Designing a picture book character
Shaun gradually developed the look of his latest character, Cicada, over the course of eight years
Sometimes Shaun’s characters start off as drawings without a sense of place or a storyline. “In the case of Cicada it was very much about the context, and I knew immediately that this was an insect working in an office,” he reveals. The cicada’s 17-year life cycle also played into the design, and tied into the story of a dull working life leading to a glorious retirement.
“I have a very early sculpture on my desk from about 2010,” says Shaun. “I’d been thinking about this character for a long time so I thought I’ll just make a little model of it to see if that helps. I found a shampoo bottle and I just worked some clay around it and made this little sculpture of a cicada. You couldn’t tell what it was because it was an abstract sculpture where he’s just doing some paperwork, and that’s been kicking around in the ensuing eight years between that sculpture and it finally becoming a story and a book.”
Even before making the sculpture, Shaun was sketching the character doing paperwork and hanging around a water cooler. “Often the sketches involve some kind of abuse at the hands of his coworkers,” Shaun adds. “There’s also further anxieties created by the fact that the cicada is an extremely efficient worker and never reacts to anything, so that was always the core idea. Just this bug being very good at his job, and by being quiet he brings out the worst in humankind.”
Model Employee Early drafts of Cicada included darkly humorous images. “In one scene, the co-workers take his computer away and replace it with a tree stump.”
Strong Suit Quiet, overlooked characters are a common theme in Shaun’s work. “It might have something to do with drawing itself. It’s not a social activity.”
Cicada Sculpt Shaun reasons that downtrodden characters like the cicada work because “immediately they attract the audience’s sympathy.”