We have introduced to you 4 Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition jury. Today, we are going to introduce the last one, Simon de Jocas, a publisher and the president of Éditions Les 400 Coups which is a small independent publishing house focusing mainly on picture books that he purchased in 2013. What advice and guidance will he bring to young illustrators? Just follow our interview to know more.
You started your career in education and have now become a very proactive children’s book publisher. What pushed you to take such a path? How does your experience in teaching and educational publishing help you run Les 400 Coups?
Quite frankly, my whole life is a sequence of events that are marked by luck and opportunity. As one often does in life, we are offered opportunities but often we avoid taking them by fear of the unknown. I have always been driven by curiosity and a desire to do more for this Earth. In that matter three things always stood out: Children, Education and Reading (I would also add the pride of being a French speaker in North America).
From the moment I started working, it was always in relation to children: summer camps, Sunday school, scouting, teaching, school consulting, educational publishing and now children’s picture books.
When I was offered the opportunity to buy the children’s division of Les 400 coups, it was like the apex of all the things I had done so far. I love my job, and mostly love working with our team and creators to offer the public books that make a difference.
Les 400 Coups has developed a list of very diverse titles. What do you look for in the books you decide to publish? Which principles and/or feelings move you when you conceive picture book projects?
It’s important to note that we are all involved in choosing the books we publish at Les 400 coups. Regardless of the task you have in our company, you are always welcome to come and discuss your point of view when we do manuscript reviews. We receive about 3,500 manuscripts a year, so we get to see all kinds of proposals. But in short, what really drives us are books that moves us. They can move us because of their quirky humour (Vachercher le pain) or because they touch a very sensitive cord that hasn’t been addressed yet (Le grand méchantloup dans ma maison). Sometimes it’s just a beautiful touching story (Mia et la mer).
What we don’t want are strong moral lessons or books whose humour or message is so blatantly clear there is no reflection needed. We want books where we end up asking more questions than we give answers.
As a publisher, you work with many illustrators. What advice would you give to a young artist willing to approach a publishing house for commission or with their own project?
Les 400 Coups love to work with new and seasoned illustrators. A few pointers would include simple things like validating that your illustration style will fit the publishing house you are interested in. For example, Les 400 coups don’t do “commercial” or manga-style books. It’s not that we don’t read them, they are not in our publishing line. Another suggestion is to show your style but also your ability for consistency. The illustrator has to work through 10 or more illustrations. When you turn the pages of the book, you need to sense the coherence, the flow. Sometimes illustrators are great artists, but not quite consistent enough to be illustrators.
And now comes our traditional question to conclude this interview: is there a children’s book that has left a strong imprint in you and that you would like to recommend to our readers?
That is always a tough question, especially when asked if I have a favourite in the 400 coups list. (It’s a bit like asking if I have a favourite child). My childhood memories are a mixture of European bandedessinée (cartoon strips) like Tintin, LukyLuke and Astérix. As a child I remember receiving an illustrated version of W.O. Mitchell’s Who has Seen the Wind. I absolutely loved that book, in that same period Le petit prince by Saint-Exupery also was often on my night table.
At les 400 Coups, a few stand out (though they are not my favourite): Si j’étais un oiseau by Jean Leroy and Marie-Anne Abesdris or Papa, maman, nos livres et moi by Danielle Marcotte and Josée Bisaillon. More recently Le grand méchant loup dans ma maison by Valérie Fontaine et Nathalie Dion or La corde à linge by Orbie really have a je ne sais quoi that makes me look at them over and over again.