basis of a draft manuscript, we spent long days talking about the milestones of the inner development of the characters, and of those particular moments whose significance might yet gain depth by being illustrated: not because such moments were particularly figurative themselves, but because they permitted grasping the rich inner life of the actors. This led us to a first list of possible illustrations. So far so good. However, it is one thing to know that one of the future images would show Ana receiving a flower bouquet from her mother’s new partner when he and his two sons paid their first visit. But it is quite a different matter to decide what this image should focus on – on the adult man handing the flowers to the girl? On the hands of both in the brief moment when both hold the bouquet simultaneously? On Ana’s surprised face? There are a million possibilities to visualize one instant in a person’s life, and moreover: there exist as many interpretations of what, in this very moment, occurs in that person’s inner life. Does Ana feel only surprise? Or, surprise mixed with reproach? Or, surprise interwoven with embarrassment, pride or confusion? In this concrete case, I decided to put the focus on the flowers that cover Ana’s face almost entirely while the girl puts her nose deep into the bouquet, filling her lungs with the perfume of the flowers. The man is invisible (“out of the picture”) – I was looking but for this eternal split second when the girl is perfectly alone with the flowers. Is she opening herself to the new? Is she hiding? Has she become oblivious of the circumstances and all around her?

That is how the images emerged. They are challenging for children between 9 and 13 years, for they are considerably abstract and of a humor, which withdraws from rapid glances and only reveals itself to the patient and scrutinizing. Yet I do believe that young persons of that age – in the maturity of their infancy and shortly before entering adolescence – are wise. They do have access to complexity because they live and experience it every day. Would we help them if we offered them – in text or image – simplifications? Would they be able to enrich themselves if we sheltered them from the trademarks of poetry: ambiguity and uncertainty? No, I do not believe so. And, when adults have Carmen’s book in their hands: would not they too long for some poetic ambiguity?

What has changed?

For Ana and the other characters in the novel, change consists of new people, dynamics, challenges and opportunities entering their life. For me, it was the first time that the gates to the universe of colors swung open. Before, I had worked in black and white. Looking at my own life, I’d say: there is no happenchance.