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Type talks to Hildafolk comic author Luke Pearson

In Icelandic folklore,  hidden elves are called "Huldufólk". So it seems no mistake then that Luke Pearson's comic series, which is full of invisible little creatures, giants masquerading as mountains, and scruffy folks that inhabit the wasted space between your bookcase and the wall, is called Hildafolk. Starring a curious and captivating blue-haired girl named Hilda, the series is about to release it's 5th book. This October Flying Eye Books gives us a new adventure: Hilda and the Stone Forest.

Type Books on Queen will have the whole Hilkafolk series on display, make sure you stop by and discover the cozy, imaginative, and idiosyncratic series we have fallen in love with. 

Type talks to Luke Pearson about problem-solving and storytelling, having faith in books, and reading right 'til the end.

What is the first book you remember loving?

When I got to the point when I was picking out my own books I liked non-fiction. I liked those big Dorling Kindersley and Usborn titles - stuff about history and nature with full-sized illustrated diagrams. A lot of pictures but a lot of factual information as well. I remember when I was at school and my teacher got wind of what I was into, and I had to explain it to the class, like it was this weird interesting thing.

I had noticed that Hilda is always reading non-fiction. 

Yeah. She just wants to learn, it's something that drives her. She wants to understand things. 

Would you ever want to illustrate a non-fiction book?

I don't think so. I like non-fiction with hyper realistic illustrations, with diagrams. The way I draw, what I actually enjoy drawing, wouldn't suit itself particularly to that kind of book. 

Actually, one book I specifically remember loving as a child was this Hungarian edition of a Richard Scarry book. I think my mum got it for me because my grandad was Hungarian. I couldn't read it, but it was sort of useful to help me learn words. Maybe something like that? Something that isn't representational or educational in a traditional sense. Something a bit more fun.

The Hildafolk books are a very different shape than most comic books and graphic novels in North America. Ours tend to be more of a hand-held size.  These are more like a picture book. Is this larger format more common in Europe? 

It's not particularly common here in England, in terms of work being published now. But certainly in much of Europe, especially in France, there are tons of books with these dimensions. You go to a comic book shop and more or less everything is in that format.

The very first issue of Hildafolk was actually slightly smaller, more of a floppy comic book style. When Nobrow and I decided we were going to make it a series, we thought it would be an interesting choice to publish in the tradition of Tintin or Astrix. But even though it stands out more in North America and the UK, in a lot of Europe it's really entirely homogenous. 

I grew up in Montreal, so there were always a lot of  french bande dessinée around, like Tintin. I remember them being almost always action-adventure books, marketed heavily to boys. I can't remember one from when I was a kid that didn't feature a male hero. Hilda stands out to me, even now, both as a female character but also as a hero who goes on adventures but doesn't fight. She solves conflict in different ways.

Yes, that was a deliberate choice. Well, making a female hero was not actually deliberate. I had more of an idea about the world and the kind of stories I wanted to tell, and I created a character designed for that world. I kept drawing her in my sketchbook, and then figured out who she might be. It just kind of happened. 

Violence is just too often the default in any kind of storytelling and entertainment. Specifically for kids' stuff. It's always kind of quietly troubled me. It's in everything, it drives everything. Heroes you're meant to root for solve their problems through violent means, even if they're the good guys. I wanted to show adventure without resorting to fighting.

Can you tell me a bit about your book-making process? Do you plot everything out beforehand, or do you make it up as you go?

A bit of both really. I try and give myself a clear view of the story, as much as possible, before I draw anything. I don't write a script. Well, I say that definitively, but to be honest every single time is different. I've never quite figured out a way that 100% works for me. Usually, I'll write the best I can, until I get stuck.

There's a point when writing becomes pointless. You don't know what's going to work visually, or fit on the pages. It's hard to tell if the story is even going to be plausible. Eventually, I will be confident enough to do a page by page rough, where I spend more time focusing on the visuals and pacing. Then I'll go through yet again to figure out specific dialogue, and how many panels I have to say it. You end up rewriting significantly at that point. It's just a big complicated mess really. 

It seems like storytelling and problem solving are very interconnected.

Yeah, I would love one day to just write a story and let it go where it wants to go. but there are too many other things to have to consider.

Would that be a possibility now that you’ll have a show on Netflix? How are you involved in the process?

I basically oversee everything. It all comes past me and I give notes. I recently went to meet the writers and hash out the new stories, and I'm writing a couple of scripts, which is new for me. It's freeing to not have to be too concerned with having to draw what I write, but I still have constraints. Time limits on the episodes are pretty similar to the page limits I have on a book. Just different kind of problem solving.

How do books end up in your house? 

I pick stuff up from second hand shops quite a lot, whether it's what I'm looking for or just something that peaks my interest on the spot. Since I've moved in with my girlfriend [the very talented artist Phillipa Rice] our book collection has combined so there are tons of titles in my house I haven't read yet. She has quite a big collection of science fiction and masterworks I want to get through. 

Merging book collections, that's a big step. What did you do with your duplicates? 

I don't think we had any duplicates! There were maybe some graphic novels and comics that we both had, but for the most part we didn't. Anything doubles we brought to the charity shop. We moved recently and purged quite a lot of stuff, so our collection isn't so massive. I realized that I was acquiring a lot of indie comics for the sake of it. We have a nicely refined collection now I like to think. 

What was the last book you read?

The very last was a Joan Aiken book, called the The Whispering Mountain. Which I didn't love. I liked it enough though. 

Do you always read a book right to the end, even if you don't love it?

I do, yeah. Sometimes you can't tell if something is good or not, until you get to the very end. I'm quite a slow reader, so I probably should learn to give up if I'm not feeling it, but I like to have faith. You might miss a little piece at the end that makes you totally reevaluate. I find it hard to judge until you've appreciated the whole thing. 

The Hildafolk book series will be on display at Type Books on Queen until mid-November 2016.

interview & photography by Serah-Marie McMahon