Gus Gordon is Australian picture book creator who was so obsessed with France that one day his wife said, 'why don't you go and life there for a while'. So he did and his new book, Somewhere Else, began life during the month he took up residence in Montmartre. At the launch this weekend at Melbourne's Little Bookroom Gus said the book's central character, a white duck named George Laurent, was inspired by the idea of a duck looking through a Paris patisserie window and wanting all the bread inside.
Gus combines strong but subtle storytelling with a fine eye for composition, pictorial rhythm and space on the page. His collaged worlds effortlessly blend real and imagined worlds and he cites influences including Sempé, Eric Carle, Serge Bloch, Bill Watterson, Leigh Hobbs and Sara Fanelli.
But Gus is very much his own artist. His books are usually character based and that seems to lend a unique look to each new project. Following the international success of Herman and Rosie, which sold to a dozen territories, it looks like the world will be seeing much more of Gus Gordon now and in the years to come.
Earlier this year I reviewed Somewhere Else for Books + Publishing Junior. I have edited that version and added some images from the book.
George Laurent doesn’t want to fly anywhere. The beauty of the Arctic tundra, the Caribbean, and Paris at night simply means nothing to George, despite all the urging of friends. And why not? He’d prefer to be at home baking scrumptious éclairs, carrot cake and brownies, learning yoga or playing guitar.
The truth is George has never learned to fly – he happened to be doing something else that day – but with help from his friend, bespectacled bear Pascal Lombard, things could change.
In Somewhere Else the familiar childhood drama of meeting new challenges comes wrapped in unusual costume (or feathers). And there is a welcome diversity to the characters, too: spoonbills, toucans, flamingos, penguins, galahs and owls populate the world that seems to do fine without new technology. The writing has a natural empathy for the outsider and doesn't seek to impose a solution, rather George finds a way that feels right for him. So the resolution, while satisfying, is also delightfully surprising.
There is so much to like in Somewhere Else. There are deft verbal twists that keep the text pulsing, while visually the book is a master class in collage. The clean, contemporary feel is edged with late 19th century Parisian flourishes. Gus Gordon has found a grammar that unites free drawing with found images and has given us a book floats in time.
The visual sophistication and rich language never overwhelm the central tale of George’s world and his place in it. Parents and children, including developing readers, will be sustained and delighted by the humour, pathos and surprises here in George’s excellent adventure.
Somewhere Else is now published in Australia by Penguin Books and will appear in the US in 2017.
About Gus Gordon
Gus studied at the Julian Ashton School of Art in Sydney. He worked as a cartoonist and illustrated his first children’s book in 1996. Gus began his career illustrating books for others before a yearning to tell his own stories compelled him to try his hand at writing. He has since illustrated and/or written nearly 80 books for children.
You can find out more about Gus Gordon at his website.
His previous book Herman and Rosie was published in France by Gallimard Jeunesse as Rosie et Herman Pour la Vie.