Morning my lovelies. It’s Christmas week! Today I’m delighted to welcome Alan J. Hesse on to Meet the Author. We’re chatting about why educational childrens books are so important, climate change, nature and wildlife, the strangest thing that’s ever happened to him (this is super interesting!), his Captain Polo box set and more…..
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Based in biodiversity-rich Ecuador, Alan wears several hats: he is an author-illustrator, an educator and a conservation biologist. Alan’s work is inspired by the majesty and fragility of nature and the need to do everything we can to protect it.
Alan combines his artistic creativity with his technical experience and knowledge to create scientifically accurate, educational children’s books full of quirky, comic humour and fun action, and usually bearing a message about how everyone can help preserve Nature.
Alan draws the artwork in his comic or picture books by hand and then edits it all digitally.
He is the author of five educational comic books for middle grade children, among which his main ongoing focus is the Captain Polo series about climate change.
Alan is also the author of 3 climate change-themed picture books for children within the 6-8 age range.
What inspired you to start writing and where do you get your ideas?
I am inspired by Nature and the need to preserve it; this comes from my life-long passion for wildlife, wilderness, nature in general. I believe that being aware of our natural environment and caring for it as well as each other has to be a permanent, transversal thread that links everything we do. My inspiration to start writing and drawing educational comic books comes from this conviction: I believe that education not only needs to be promoted at all times, but also that it has to constantly cut through the status quo. Education needs to shake up old beliefs, challenge the ‘business as usual’ mentality, and last but not least, it has to be fun, engaging, surprising, memorable. For this reason I use my ability drawing cartoons (which I developed since childhood) to try and serve a higher purpose. That all comes together in my educational comic books about the environment, climate change and related topics.
How many books have you written and published?
8 books, of which 5 are comics / graphic novels.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Depends. I can do a picture book in a couple of weeks. A comic takes months, sometimes years. This is because I do it all on my own, right from the technical research to the actual layout and publishing process. The part that takes longest is the artwork. My comic books typically have anywhere between 300 and 600 images, many of which are detailed scenes with colouring effects, ligting etc.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
Difficult to settle on just one, but I would say Polo and the Yeti, book 2 of my Captain Polo climate change adventures series. This book sees Captain Polo, the main character (an anthropomorphic polar bear) crossing China to Tibet, entering Bangladesh and then India, as part of his global journey. I had a lot of fun drawing and writing the dialogues, many of which, in the India scenes, use my personal knowledge of Indian culture and language. I was born in Pakistan and I lived in India foir a while as a kid, and that culture has always been very strong in my family, even though we are Europeans. I also had a lot of fun throwing in a whole sequence with the Yeti, which, being a mythical creature, I found very liberating and fun to do.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was around 12 my elder brother took me to see India Jones and the Lost Ark, amd I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist. The whole adventure and travel aspect fascinated me. I soon discovered however that a real archaeologist spends most of the time brushing away dust from pottery fragments in a museum and carbon dating them (I realise that is a gross over simplification – apologies to any archaelogists reading this!), and round about the same time some family friends presented me with a large book called The Encyclopaedia of Animals. It was full of photos of wild animals from all over the world, with facts and maps and cool diagrams. That’s when I decided I wanted to somehow work with wildlife. I guess the common, underlying thread to all this was the urge to travel, to explore the world.
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
I have been a full time conservation biologist for almost 30 years. That is more than just a job, it’s actually a career and a way of life.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go and why? (Backwards or forwards!)
I would love to travel back to Prehistory, anywhere in the world, and see what things really looked like. The chance to see unspoiled nature, forests, rivers, oceans, lakes and mountains untouched by Man.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I guess that would be joining a scientific expedition to the Bolivian Amazon, in 1992. I had just graduated from a British university with a Bachelors degree in Behavioural Sciences (a mix between psychology and zoology) and I dared to lie about my ability to speak Spanish to the leader of a zoological expedition that was being set up, by guys from the year above me. I did speak French and some Italian, but not a word of Spanish. At the same time, being a dual citizen of France, I was being hunted by the French authorities to report at a barracks in Northern France for my due military service, which was still compulsory in those days. I wanted to avoid that if possible, so I managed to join the expedition, learned Spanish along the way and ended up staying in Bolivia for the next 20 years. I completed my French military service as a scientist doing civil service, and that service consisted of my searching for the world’s rarest parrot in northern Bolivia and setting up a conservation project for it – the original objective of the expedition that got me out there in the first place, and that in just 3 months we were unable to achieve. All of this was very difficult to achieve with regard to the French authorities, it took a lot of strings to be pulled, a lot of faking paperwork, but I truly did do the scientific work I said I would, and I duly received my military clearance having done my duty. It just took 20 years rather than the compulsory 16 months required for overseas French civil service, and unbeknown to the French authorities, I did it all without insurance, salary or any kind of benefits! All of those were faked. I just had my father’s old 1950s binoculars and bush hat that he wore in East Africa tracking wild life, a notebook, my jungle boots and a mosquito net, which was actually a sewed up curtain. A long time later (around 25 years later) people followed in my footsteps, did a lot of good work building on what I started, and that parrot is now safe from extinction.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
Think of marketing and promotion before you even start writing! And know that just because you land a publishing contract, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will sell any books.
If you could travel anywhere (world/universe etc!) where would you go and why?
Antarctica. I would just love to see true wilderness.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
Greatly enhanced self-awareness at all times.
Do you think your writing could change the book industry, and if so, why?
Educational comics and graphic novels do exist, but they are rare and they do not easily fit into any category or genre in the mainstream publishing industry. In the US, when you mention comics people think of DC and Marvel. My inspiration is truer to the Franco-Belgian tradition of Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke, which are legends in Europe. Thus, I want to change the publishing industry by making educational comics a mainstream genre in it’s own right. I want to do this because I believe that comics or graphic novels are fun to read, and if they deliver messages too, so much the better: those messages or non fiction content will stick all the better in the mind of the reader if they are having a good time learning about them.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
The Box set of the Captain Polo adventures, containing Books 1, 2 and 3. These are educational comics about climate change and it’s implications, and also solutions.
Available here: http://mybook.to/CaptPoloBoxSet
thanks so much alan for coming over and chatting with me! What a brilliant, interesting and important interview.
If you have any questions or comments for Alan, make sure you get in touch.
Have a good day lovelies, and stay safe.