Toronto author/illustrator Juan Carlos Solon‘s book AlphaBit ($19.99, Raincoast Books, Chronicle Books), a board book inspired by classic video games from the 1980s and ’90s, is out Aug. 13
Q. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A. Chronicle approached me and had an idea for an ABC book. We thought a retro adventure type game would be a great narrative fit.
Q. Who do you think this book will appeal to? Why?
A. I think it will appeal to both kids and adults. Pixel art now is not just associated with old-school gaming. It has also seen a resurgence in newer games! Games like Minecraft and many others have exposed a new generation of kid gamers to pixel art.
Q. When you created this book, who did you have in mind, the parent or the child?
A. I had both in mind. Creating the book, I was trying to make something that culminated many things I loved as a kid. Whether it be growing up playing Nintendo or trying my hardest to find Waldo in his books. I hope that resonates with adults who are nostalgic and kids who just like the visuals and the game aspect of it.
Q. Why is it important to think of the parent when creating an alphabet book?
A. It’s important because parents are often there side by side reading with their child. If the children like the book, you want something that the parents would love to read over and over again without being bored.
Q. While there is a for apple (along with five other A words) and b for bird, there is also e for enemy and g for goblet. Why did you choose words over the typical ABC words?
A. I wanted words that were associated with commonly found items and words in video games. As well having the book set in a fantasy style world, I wanted words that helped match the theme.
Q. What was the creative process for this book?
A. I did a lot of research on old Nintendo games that I grew up on. Many layouts are inspired by some of my favourite Nintendo games of all time. Earthbound, Final Fantasy 3 and Chrono Trigger. I used those inspirations and my love of video games growing up to help churn out ideas.
Q. How did you create the art for this book?
A. I work purely digital I use both Photoshop or, if I’m on the go, I use Procreate.
Q. What to do you like about 8-bit illustrations?
A. I love the simplicity of pixel art, creating a small character or a landscape with just a few squares. It’s also really cool how the style came because of technological constraints at the time, and what they were able to accomplish look wise was amazing.
Q. In the case of AlphaBit, you are the creator and author. You have also illustrated a book, you didn’t write. What is the difference between the two? What do you like about illustrating other people’s work? Your own?
A. The only big difference would be on how I reach visual solutions. Working with an author is fun because you get to vibe off each other and create new ideas. While working with yourself you need to trust the new ideas you create. When working on my own I tend to ask more friends for feedback. It helps get me out of a bubble I tend to put myself in when working alone too long.
Q. According to your website , you are an artist, illustrator and created the art and animations for games, what do you like about each of these parts of your profession and how did you get involved?
A. I’ve put on different hats throughout my career. As an editorial illustrator it was fun tackling challenging articles and figuring out how to communicate that in an image.
As a book illustrator, I really enjoy telling fun stories. I am currently also an artist for video games and that has been fun, mainly because gaming was always my passion growing up. Besides learning new technology and working with creative people. It’s also cool to see people enjoy and play the games you make. I think they all have their similarities in that they all are trying to communicate a visual message whether its one image, 30 or a whole game experience.
I got involved through editorial art right after college, handing out or emailing mailers to different companies to get gigs. I ventured into books the same way. I got my start in gaming with an Indie company that I reached out to who needed a new artist on a game.
Q. What advice would you give to up-and-coming artists about your industry and how to get into the gaming world?
A. The best advice is to never compare yourself to other artists. It is always important to trust and believe in your work. Even when you don’t, know that even the best artists have been through what you are going through.
If getting into the gaming industry is something you are striving to do. Don’t be afraid to reach out and politely ask people in the industry for advice (twitter, email, in person) Many different people will have great tidbits to share from their own experiences.
Q. What else are you working on?
A. I am currently learning 3D modelling!
Q. Do you have a dream job? Dream project?
A. I’ve been always wanting to learn how to code and make a game totally by myself.
Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. I hope you enjoy AlphaBit.
Juaon Carlos Solon hosts a book launch for AlphaBit Friday, Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Mabel’s Fabels, 662 Mount Pleasant Rd. in Toronto.
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