Éric Veillé was born in 1976 in Laval and studied at the Duperré School of Applied Arts in Paris. While working as an artistic director in publishing, he decided one spring day to devote himself to writing and children’s book illustration. He has since released many books, as author and illustrator, including Encyclopedia of Grannies and My Pictures after the Storm.
Who or what inspired the character of Lionel?
When I created the character of Lionel, I tried to reconnect with the deep feelings of two- and three-year-olds, and I found myself confronting some contrasting and powerful emotions! It’s a very rich universe that you don’t always find in stories for toddlers, where things are often soft and kind. That’s why I chose to create Lionel—to let a “raw” and wild side come to the fore and rub up against reality. Lionel is a cheeky and subversive toddler.
How important do you think subversive children’s books are? Why?
I think subversion is in my DNA. To be happy, I need to deconstruct the world around me every morning and imagine it differently. Children also do this very naturally when they play. They can identify very easily with the cheeky character of Lionel, who doesn’t accept his world as it is—or at least tries to find his own way and sometimes takes surprising and terrible paths. Subversion is life! I used to ask my teachers provoking questions with a Lionel attitude when I was a child. But I made them laugh at the same time, so they didn’t hold it against me too much.
The first that comes to mind is Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I particularly remember one sentence from the French captions of the cartoon adaptation: “He likes school, especially when it is far away…”
What tips do you have for adding humour to your art?
I don’t know if I have any tips or tricks, because I try not to fall into a pattern when I write. I often write a first draft, then go out for a jog or a bike ride and come back to rewrite it, trying to completely change the point of view and bring in a twist that comes from a totally different “me”. Then I go to the cinema. When I come back, I re-read my story. If I burst out laughing when I read it again, it’s often a good sign! Otherwise, I’m good to go to the pool.
I sketch on notebooks while I walk around. Then I draw with a black felt pen on paper sheets. I rework my drawings with a graphic tablet and apply colours chosen from a Pantone colour chart. For me, the drawing serves the idea. I emphasise action and the characters’ expressions—superfluous details don’t interest me. Sometimes I change my text to suit the drawings … for me, text and illustration are closely linked.
A lot of your books involve puns and rhymes—did you enjoy playing with words as a child?
I enjoy playing with words and get surprised by them. Sometimes, sounds inspire me, and the words pop up in front of me, bringing a new reality, unexpected and funny. As a child, I loved writing poems and, most of all, telling stories to myself.
I love Kitty Crowther’s work and how she can talk about everything without any taboo, Catharina Valckx’s well thought-out and funny stories, and Axel Scheffler drawings.
What did you love to draw when you were a child?
When I was a child, I drew horses, monsters and battles, as many children do. I participated in a competition where I had to imagine Laval (my city) in the distant future—the year 2000! I had good fun.
In this pithy board book series, an overenthusiastic, impulsive lion tests his daily routines to their limit
—in Lionel Eats All By Himself, Lionel does just that, cheekily enjoying the remarkable mess that results.
—in Lionel Poops, cheerfully trying all sorts of places to poop before ending up proudly on the potty.