Yann and Gwendal Le Bec on Creativity and Doubt, Making a Picture Book, and What Makes Them Laugh!

Yann and Gwendal Le Bec, creators of the picture book Danny, were kind enough to talk with me about their picture book, a bit about their process, what their parents did to cultivate their creativity, and the importance of laughter.

I reviewed Danny last year (here) and we’ve read it a countless number of times since then.  Danny’s subversive and playful humor paired with its bright and sophisticated illustrations make it a picture book that we happily come back to again and again.  I hope you get a chance to check it out soon if you haven’t already.

Danny is wonderfully sophisticated and pleasantly subversive — where did the idea of Danny come from?  What made you want to write a picture book?

Yann: We were both really eager to work on a children’s book together. We were looking for the right idea and I started sketching different things, amongst them was a big hippopotamus sitting on a dentist’s  chair with his mouth wide open. Gwendal looked at it and said ” That’s it! We’ve got something here, now let’s try to make a story out of that.”

Once you had the idea for Danny — how did you all go from idea to story?  Can you tell me a little about your process? 
Gwendal : It’s just one thing leading to the next. We had this big hippo on a dentist’s chair so we had to find a way to get him there. We quickly thought about giving him braces, the big teeth are quite characteristic when you draw a hippo. Two big teeth and a big gap in the middle…
So we sat in a cafe (we were both living in London at the time) and the story came to us pretty quickly. We were trying to make each other laugh mainly.
From Danny by Yann and Gwendle Le Bec Used with Permission.

From Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec Used with Permission.

Did you both work on the story and the illustrations or did one take the story and the other the illustrations?

Yann: We created the story together, but I illustrated it. We are working on another story now, we’ve been developing the story together but this time Gwendal is the one drawing.

How long did Danny take from idea to book release?

Gwendal: I can’t remember. We wrote the first version quite quickly, then Yann worked on the characters–it took some time to achieve Danny’s big dumb smile–then we presented it to Flying Eye Books. And after some back and forth with them, Yann drew the whole thing. I really can’t recall how long it exactly took… But what I can say from experience, is that it always takes much more time than what you’re planning at first.

From Danny by Yann and Gwendle Le Bec Used with Permission.

From Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec. Used with Permission.

What were some of your favorite things about creating Danny?

Yann: We had lots of fun working together, it was the first time we collaborated on a children’s book project. We both really enjoyed it and we will keep doing it!

There are a lot of great messages and subtle warnings for readers!  What would you love for people to say after reading Danny?  In addition to having some great laughs and reading a fun story, what would you all like for people to notice in their lives after reading it?

Gwendal: Laughter is really what matters to us.

Yann: Well, it’s great if the kids get something more out of it, but we’re not that interested in moral stories. There might be a moral in Danny, but we didn’t put it there deliberately.

From Danny by Yann and Gwendle Le Bec Used with Permission.

From Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec. Used with Permission.

Do you all have any particular habits or routines to cultivate your craft?

Yann: It’s really good to keep sketching outside, It’s hard to find the time for that during the week but it really helps.

Danny is such a creative story!  What gives you or where do you find the confidence to be creative?

Gwendal: You never have confidence to be creative, you’re always doubting yourself, that’s what pushes you further. In terms of inspiration, anything we see, read, watch, listen to or observe is a source. When I see something good, it makes me want to give something back. Always.

Can you think of any specifics that your parents did to cultivate your creativity?

Yann: When we were kids our parents were reading a lot of children’s books to us. They pushed us to draw, to play music, etc. And also we were frequently at the local library, spending our Wednesday afternoons there.

Gwendal: And every Sunday morning in another library…

From Danny by Yann and Gwendle Le Bec Used with Permission.

From Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec. Used with Permission.

Danny is hilarious!  What makes you all laugh? 

Gwendal: In general? Wow, a lot of things. Tristram Shandy, any Roald Dahl books (especially the adults ones), Salman Rushdie, Louis CK, Ricky Gervais… I’ve just watched a French mini series called The Li’l Quiquin, it’s hilarious! I laughed a lot!

What are some of your favorite books — picture books or otherwise?

Yann: The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer and Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé are two of my all-time favorites. We have also both loved Kazuo Iwamura’s picture book since our early days, but I don’t know if they are published in the US. Most recently I really enjoyed This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen.

Gwendal: And all the collaboration Roald Dahl / Quentin Blake.

Flying Eye Books is one of my favorite publishers — their books push and bend the boundaries of children’s picture books — how did you all find each other?

Gwendal : Nobrow are really well known in London for making beautiful and well crafted books. The Illustration world is a small world, I had heard that they were interested in my work so I reached out to them. Luckily, It was the exact time when they were establishing Flying Eye Books.

What are your future plans?  Do you have any more picture book ideas in the works? 

Yann: Yes, we are working on another children’s book, this time with Walker Books. It’s a funny story with dogs, based in contemporary New York. Gwendal is finishing the drawings right now and they look great!

Thank you so much, Yann and Gwendal for talking with me.  My family adores Danny and we all look forward to enjoying more books by you.

You can get a copy of Danny at:

[Affiliated Link]: Amazon.com
[Independent Bookstore]: Indiebound.org
[Public Library]: Worldcat.org

You can learn more about them at their websites: Yann Le Bec and Gwendal Le Bec

– Cheers and Happy Reading!


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