Where did the inspiration for Claude come from? Claude started as a doodle in my sketchbook. I wanted to create a picture to brighten up the kitchen in the house I was living in at the time. I drew a little dog in a beret sipping a hot chocolate in a cafe and something about him made me laugh. Then suddenly all these ideas for funny little stories sprang into my head so I jotted them down as fast as I could. It was like Claude had been waiting in my head waiting to leap out into a book!
In terms of his character, he’s based on a complete mash-up of all sorts of things – Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecombe, one of my parent’s dogs called Murphy (he has the same ears as Claude) and my Grandad Sid who always seemed to find himself in funny situations!
Which three words best describe Claude’s character? Bumbling, silly and ever so polite (oops! That’s more than three words!)
Do you prefer animal heroes to humans? That’s a very good question, and it’s not something I’ve ever thought about before. I do love children’s books with human heros, but I think you can have a bit more fun with animals. Especially if they have human characteristics like Claude. You’re not so restricted with the adventures you can send your character on if he’s a walking, talking, beret - wearing dog!
What's the thinking behind limited colour palette you use? The black, white, grey, red and pink colour just arrived in my sketchbook with Claude! He lives in a slightly retro sort of a world - quite 1950s/60s and that colour seems to fit with that era. I really love the Eloise books, which all have a limited colour palette so perhaps they influenced me as well.
What are your influences? I am influenced by a lot of things. I love people-watching and eavesdropping on people when I’m out and about. I note it all down in my sketchbook – draw funny characters and jott down any snippets of conversation that make me laugh (I thought about being a spy when I was little!). In terms of my artwork, I really like the style of the 50s and 60s, I love films and animation. I love the work of Mary Blair who worked at Disney in the mid 20th Century and styled several films and designed the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland. But then I am also influenced fashion. Junior magazine is great when I’m a bit stuck for what a child character might be wearing! I'm also influenced by patterns and textures and creating books that I would have enjoyed as a child.
What mood were you trying to evoke? I wanted to create a funny book that children would like, but with lots of things grown-ups would like and find funny too. Like I said earlier, Claude inhabits a slightly retro world, full of big characters and strange goings on. He just bumbles into his adventures and is quite happy to see where they take him (as long as he is back before his owners Mr and Mrs Shineyshoes get home from work!).
I wanted his world to be cool, stylish and quite sophisticated, so that when Claude accidently causes mayhem he really makes a mess!
What books did you like as a child? I always enjoyed books and read everything and anything I could find. I loved the Road Dahl books (doesn’t everyone?!) Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Witches and The BFG were my favourites. I also really liked the Winnie-The-Pooh books and found them very funny.
But my favourite book was and still is the book my grandfather Sid wrote for me. He lived around the corner from my house when I was little and he would come over every day to pick up our dog whilst we were all out. He’d take her back to his house for the day. Every day he would write me a little story and leave it hidden for me to find. They were all about my toys and what they got up to while I was at school. When I was about eight or nine, as a surprise, he collected several of my favourite stories and painstakingly wrote them out by hand into an old, empty diary. It’s a beautiful object and very special to me.
Why is Claude's side-kick a sock? Claude’s sidekick is a sock called Sir Bobblysock. He is both a sock and quite bobbly. I really wish I had a clever answer to this question, but I have to be honest and say I don’t really know. When Claude first came strolling into my head, he was followed by Sir Bobblysock who came hopping along behind, fully formed as a character.
I wanted Claude to have a friend to go with him on his adventures, but a human or another animal would have been too complicated. He needed something different to tag along with him. Sir Bobblysock is quite an odd character. Besides from being a sock, he has quite a different personality to Claude. I think Sir Bobblysock has seen a lot of life and gets easily overwhelmed by things that Claude just takes in his stride. (Sir Bobblysock is always having to have a long lie down with cucumber slices over his ‘eyes’!) Also, if I think about it, my own three naughty little dogs are fond of stealing socks, so I suppose if they were to choose a friend, they would probably pick a sock!
Are you a fan of surrealism? Yes, I think I am. I like reading books and watching movies which tweak real life and make it magical and quirky. The french film Amelie is a real favourite of mine. Not only does it look beautiful, I like the way the world is presented. It’s real, yet unreal at the same time. I think children have a very special way of looking at the world. It’s always slightly skewed and full of imagination. When I was little I wanted to be a rabbit when I was older and couldn’t really understand why that wasn’t possible. I suppose I still have that attitude now for example: why can’t my character’s best friend be a slightly stinky old sock?!
What about the humour (flying bras and a doctor called Ivan Achinbum)? As well as loving books as I child, I also liked watching TV, although looking back on it I seemed to have watched an awful lots of things that other people my age either didn’t watch, or didn’t enjoy as much as I did. For example I spent hours watching the Carry On films and found them very, very funny with the exaggerated characters and silly plots. I also liked watching programmes like ‘Allo ‘Allo and Are You being Served for the same reasons. Whenever I had a day off school and went to my grandparents, I would watch the videos of Tommy Copper and Morecombe And Wise they would have taped for me. I think all of these influences have mixed together and come through in the Claude books.
What’s in store for Claude in the future? Lots! In June, just in time for the summer holidays, Claude and Sir Bobblysock go on their first holiday in Claude On Holiday where a trip to the seaside ends up with Claude and Sir Bobblysock going on a very exciting adventure with their new pirate friend Porthole Pete on his boat The Damp Dog. Claude comes face to face with the fearsome Naughty Nora, a dastardly lady pirate and has to save the day!
Then next January, Claude causes mayhem at the circus when he decides to give the Big Top a spring clean right before the performance. He’s a bit too eager with his damp cloth and he causes all sorts of accidents leaving the circus without any acts! But the show must go on and Claude and Sir Bobblysock step into the limelight for a one night only, extra special performance...
Also, someone has given Claude and Sir Bobblysock access to a computer (bad idea...) and they are now documenting their day to day adventures online at their brand new blog. Which is a good place to go if you like silly pictures, sneaky peaks at the new books and exclusive news about everything CLAUDE.
Claude In The City by Alex T Smith (Hodder, £5.99) is published February 3, 2011.