Spotlight: John Lechner

John Lechner, writer, illustrator, animator, musician, puppeteer, and interactive designer, is in this week’s spotlight with a few words about his newest project, Elfbook: The Curious Journey. This venture into the online interactive market is the first for Lechner, who has authored and illustrated four children’s books: A Froggy Fable, Sticky Burr: Prickly Peril, The Clever Stick and Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest (winner of the 2010 Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award, by the Oregon Association of School Libraries).

Q) John, tell us about your newly released project; how is it similar or different from previous works?

A) I just launched an online interactive story called Elfbook: The Curious Journey, which I wrote, illustrated and animated. It’s very different than the picture books I’ve published with Candlewick Press, but is very much related to my interests in animation and interactive storytelling.

The story has no words, but follows a character through a mysterious world as he tries to unlock its secrets. The reader of the story must click to advance through each scene, but I intentionally used no arrows and no instructions. I wanted to create a totally immersive and intuitive storytelling experience. My brother Tony, a composer, created all the music and sound effects. 

I think interactive storytelling is an untapped medium that has barely been explored. There are so many directions you could take it, the possibilities are endless. I don’t think it will ever replace traditional novels and picture books, but it will open up new ways to tell stories. I have plans for other projects like this in the future, it’s a very exciting medium.

Q) How did you begin on this path as an author, illustrator, animator, and designer? What were the early influences on your work?

A) I had many creative influences as a child, and I grew up in a big family where everyone was always doing something interesting. I loved books and I loved to draw and write stories. Some of my favorite children’s book authors and illustrators were (and are) Maurice Sendak, Richard Scarry, Bill Peet, Sid Fleischman, and Arthur Rackham. I also loved the Tintin books, which are amazing in their originality and attention to detail. I’m also a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki. His comic Nausicaa continues to inspire me, it’s an epic story with so many great characters and themes.

In college I studied fine arts, illustration, creative writing and filmmaking. I was also a big fan of the Muppets and Jim Henson, who influenced everything from my writing to my animation. I’ve been interested in puppets all my life, and performed puppet shows professionally for three years after college. Puppetry is a unique art form that draws from many others, and it teaches you a lot about how to tell a story. 

Q) Would you share with us about your creative process: how do you decide what scene/details to draw or include, and how do you decide which medium works best?

A) Whether I’m doing a book or a film, I always start with the story. I’m always writing stories in my notebook, sometimes adding sketches along the way. In those early sketches I start to work out the visual vocabulary of the story. At this stage I don’t think about the final medium or audience yet, I just focus on the story. When the story is finished, I assess whether it would work best as a book or some other form.

My first book A Froggy Fable actually started as a web story before it became a book. I drew all the original pictures in Flash and put it online to try it out. When it was accepted as a book, I had to revise the story in order to fit 32 pages. I also decided to paint all the pictures in watercolor, which is my preferred medium on paper. All my picture books since then have been watercolor, though I tend to use computer images for my animations and web stories.

When it comes down to the actual execution of the illustrations, I generally work intuitively. I try to make everything serve a purpose, either compositionally or to help tell the story. In my recent book The Clever Stick, most of the images don’t go all the way to the edge because I wanted to focus on the stick, and any peripheral detail would have been a distraction.

For my interactive story, I wanted it to look like a drawing on paper that has come to life, almost as though you opened up a book and the characters started moving. That’s why I used the paper background and the simple character who looks like he was drawn with an ink pen. The story took on a life of its own as it developed, and it was a journey for me as well as for my character.

John Lechner’s Website:

Read his Blog:

See his Films, Games, etc.:

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Find Elfbook: The Curious Journey interactive story:

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