We All Live in a Pink Octopod
P&C talked to Vicki Wong of the graphic design team Meomi about their children's book series The Octonauts.
Graphic design team Meomi, made up of Vicki Wong and Michael Murphy, has created hundreds of super-cute illustrations, logos, and characters for a wide variety of companies and media. In 2006, they turned to children’s books, with the first book in the Octonauts series, The Octonauts and the Only Lonely Monster. The latest installment in the series, The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef, arrived in bookstores in October. P&C asked Vicki Wong to fill us in on the story behind the Octonauts and tell us a little bit more about Meomi.
Parent & Child: From where did you draw the inspiration for the Octonauts series?
Vicki Wong: The Octonauts series started out as a series of desktop calendars that we had up on our website (you can still access them here: http://meomi.com/desktops.html).
There were numerous inspirations for the series. The very first Octonauts drawing we made was of Captain Barnacles riding a bat ray [a kind of sting ray]. I remember this was after a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we saw bat rays for the first time! They have such cute smiley faces.
Our octopus fascination comes from the Giant Pacific Octopus at the Vancouver Aquarium, a beautiful and smart creature. Around the same time (2003 or 2004), we watched the BBC Blue Planet series for the first time and caught our first glimpse of the magical creatures in the deep-sea episode—we immediately fell in love with the adorable “dumbo octopus,” and the character of Professor Inkling came about.
A childhood spent living by the ocean in Vancouver, numerous hours of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds TV series (Michael is a huge fan), Barbapapa books (for the lovely cutaway drawings)—and you get the Octonauts!
P&C: How did you get started as artists?
Wong: Both Michael & I come from a design background. Michael was working in design and motion graphics, while I did graphic and web design. At some point we realized drawing cute animals and making up stories is more fun, so we decided to make it our full-time jobs.
P&C: Who or what have been your artistic influences?
Wong: We actually have very mixed influences. Being Chinese-Canadian, I grew up on a mix of Asian, European, and North American books and cartoons. I'm a huge fan of Tezuka's 60s Astroboy and Nintendo video games. But I also loved European series/characters such as Barbapapa, Moomins, Miffy the Bunny, and Jeremy the Bear. I'm a fan of Scandinavian design and Ed Emberley, who's able to take a square, a triangle, and a circle and come up with a lion or a haunted house or a bird! Finally, a favorite for both Michael & I: Richard Scarry. He’s a huge inspiration for us. We love the idea of stories within stories that readers can use their own imaginations to ponder.
P&C: Who’s your favorite Octonauts character?
Wong: I'm not sure we're allowed to play favorites! I think I relate to Captain Barnacles Bear the most; he's very organized and diligent, yet spends his time writing sensitive thoughts in his journal and playing accordion. I think Michael's favorite may be Dr. Shellington Sea Otter,
who's very inquisitive, yet absent-minded. He loves science and exploration.
P&C: What kind of responses have you gotten from kids to the Octonauts books? What’s the most interesting response you’ve gotten?
Wong: We've had wonderful responses from kids (and parents), which always put huge smiles on our faces and encourage us. We've had people send us photos of fun costumes, birthday parties themed after Octonauts books (with fancy cakes!), and delightful drawings. We really can't thank our fans enough for all the feedback.
We had a great experience at a reading in northern California. Thanks to all the kind and diligent librarians who’d spent time reading the books to the kids already, we had about 100 enthusiastic kids acting out all the actions the Octonauts do in the book: "Tsschh tssschh, Shellington was brushing his teeth." "Swish swish, Sauci Dog was combing her hair."
P&C: You’ve done a lot of other kinds of design, for clothing and accessories and for marketing purposes. What made you decide to write and illustrate children’s books?
Wong: It was due to our publisher contacting us about doing a children's book. We'd designed for children’s apparel and toys before, and I've done a lot of design on games and websites for kids. We thought it would be a fun new avenue to try, and a great medium for the Octonauts world.
P&C: How is creating art for children different from creating for adults?
Wong: Somehow one can get away with a lot more super-cute things when it's labeled "for children"—haha. Although we like to think that our books work for a broad age range, different people will get different things out of the books.
P&C: What is your creative process like?
Wong: We start with a concept in our heads for the story, then we write out a rough draft for the story with some visual thumbnails (rough sketches). From there, we get on our computers and start working on the layout and pages. We have a very “collage-y” approach to our art and we tend to think in shapes and colors. For example, when you look at our examples and the backgrounds, often times they are just created with very simple circles or blobs, then collaged in complex ways or tiled to make patterns.
P&C: What kind of advice would you give to kids who want to be artists?
Wong: Make things whenever and wherever you can—make art, music, drawings, sculptures, videos, games, stories . . . and have lots of fun when you do it.
P&C: What about parents whose kids want to be artists?
Wong: Make things with them and have even more fun!
Dive into Meomi's latest creation, The Octonauts & the Great Ghost Reef.
Rachael Taaffe is the copy editor for Scholastic Parent & Child.