- Guest Author and Illustrator -
Welcome to the life of one of Australia's best authors and illustrators. Michael Salmon has been involved in graphics, Children’s literature, TV and Theatre since 1967. He started his career with surfing cartoons and exhibitions of his psychedelic art and then joined the famous marionette troupe ‘The Tintookies’ as a trainee set designer/stage-manager in 1968 (The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Sydney).
Since then his work has been solely for young people both here in Australia and overseas. His many credits include his ‘Alexander Bunyip show’ (ABC TV 1978-88), pantomimes, fabric and varied merchandise designs, toy and board game invention and the writing and illustrating of 176 picture story-books for young readers. Several million copies of his titles have been sold worldwide. Michael has been visiting Australian Primary Schools for over 40 years.
Welcome Michael ...
1. Tell us five words that best describe you?
Busy, prolific, experienced, humorous, supportive
2. What prompted you to sit down and write your first story?
It was probably a desire to adapt my art (hitherto paintings and poster work) into a book format with a story (of sorts) attached.
My first title back in 1972 was a self-published effort: ‘The Monster that ate Canberra’.
A whimsical tale about an oversized bunyip devouring the Capital’s iconic buildings that ‘were’ situated around the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin. It really was an attempt at some artistic satire; ‘The Monster’ in fact was really The Public Service in disguise. It was all a bit smarty-pants and quite amateurish … but it worked!!
The Monster was a character called ‘Alexander Bunyip’ …. Six years later he had his own show on afternoon ABC-TV, which ran for a decade!
In 2011 the ACT Government commissioned a 500 kilogram brass statue of Alexander as a tribute to his role in helping young people learn to read and also to become aware of our National Capital. Alexander stands outside the new Public Library in the Gungahlin Town Square, ACT. It looks great!
3. Which do you prefer in the creative process? Writing or illustrating?
Prefer the artwork more than writing, but do enjoy ridding my scripts of ambiguity and tautology on second draft look!
4. Are you a plotter or a planster?
Often the start and inspiration for a book is first having a vision of the front cover: its picture and lettering … perhaps with a comedic twist or an obvious, funny hook of some kind.
Something that will prompt a young reader to take note and explore further. I then usually plan out the story in pictures (making story boards) adding words later.
5. What is a typical ‘business’ day for you?
My main business these days is not writing and illustrating books. It’s visiting Schools, talking to children. My sessions are more ‘performances’ … employing ‘show-off’ lightning fast cartoons and stand-up comedy. I take the Students through a little bit of my history and talk about the sources and influences I had in younger years that led me to write and create books. I continue to cartoon on large sheets of paper as I chat to the Students.
It’s a format that has worked well for over 40 years. I prefer fully-mixed age groups in each session, from Preps/Kinders to Year 6’s. The larger the audience the better. Essentially my talk is about creativity and how to harness it whilst entertaining the Students.
6. If visiting Schools is now your main occupation, are you still writing?
Yes, occasionally. I spent many previous years producing 176 titles, I still love the book process but things change. There have been one or two new titles here and there mixed in with new editions of other titles taken from a large back-list. Its fun redesigning new covers for my ‘old friends’ and sometimes adding a new illustration or two.
7. You’ve also been involved in other areas of the creative arts here in Australia, what part did they play in your career?
I first started making a living from my art back in 1967 when I held two one-man exhibitions of my psychedelic themed poster-style cartoons and paintings. It was at one of these shows that ‘The Tintookies’ marionette troupe saw the work and offered me a job as a stage manager/trainee set designer in their theatre shows.
(The Tintookies were based at the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Sydney, as were The Australian Opera, The Australian Ballet & The Elizabethan Theatre Trust Orchestra)
For the next decade I was directly involved in professional children’s theatre, enjoying every minute. I continued to paint and exhibit, sometimes created large, painted human sized cartoony characters as extensions of the pictures hanging on the wall. Also painted several large public murals.
Television was an enjoyable experience, apart from the years of the Bunyip show; I participated in another ABC-TV series, an ensemble production entitled ‘Wayzgoose’ (A bit ‘Monty Python-ish’ for kids, we lasted a season of 13 episodes) Associated originally with the TV show, then on other themes, I designed varied children's merchandise items; including soft toys, misc other toys, crockery, clothing, fabrics/soft furnishing items and invented nine board games (four of which won a ‘toy of the year’ category in 1987)
Back in those days I had a half page Bunyip activity section in The Australian Women’s Weekly and also a full page of activity and children’s correspondence in Family Circle magazine (‘Koala’s Page’)
It was all a very hectic and invaluable ‘apprenticeship’ for what ultimately became my main focus … entertaining children through books, cartooning and chat.
8. You also worked in an honorary capacity with two Australian Foundations for Children, what was that like?
I always thought it important to ‘give something back’ to a community that had supported my commercial work. The first opportunity came when I designed four outside unit/van facades for ‘Life Education’ (Vic) and became the patron for the Berwick and District area.
The second opportunity came soon after the horror of the Port Arthur massacre (1996). Walter Micak had been successful in securing funding from both The Prime Minister and Victorian State Premier, to start an organisation to provide support for children who are the victims of violent crime; ‘The Alannah and Madeline Foundation’ … in memory of his two daughters and wife Nanette. I was asked to contribute and together with Maree Stanley (Vic School Librarian) we created ‘Buddy Bear’: both as a fund raising character and one that children could relate to in a meaningful way. Books, teacher manuals merchandise items and even chocolates followed. The Foundation incorporated an anti-bullying profile. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark is the patron of the Foundation.
9. What’s next from Michael Salmon?
1. ‘The Chocolate Vampire’ (Ford Street Publishing) New edition of a 1992 title.
2. Towards the end of July 2015 … to the last day of third term I’m either visiting a Primary School or travelling to one. Really looking forward to getting back on the ‘Schools Road!’ … Bendigo, Ballarat, Townsville, Ingham (Qld) Cane-fields Schools cluster, Hobart, Wagga, Cootamundra, Canberra, Penrith-Blue Mountains, Sydney’s eastern and southern suburbs, Hunter Valley, NSW Central Coast, Ipswich (Qld) Writer’s Festival then the Gold Coast in the last week of term.
Create your own private fantasy world: a Middle Earth or a Narnia, where only you may enter. A place where ideas and images grow freely until they’re ready for the outside world.You hold the only key, good luck.
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Michael. Love your drawings, and admire your work.