This past Tuesday, a very special picture book came out: DUSTRATS! Or, The Adventures of Sir Muffin Muffinsson was published by POW! Kids, a Brooklyn-based art-forward indie. This book is weird, wonderful, totally dreamy and thoroughly European. It’s about a gallant cat named Sir Muffin Muffinsson who is charged with the important duties of protecting Baby Emma while she sleeps and keeping their room clean. Sir Muffin proves to be not-so-good at the cleaning part and naughty, mischievous creatures called Dustrats escape from underneath Emma’s crib and run amok through the house. It is up to Sir Muffin to strap on his vacuum cleaner armor and chase the little cretins through the different rooms of the house–which have curiously transformed with the Dustrats’ presence. The author, Adrià Regordosa’s biggest inspirations for the book were Maurice Sendak and the movie Labyrinth–are you intrigued yet?? The best part about this book is the absolutely spectacular illustrations which have a seek and find aspect to them that kids will love. The book is also filled with little Easter eggs that make this a great reread. This is a really special book.
Adrià is a native of Spain who currently lives in Sweden where he works in video game design. Adria is an incredibly kind and very passionate person. And he must have the mind of a mad man to dream this crazy Dustrats world up! I honestly believe this book has classic potential and really hope you check it out!
Here’s my interview with Adrià:
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve been working as a professional illustrator for many years, I always liked writing and creating my own stories. I had the Dustrat characters in my mind for a few years, but in a much more primitive form. I didn’t know what format was perfect to tell their story. Originally, I thought a comic strip, but that didn’t seem right. I’d been playing with the idea of writing a children’s book all my life, but it was only after I had my daughter and became a dad did I decide that it was the right time to do it. It was not until I saw my big cat Muffin being so gentle with my newborn and then seeing how their “friendship” became more and more intense in the following months, that I put all the pieces together and Dustrats!, the children’s book, was born.
What do you like best about Sir Muffin?
What I find most interesting about him is his duality: In the “real” world, he is a fluffy cat walking on four legs, but in the dream world, he is a brave knight, a “Sir,” a “Dream Guardian.” What I like most about him though, is that, in both worlds, he is Emma’s protector. If you look at the framed photo in every spread in Emma’s room, you can follow another little story that depicts the “real” Muffin and Emma. And even there, you can see him carrying Emma out of the frame when the danger approaches.
What was your favorite part about writing the manuscript and/or creating the illustrations?
Normally, when I start writing a story, I have a ton of different ideas and characters that I want to include. I tend to go too big and I normally struggle to try and keep things simple. So my favorite part is when I reach the point where the story starts taking its own shape, and everything seems to fall into the right place. I feel like the chaos starts organizing itself and forming a coherent story line and characters. That moment always strikes me as magical, and lots of times, I feel like it’s not even me who is writing the story.
My favorite part about creating the illustrations for Dustrats was including lots of little details and Easter Eggs spread around the whole book. I love to think about how readers will be continue to be surprised after many readings and find new layers to the book as they grow older.
Where and when do you write?
When I have an idea for a story, I keep it in my head for a long time and I just shape it more and more without writing anything down. Sometimes, I forget details, but tell myself that those details were probably not good if I forgot about them. Sometimes, I keep a story unwritten for a longtime–months or even years.
The actual writing process tends to be quite forward and fast. When I feel the story is ready to be written, I sit down and I just put it all on paper. Sometimes it happens at my work space at home, but lots of times I like to sit on my bed with a notebook and be there for a few hours.
Where and when do you illustrate?
When I started illustrating this book, I actually had no space in my home at all and had no office. So I had to draw the huge spreads on my kitchen table (the only place big enough to fit the paper sheets). Then I had to scan the pencil illustrations in parts and put it all together digitally. All of the coloring of the book was done digitally, so it was just me on my computer at a small table in my living room.
What was the most surprising part about the book-making process?
I started this project naively thinking that it would take three months to have all the pages illustrated. The art style was supposed to be much more simple, but somehow it ended up becoming this huge project that lasted over four years! I actually had the whole book illustrated after a year, but the road from “idea in my head” to “book in the library” has been long and arduous. I guess the most surprising part for me was when I had the physical book in my hands for the first time and I handed it to my daughter. In the book, she appears as a six month old baby, but the girl holding the book was now a four and a half year old little lady–that was a really mind-blowing moment.
Who are some writers and illustrators who inspire your work?
Maurice Sendak is my all-time favorite picture book author, both as a writer and illustrator. Dustrats! is directly inspired by Where the Wild Things Are and Outside Over There, both in art style and narrative.
Graeme Base’s Animalia was also a big inspiration. I always loved its intricate and detailed illustrations, and the fact that it invites you to look for hidden objects and characters.
Brian Froud’s designs are a huge influence on this book too. His goblins and trolls inspired the first versions of the Dustrats. They ended up looking completely different, but his dark and beautifully creepy creature designs helped originate my idea for them.
Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is one of my favorite books, and I’m sure that some of the dream-like imagery in Dustrats is influenced by it.
If we are counting movies too, my main inspiration was Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (which is actually based on Brian Froud’s designs) and basically all Studio Ghibly movies and some of the oldest Disney classics.
Check out one of the gorgeous spreads!!