29. Hauntingly Beautiful: Putting The ✨Mood✨ Back into my Storyboard!
Jellyfish Picture Book Process + And a Note About Darkness in Children's Books
Each time I complete a final art spread (I’ve got six in various stages of done-ness!), I place it back into my storyboard. As I kept doing that, I began to realize is I was losing sight of my guiding star for this book: weird, trippy, beautiful, and a little dark. So this week I also worked on refining the storyboard to be more in tune with that concept.
First, I broke the storyboard up into three sections according to mood and paired a song (from my Jellyfish Inspo playlist) with each section. This way, as I continue making the final art, I have specific reminders of each spread's colors, mood, and feel according to the book’s progression from gentle/beautiful/graceful to creepy/trippy/dark.
So let’s dive into the storyboard and I’ll show you what that looks like!
Storyboard Mood #1
The first section of the storyboard is the most tame. It aims to show how beautiful, graceful, and cool Jellyfish are. It starts on the ocean surface and then stays mostly in the upper levels of the ocean. The color palette leans light blue and turquoise, and the song version of its mood is Fairy Fountain (from the Legend of Zelda) by 3000m:
Storyboard Mood #2
The storyboard's second section travels deeper into the ocean, with slightly darker blues, ending pretty deep with bioluminescent/rainbow glowing comb jellies. The mood starts out pretty light (even joking about hitchhiking crabs on 16-17), but also begins to introduce an ominous feel with hunting, stinging, grabbing, and multiplying. Basically, the mood goes from cool to creepy-cool, beautiful to eerily-beautiful. Things that are awesome to look at… from a distance. The song version of this section’s mood is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - Opening Theme by Joe Hisaishi:
Storyboard Mood #3
The storyboard's third section is now at the deepest levels of the ocean, and the colors are mostly dark-navy or black (with some pulsing phosphoresce—oh, that’s a good line!). The mood is fully WEIRD now, with bold, glowing colors, alien-looking creatures, and well… you know, a girl getting turned into a jellyfish. I’ve played around with the 30-31 spread a lot, trying to figure out just how far I should push it (I’ve got some really psychedelic ones). I’m thinking of moving that blank spread from Section 2 here to have a full bleed spread with no words where things go full trippy. We’ll see. The song version of this section’s mood is Ativan by Sufjan Stevens:
And lastly, an overall mood-song-influence of the book is Everything in Its Right Place by Radiohead:
Bringing the Darkness Into The Light
Perhaps you’re thinking, Ativan? Radiohead? Christine, those songs are too complex and weird and this mood (and your whole book) might be too dark for kids!
And to that, I say… maybe so! I aim for my books to be more like how The New York Times described Maurice Sendak’s books:
“Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.”
Maybe this book won’t appeal to every kid. I’ve gotten at least one review of We Are Fungi (from a parent) that said it was too creepy for kids. Butterbean’s favorite book, Little Witch Hazel, also has Amazon reviews (from parents) about how that book is too creepy for kids. But Butterbean loves it! It’s a long book, but she wants to read it again and again.
Kids often understand a story more than adults—they just get it. They readily go beyond the literal interpretation and absorb the deeper meaning so much better than their parents. And they know darkness and weirdness more than we think, so why try to sweep it under the rug? Why not instead, bring the darkness out into the light and make it something that can be talked about, shared, and empathized with? Why not, instead, show that darkness is something we all feel at times and that while it can be “dark and terrifying,” it can also be “hauntingly beautiful?” I’m not talkin’ about ghosts and monsters here, y’all. Think deeper.
So anyways, I don’t care about making a book that appeals to all kids (and their parents). That just makes a boring book that makes everybody say, “Meh, I liked it.” Instead, I’d rather make a book that makes some people say, “Whoa… no”, but makes at least one kid say, “Whoa… YES.”
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Here’s a sneak peek of things gettin’ weird in the next jelly painting: