If you haven’t had the pleasure of Professor Astro Cat yet, you must! Scientific learning packaged in such a way that you don’t realise you’re drinking in mind blowing facts and stats. Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure is the latest genius book from Flying Eye.
We got the chance to pose questions to the creators Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman about their new offering. Dr Dominic Walliman wrote the content and kindly answered our questions:
PBB: The first book, ‘Frontiers of Space‘ was groundbreaking in terms of its content and design. A scientific lesson packaged in such a way you don’t realise that’s what you’re getting. Is this intentional?
DDW: We wanted to work out how to use all of the tools of storytelling to present science: bold illustrations, characters, humour and narrative. It’s unfortunate that people’s experience with science has been so much like lessons – it doesn’t have to be! Science is one big story after all, and I would love for people to feel like they can learn about science simply because they are curious about how the Universe works.
PBB: You’re clearly a very clever man, is it difficult to make the complexities of scientific information ‘child-friendly’?
DDW: It’s difficult to explain things to other people because you have to try and remember what it was like to learn these things for the first time yourself. I have got better at this the more I do it, and Ben has helped keep me in line when I go too far down a rabbit hole.
PBB: The app is great tool to support the book, did you have any input into it?
The app is based on the text in the book and I did some fact checking, but apart from that the rest wall all built by the people at Minilab Studios
. They did and excellent job!
PBB: If you spent a week on the moon, other than loved ones, which 3 people would you want to share it with?
DDW: I’d say Albert Einstein because that would be cool, Dr. Manhattan in case anything went wrong and Michael Collins from the Apollo 11 mission because he got so close but didn’t get to go onto the surface and might rather enjoy it.
Interview with Ben Newman – Illustrator
PBB: Professor Astro Cat reminds us of an old skool cartoon character, did you take inspiration from anything?
My woodwork teacher set homework that involved drawing the instructions of something we were building, so I’d often draw a cartoon character to demonstrate the process. Making Professor Astro Cat books aren’t too far removed from that. I loved the Hannah Barbera cartoons as a child so they have inspired me. Simplicity is key and I’m not of fan of 3D cartoons, so I brought my childhood inspirations to a new generation.
PBB: Many author/illustrator collaborations don’t even get to meet, we know you and Dominic go way back, but did you spend time together working on the books?
BN: At the start of ‘Frontiers of Space’, we did physically sit down and work out how we thought the book should work. After the text was finished and I was half way through that book, Dominic moved to Canada to work on Quantum computers. We stay in touch via email, but we found we needed to talk whilst making ‘Atomic Adventure’, face to face over Skype. This was a huge help and made us feel like a team.
PBB: Your use of shape and colour are perfect for picture books, did you make a conscious decision to illustrate kids books?
BN: No, not at all. Walker Books approached me in 2004 just as I’d graduated, but ultimately my work wasn’t a good fit so I gave up on the idea and pursued other things. Back in 2011, I just really wanted to make a book about Space and due to my aesthetic, aiming it towards children seemed like a natural thing to do.
PBB: Is the illustrating process for a non-fiction book different to the process for a piece of fiction?
BN: Last year I finished my first children’s book, so I know first-hand the differences. There’s an element to creating fiction books for children that is free and open because you are trying to solve how best to tell the story visually. This can be challenging and takes time to solve effectively. I found writing the story to be the hardest part. The Professor Astro Cat books use existing information, but there is a visual narrative that I apply to that. Making sure that the information is delivered in a comprehensive and engaging way with other visual narratives happening within it, is more difficult and takes a long time.
Huge thanks to Dominic and Ben for taking time out to answer our questions and to Flying Eye for setting it up for us! Fantastic books aimed at a younger audience and which makes Science accessible for all.