Achievements: Her books have been released in over 20 countries and in several languages. And her work has been exhibited in several galleries in Argentina and abroad. Her first book Vida de perros (“A Dog’s Life”) was published in 1997. Among her extensive back catalogue are works such as the successful Tener un patito es útil (“It’s useful to have a duck”), Petit (“Petit the monster”) and Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story. Isol is also a vocalist in Sima, a music duo with her brother. She was previously the lead singer in the pop band Entre Ríos.
Awards: Finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006 and 2007 on behalf of Argentina (IBBY/International Board of Books for Young People, Switzerland). In 2013, she won the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2013 (Sweden).
In 2013, Isol, the Argentine picture book illustrator and author, won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, one of the world’s most respected awards in children’s literature. According to the statement released by the jury at that time, in her work Isol “exposes the absurdities of the adult world.”
It’s easy to agree with that idea. There is always something humourous in the work from Isol’s prolific yet multifaceted career as graphic artist, writer and even singer. A few days before the La noche de los dibujantes, a festival taking place today at the Ciudad Cultural Konex that will bring together more than 100 of the country’s most important cartoonists, graphic artists and illustrators, Isol welcomed the Herald to her study in the Almagro neighbourhood, for a chat.
After so many years of intense work, what are you doing now?
Well, I’m restarting again because I had a daughter a year ago, so I’ve been more calm with everything (work-related). Now I have a project, a new story and I’m thinking of other ones too as I work for two different publishing houses. And I try to be at events such as La noche de los dibujantes because I find them really interesting. I’m proud to be part (of the event) because there I’m in touch with many colleagues whom I admire so much, even some of those whom I read when I was a child. In this (year’s) edition, I will also sing, so I’m really excited about it. At the same time I’m resuming with conferences and work trips. And all that is a lot! I try always to release one book every year, but it takes time, from the minute you have the idea until you see that it actually works.
Do you show your material to anyone in this phase?
Yes, I show my sketches to two or three people whom I really trust and like their views. I feel safer after consulting with them. What one produces is very delicate and it’s good to take care of it. So I try not to show things to my editors first but to these people I trust. I’m very glad right now to be having ideas. There are moments in a career in which many may demand a lot of things from you. It’s important to have a moment to think and to do.
And how is that moment, taking into account that your work combines both drawing and writing the stories?
There are moments in which I have the idea of a text but I start thinking about the technique of the illustration. For example, if I want to try a more elaborated texture. Sometimes the idea of a book can appear just after I wish to use some technique. But truth be told, I think about both things at the same time.
Something odd happened with my book Menino that was very peculiar because it had much more text than the rest. And sometimes that makes it hard for the translators. Translating a text that involves humour is very difficult. I know some of the translators but, for example, when they translated into Chinese, it wasn’t possible (for me) to control it. So the only thing left for me is to trust.
Do you think of your readers when creating? Because obviously many see your work as books aimed at children but in the end it’s the adults who buy them.
I think my books are funny for little children. And I like good books for children. I also think that books aimed at children should be really good and funny. I have fun with my books (laughs) and the same happens to me when I get in contact with good material from other authors. At the same time, I don’t say: ‘These books are for children and not for adults.’ I don’t remember who said this, but I agree with the idea: ‘Children’s books are aimed even at children.’ In mine, what happens is that the main characters are children. But for me it’s always about human beings living in certain places. And it’s odd that an adult couldn’t empathise with something that happens to a kid.
Would you work on something specifically aimed at adults?
I don’t know. And there isn’t a huge market for that. The truth is I like the language of my books because it allows me to talk about things I’m interested in. For some they might be innocent stories, but they aren’t. In fact in La bella Griselda (“Beautiful Griselda”) the main character is a princess that’s beautiful and everyone loses their minds for her. For me that’s something related to the society we live these days and how women are seen sometimes. So that kind of stuff appears because it exists. And children copy what adults do.
It’s funny because sometimes people ask me in interviews: ‘Do your books show problems that are facing women because you are a woman?’ And I think that when a male author writes about something, no-one asks them if they are talking about male problems as those stories are seen as universal. It’s funny but at the same time it worries me. Sometimes society seems to me to be a bit old-fashioned. It might be because I don’t watch TV (laughs).
The publishing industry is facing a crisis these days with sales having tumbled in the last months. But books for children didn’t; it’s a branch that envigorates the industry.
I like that because I think books are very helpful in children’s lives. They are part of a shared moment with adults, and it’s a very enjoyable moment. The rhythm of movies, for instance, is very different to the one of books. With books children feel they have a leading role in the stories as they decide the rhythm, if they want to stay for a while staring at a page, they can even imagine the voices of the characters. With books you are the one who decides.
Do you find it shocking when you realise that something that you produced is funny for a kid in Argentina, but also for one living in Japan or in Finland?
I didn’t go to the most exotic places where my books have been released but I find it amazing that they (the children) can laugh after the same things and enjoy the same things. The other day I was reading a work of Arno Stern’s in which he says that the drawings little children make in different cultures tend to be very similar. It made me think that there are certain images or ways to capture certain things that belong to ourselves. Then you might change with time. He also says that drawing without an specific purpose is something that completes ourselves. You process things you can’t process in other ways. And I completely agree with that, as that happens with art in general when you start with something you don’t know exactly how it’s going to end.
Do you feel the same with music?
Yes. The difference is that I’m a singer and in a way I’m my own instrument. So being your own instrument; there are certain things you have to train. You have to be in tune. There might be more narration in illustration, I mostly always think about scenes or little anecdotes. When I write songs I also like them to tell a story, so there is a link between both disciplines.
What has changed in your career or in the way you work after you won such an important award (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award)? Was it like reaching the peak of something?
Well, I think this helped me but when I got the award I already felt like I was at the peak because I feel very lucky to have the job that I have and to do what I really like to do, or to have editors waiting for my material. By then I had already had my first child, and having children makes you move from being at the centre of everything. It’s something that leaves your ego with less energy to grow. At first it was difficult for me to understand that they were giving such an award to me. I couldn’t believe that it was really happening. I even felt a bit ashamed. I don’t know if many things changed. The good part of it is that my books started to be available in many more countries. Sometimes I feel the responsibility and think ‘Wow, I have to do something really amazing now because supposedly I’m really good at this.’ (Laughs.) But I really don’t know what I’m doing next and I even can’t control it. What I try to do is to take care of what I do because now I receive more offers and I think it’s important to be coherent in what you do. But when I start working, it was all about being alone and being willing to play for a while.