Interview, research, review, write, publish
CURTIS Jobling has worked on Aardman Animation’s Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave, Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks – and he designed Bob the Builder , Raa Raa the Noisy Lion and Frankenstein’s Cat. His latest work is the Wereworld series: Rise of the Wolf, Rage of Lions and Shadow of the Hawk are the first three fantasy horror novels featuring young werewolf Drew Ferren.
I can’t really give one answer here. I’m fortunate that my work straddles a couple of creative fields, via animation as well as publishing. My first ever work in animation was when I was 21: work experience on Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave followed by work as a model painter on Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! movie, a job undertaken in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. As an author/illustrator, my first picture book was published in 2001. Bearing in mind I’ve coloured in for most of my life, my rudimentary powers of maths tell me that I’d have been 29 when this happened. Then the first Wereworld novel, Rise of the Wolf, was published in 2011, when I was 39. I seem to have had a few ‘debuts’ in different careers.
When you were young what did you want to be?
I was always fascinated by cinema and books, words and pictures, moving images. My truthful answer would be that I wanted to be King of the Rocketmen, but that was never going to happen to a scrawny, freckly child from Cheshire, regardless of his uncanny natural prowess with jetpack-based propulsion systems. I doodled from an early age, but never imagined that it could ever lead into a career – I was told by teachers and career advisors that there was no such thing as ‘creative industry’. It gives me great joy today to visit schools and festivals up and down the country, enthusing about creative writing, illustration and animation, hopefully inspiring a new generation of writers and artists and proving those nay-sayers wrong.
What inspired you to be what you are today?
I take my inspiration from the things I loved as a boy – Where the Wild Things Are, The Hobbit, Star Wars, Flash Gordon etc. My imagination has been a wild and vivid playground throughout my life, and a great deal of my youth was misspent in the company of my friends, playing roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. This is where I learned to spin a yarn, to tell a tale, thrilling my friends with tales of fantasy and horror.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I’ve a few. As designer of Bob the Builder, I recall almost having a heart attack when I heard A N Other random child singing the theme tune in the street for the first time. Seeing my other animated shows on the TV, Frankenstein’s Cat and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion, was a real thrill. I suspect I’m most proud of the Wereworld series of fantasy horror novels, as they’re such a departure from what I’m known for and have become my main work now, seemingly eclipsing my animation work. I’m especially proud as – and this must be the same for most authors – it was a battle to get the first novel written and out there. The first time one writes a novel, it’s a labour of love; a vanity project which one only hopes might get picked up. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones as my work was published and has been well received, for which I’m eternally grateful, not least to my publishers Puffin and my editor, Shannon Cullen.
In your opinion, who is the most inspiring person that you have met?
That’s a tough one as I’ve met some incredible people. I’m going to go with my children. They mean the world to me, and it’s for them that I work so hard, ensuring they’re safe and looked after. It helps that I love what I do for a living, and can only imagine I’d be writing and illustrating as a hobby if I had a real job!
Who did you see as a role model when you were young?
There’s a chap called Ian Mackinnon, co-owner of Mackinnon & Saunders animation studio on Altrincham, and he’s had a profound influence on my career since I was 11. He went to the same high school as me back in Warrington, and although he was 5 years older than me he cast a very long and fabulous shadow. Ian went on to work in the animation industry making Oscar nominated films and providing puppets for TV series and feature films. Here was a man from my home village going on to work in the wonderful world of cartoons! I followed the trail he’d blazed and via working together on Bob the Builder Ian and I now collaborate on shows like Frankenstein’s Cat and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. I feel most humbled and honoured to call this man my friend.
What has been the scariest moment in your career?
Scariest moment was being out of work for 12 months – not so much Curtis Jobling but Curtis Jobless. Just as my last pennies were running out I heard that a new studio was setting up in Altrincham. That same week I’d accepted a ‘proper job offer’ designing kitchens and with a last roll of the dice visited the new studio and met with producer, Jackie Cockle. She loved my work and said there and then that she wanted me to design Bob the Builder. The rest, as they say, is history. There’s being in the right place at the right time, which I certainly was – but by your actions you can PUT yourself in the right place at the right time.
If you weren’t what you are today what would you be?
I reckon I’d be a teacher. I love working with kids and its one of the best parts of my job that I visit schools across the country and beyond enthusing about creative industries, art and writing, pretending to be a teacher for the day before legging it, leaving a class of giggling schoolkids in my wake!
What do you do in your spare time?
I have four children. I do not understand this phrase: ‘spare time’. In all honesty, I write late most nights, but if I’m not writing I’m chilling on the sofa with Mrs Bling, off out to watch my local rugby league team, Warrington Wolves, or catching up with my mates over the occasional old school roleplaying game. That’s right: you too can be an anorak when you’re in your Forties!
Have you got any unusual talents?
Nothing I could repeat here without fear of prosecution or being tarred and feathered.
Have you ever had any pets?
Yes, lots of cats down the years culminating in my current pair of Bengals, Eric and Ernie, and a Cocker Spaniel named Samwise (as in Gamgee).
What is your favourite music?
I have an eclectic taste, but I do like a nice bit of indie, be it folk or alternative. Arcade Fire, Avett Bros, Aimee Mann… that’s just the As, I could be here all day…
Convincing the whole of the production team of Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave to pile into Oscar-winning Nick Park’s edit suite on my last day of work experience at Aardman. There was a misunderstanding which was wholly down to hapless little old me – turned down it was the best thing I could’ve done as they remember me there to this day, albeit for all the wrong reasons. It’s very important to make an impression!
What do you think will be the best thing about 2012?
Finishing writing and delivering two new novels – the fifth in the Wereworld series for Puffin, in addition to my first young adult comic horror novel for Simon & Schuster, working title: HAUNT. It’s going to be a busy couple of years!
What is the weirdest thing about you?
I have 8 and a half toenails: blame ill-fitting shoes and crippling in-growing toenails as a child. Oh, and one of my ancestors was the last man to be hung in a gibbet in Britain. You’re thinking it was for pig-rustling or something, aren’t you?