You've Got to Vote!!
Elizabeth MacLeod and Emily Chu talk about the importance of voting, monsters,
tea, and their book Get Out and Vote: How You Can Share the Future.
Emily: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Liz: I started writing when I was a kid. After dinner every night my two brothers, John and Douglas, and I would head to our bedrooms, close our doors and settle down to do our homework — or so our parents thought! Instead, it wouldn’t be long before I’d hear a piece of paper slipping under my door. On the page would be a drawing John had done. It might be a cat doing something silly or a monster with strange tentacles.
I can’t draw at all — I really envy you, Emily! — so I would write a fantastical story, perhaps about a “Vile villain threatening death and destruction across the peaceful province.” Then I’d slide my story under Douglas’ door. A little while later, he’d push another crazy drawing under my door, I’d start a new story and — we didn’t do much studying!
Liz: I think this is the first book you’ve illustrated. What made you agree to illustrate this book? Were there any surprises about the project? And please tell me about some of the other things you illustrate?
Emily: What attracted me to your book was how you integrated facts and teen storytelling, making this educational but also a space to share real life stories and experiences from around the world for greater perspective. Our designer was also incredible at communicating the emphasis on centring BIPOC figures. All of these factors played into why I was enthusiastic about this partnership.
I have done a few artist collaborative graphic novels in the past, but not specifically for youth. Motherhood has definitely influenced my interest in educational material and creating illustrations for a younger audience.
Emily: What do you love about writing non-fiction?
Liz: I’m a very curious person so I love finding out incredible facts and then sharing them with readers. I like reading about amazing people who have changed the world and then learning why they did what they did. I’m also very interested in science (I have an Honours Bachelor of Science degree), so I’m curious about nature and the world around us.
Liz: Was the illustrating process for a children’s book different from what you expected?
Emily: At first, I anticipated some differences in my approach. I also reflected on the need to change my process or style for this project. But children are smart and I really wanted to bring a mature and respectful tone to my illustrations. I didn’t want to simplify or filter the way I deliver information to children. My work feels playful and kind and I started the project around those feelings. In the end, it was a more introspective process, illustrating to answer questions to my teenage self.
Emily: What inspires you? And how do you come up with concepts for new projects?
Liz: I take inspiration from everything around me. I read a lot of books, listen to the radio and podcasts and read newspapers and magazines. Sometimes when I’m procrastinating, I’ll look at websites like reddit and imgur and I often find book ideas there too. I also talk to kids, teachers, librarians and my friends to find out what interests them or what they’re wondering about.
Liz: What’s your favourite illustration or double-page spread in the book?
Emily: My favourite is the cover artwork. I enjoy building worlds with my illustrations. Some other personal favourites are: The illustration for “Postal Politics” on page 72 is directly from my life experience and “Getting the youth vote” with celebrity endorsements (on page 50) comes from a very real place of junior high school (posters of musicians, obsessing about the latest album to be released, strong emotions).
Emily: How do you feel about the book, cover and how it all came together? Was it what you imagined when writing it?
Liz: I remember thinking as I pulled together image suggestions that there were a lot of difficult concepts to illustrate. But you nailed it, Emily!
I agree that the cover looks great. I love the details you fit in, including sunglasses on the sun. The chapter opener on page 32 is also really fun with the cat peeking out between the blinds.
I think my favourite double-page spread in the book is pages 50/51 with the politician with her big ear. What a great way to say without words that she’s listening.
I appreciate the diversity that you included in the book, Emily. I think every reader will see themselves somewhere in the illustrations.
Liz: Do you create your illustrations by hand or on a computer?
Emily: Both! For my commercial illustration jobs, they are mostly finished on a computer. This allows me to edit for revisions and achieve consistency over 20 to 40 illustrations. I work on a 24-inch cintiq, which is a large touch screen drawing tablet. But I also love to draw in my sketchbook and paint! And if the opportunity allows, I do try to create some of my work in analog or mixed media. So the mediums I choose are unique to each project.
Emily: What is your writing process like? Did this book challenge your typical process?
Liz: As soon as I get a book idea, I start researching to make sure there’s enough information available to fill a whole book. I think about dividing the information into chapters and what will go into each chapter.
Once I get the go-ahead from the editor, I dig deeper to find the amazing facts that I hope will fascinate kids. In all my books, I think it’s really important to profile both males and females, as well as show diverse people from around the world.
The challenging part of this book was finding young people who were involved in the voting process and whom I thought would interest kids. In some cases, I had to work pretty hard to discover the facts about their stories.
Liz: Do you have an illustrating routine?
Emily: All of my projects begin on paper and are very rough. I do this while I read the material, do research and take lots of notes on ideas, feelings and challenges. From there, I do roughly 3 to 10 sketches for each illustration before I begin to refine further. I test angles, silhouettes, framing, perspective, character designs and style when I create my rough sketches. Once I feel like it is looking closer to what I hope to achieve, I lay it out in the layout of the printed work to send to my client. From there, I continue to refine the work through revisions, feedback and my own critique. Once the refined sketches are approved, I move on to the final illustrations. Sometimes there is one last revision stage at the end for minor edits, if required. And then I send over my work in trust to the art director or designer to put it all together.
Outside of the illustration process, I like to listen to music when I work. It helps me get started, stay focused and gives me encouragement and a sense of calm.
Emily: Can you please share your inspiration behind this book? What inspired you to write a book about voting for youth?
Liz: As I mention in the book, one election day I was out shopping (having already voted, of course!) and I wanted to yell at people, “Have you voted yet?” I realized how important I think voting is. Statistics show that if you vote in the first election for which you’re eligible, then you’re much more likely to vote in future elections. I hope this book will give readers such a strong urge to vote that when they’re old enough, they’ll be eager to get into a voting booth!
Liz: Is there anything you have to eat or drink while illustrating?
Emily: I enjoy beverages. Illustration is not a very physically active job, but it does take a lot of brain power! I often have tea (which I forget and gets cold) or a smoothie. I also become really focused when I work, so I often skip meals by accident. So a pre-planned smoothie and/or a big breakfast is an important part of my day.
Emily: Do you have any voting stories you'd like to share?
Liz: I made sure I included all my favourite voting stories in the book, including personal stories about my experience voting — those are the “Vote Notes” near the end of each chapter. But here’s an update on one of the profiles in the book: Aleksi Toiviainen (see page 65) continues to be very concerned about voter involvement. He’s still working hard to lower the voting age, even though he’s now old enough to vote.
Liz: Do any of the characters in the book look like your friends or members of your family? Or did you slip in any other special details into the illustrations?
Emily: Yes, I couldn’t help it. I thought about all of my friends growing up. A lot of the characters were inspired by people I knew as a teenager. I also constantly thought about my own child and his toddler friends. How could I make these illustrations appeal to them when they are older, what they may look like in 8 to 10 years and my hope for the type of loving and safe learning environment they will have.
Emily: What is the hardest part of writing a book like this?
Liz: I hate hitting the SEND button to submit any manuscript to my editor. I always find reasons to hold onto my manuscript a little longer, giving it another read-through, triple checking facts, etc., etc.
The hardest part of writing this particular book was making sure kids could see the relevance to themselves of voting. They can’t yet vote in federal, provincial/state or municipal elections but I think it’s vital that they start thinking about the importance of voting. I want them to see the power they have with their vote. So I worked really hard to find the stories that I hope readers will enjoy and will keep them reading.
Liz: Are you a regular voter?
Emily: I am now, but was not in my early 20s. It’s taken a lot of life experience and perspective to figure out who I am, my beliefs and building confidence. I am a first-generation immigrant and voting was intimidating to me for a long time. I can say the same about representation and the idea of visibility. Books like these did not really exist for me in my childhood and books/movies were also not as inclusive as they are now. So I’m very grateful to be an artist and use this powerful, universal language for positive change. I feel that my current day work is quite political, as I share more of identity and lived experience in my work.
Learn more about Liz MacLeod here.
Visit Emily Chu's website here.