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Pictures before Words—Paul Tubb

Children’s author and illustrator Paul Tubb on his approach to book creation

A question that is commonly asked of those who write songs, or SongWriters as they are usually known, is, “What came first, the music or the lyrics?”

As someone who has written a few songs, I get asked this a lot; mainly by schoolchildren.

It is a question with many answers depending on the song. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes the music, other times they appear together in a magical piece of inspiration in the mind of the songWriter, on one occasion I stole both the music and lyrics from a Busker I happened to witness on a trip to Ballyshannon, etc…     

Alternatively, as a Picture Book Creator, a question I am very rarely asked is, “What comes first, the pictures or the words?” This is a question that, for me, had a more straight-forward answer. “The words come first.  I need to know what’s happening to know what to draw.”

Is this uncomplicated response the reason why the question is seldom asked? Is the same reply given by all Picture Book Creators, so the question needs never be asked again?   It is certainly a question I have never asked my fellow Illustrator/Writer friends when we find ourselves socialising at a festival or conference. (Ah those long forgotten days before social distancing).

Yet it is a question that interests me immensely, as it became a more complicated answer for me. It all began in October 2017, when inspired by two artists I love, Quentin Blake and Jim Henson, I decided to create drawings of strange creatures. I drew the picture below whilst on the LUAS.

I was listening to The Grateful Dead at the time. Later that day I decided this would be the first picture in an exhibition I was looking to design.  The exhibition would be entitled, ‘Strange Creatures I drew, whilst on the LUAS listening to The Grateful Dead’.

It was originally going to be a departure for me, an exhibition rather than a literary venture.  But as time went on two things changed. First  the title had to change as future illustrations did not take place on the LUAS, nor while listening to the Grateful Dead. Secondly, one evening whilst reading about Krazy Kat Cartoonist, George Herriman, I got the inspiration to write some nonsensical prose to accompany one of the pictures. The Krazy Kat comic strip is a visual & linguistic delight and this is what I wanted for this exhibition.  It would be a literary venture after all.

I advanced, drawing pictures, then writing humourous passages to accompany them.  I then made the realisation that this was still a departure for me, I was writing in prose and THE PICTURES CAME FIRST.

I started to think this was not as unusual as I initially thought. For instance, I was familiar with what was known as the “Marvel Method”. During the 60’s and 70’s, due to Stan Lee’s immense work load, Marvel Comics would request the artists, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, ink the pages first, Stan would add the dialogue afterwards. Also, a recent Quentin Blake exhibition has had text added by Will Self and released in book form.  Maybe this was common, it is certainly a discussion I will broach with my fellow Illustrators when we find ourselves in close proximity again.


Currently I am editing the prose and hope to have the exhibition sometime in the future. But it already has a spin-off, a Rhyming Picture Book called, “Strange Creatures Pointing at Things”.  It is a funny, off-the-wall book that does exactly what the title says.

BUT, did the pictures come first?  Well, not exactly.  When I got the idea, I drew numerous creatures pointing in different directions.  I then began writing the text and drew the pictures, adding the already drawn creatures to the backgrounds. (See pictures above).  I now spend my time illustrating strange creatures in sketchpads, cutting them out and hoping I can use them in future projects, and I must say it is an enjoyable way to spend my time.     

Disclaimer: I have never stolen anything from a Busker in Ballyshannon.  I have only been to Ballyshannon once, and witnessed no Buskers whilst there.


About the Author: Paul H. Tubb is a Comic Poet/SongWriter and Humourous Illustrator/Cartoonist who is based in Dublin.  He has written many Poetry Collections and Picture Books and has performed his work to many Children around Ireland.  His latest work is a Picture Book entitled, ‘Strange Creatures Pointing at Things’ and further details are available at his website: www.paulhtubb.com