***UPDATE 12/21/13: I’m thrilled to report that CHALKY has been fully funded! Congratulations to the gentlemen of Little Thunder Co., Jordan Henderson and Kyle Steed.***

Two weeks ago as I was wrapping up PiBoIdMo (and holiday gifts), this little fella arrived in my inbox:

chalk3

I immediately connected with the illustration—even though I’m allergic to cats. ***AH-CHOO!***

But just look at him! Fluffy and soft, pawing his way into the sunshine for a day of adventure!

Captivated by the texture of the illustration, the color palette, the dapples of light, and the cat’s expressive body language, I wanted to know more.

I learned that his name is Chalky. CHALKY AND THE NEW SPORTS CAR is a picture book venture by Little Thunder Co., a trio of designers from Belfast. Chalky is a character based on a real cat, with illustrations by the talented Jordan Henderson and original typography by Kyle Steed. They’ve got a Kickstarter campaign that ends in FOUR DAYS and they need your help!

So I sat down with Gabriel, Tim and Michael of Little Thunder Co. to talk about the process of creating CHALKY and the behind-the-scenes challenges of launching a Kickstarter project. Mind you, I was sitting in New Jersey while these guys were in Ireland. And they probably weren’t sitting, they’ve been so busy promoting CHALKY! I imagine them floating around like superheroes, as in their photo…

Gabriel Muldoon, Tim Potter and Michael McKeever

Gabriel Muldoon, Tim Potter and Michael McKeever

Gentlemen, this blog often focuses on ideas and inspiration. Your main character, Chalky, was based on a real cat. Whose cat is Chalky and how did this evolve into a story for children?

TIM: Chalky was a stray cat who was found in a friend’s shed circa 2003. I brought him back home where he has resided ever since as our family cat.

Chalky is a fun, friendly and curious cat. He has a particular passion for cars and enjoys sitting on the warm bonnets (hoods) of vehicles that have recently parked in the neighbourhood—and who could blame him given the Irish climate? He also enjoys peering up the exhaust pipe of cars and, being a white cat, he would often return home with a black ring of soot on his face. Big exhaust pipes are his favourite—the more of his face he can press up it, the better. I don’t know what the fascination is, but it gives us a few laughs when he comes home at night with soot on his face.

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My father and author, Stanley Potter, turned his hand to writing short stories and poetry in his retirement and the things Chalky gets up to are a constant source of material for him. He wanted to write these stories for his grandchildren to enjoy and he sent me over this first story “Chalky and the New Sports Car” and I was so impressed with it that I shared it with the rest of the Little Thunder Co. team.

What kind of work does your production company, Little Thunder Co., typically do, and how do you think your experience translates into creating a children’s picture book?

GABRIEL: We’re primarily a digital design studio that creates high-impact digital products for the big screen, small screen and everything in between. This typically includes websites and apps but our main speciality is humanising the user experience by taking the best practices and principles of design to create an organic experience for the user.

Part of what we do involves storytelling, and apps and websites all have an underlying narrative. Some are good and we don’t even notice them, others are bad and stick out like a sore thumb so we look at transition, pacing, language—all important aspects of how a story unfolds over time—and apply these to our work. These storytelling techniques transcend different disciplines and has helped us in the production of our children’s book. We’ve been able to break the story down, identify key scenes and art direct it in a way that is fitting to the audience, the same way we would had it been a website. We’ve learned a lot of new things along the way about picture books that we can also apply to our craft as designers so there is a great cross-over and sharing of knowledge between both practices.

As designers we also understand layout and typography so we’ve been able to apply these to the design of the book. Typography is a really important ingredient for us and we consider it ‘clothing for words’ so we’ve put a huge emphasis on getting this right which has led us to commision typographer Kyle Steed to hand craft every word in the book. We could have picked a font and there are plenty of great ones out there, but we wanted to create the complete children’s picture book experience and we couldn’t achieve it without giving the words their own unique voice.

chalkytype

So you knew from the beginning that you wanted to take control of this creation and not go the traditional publication route. What led you to Kickstarter? What specific challenges come with launching a Kickstarter campaign?

GABRIEL: Over the past few months there have been a string of successful Kickstarter projects from companies based within a few minutes walk from our office (Brewbot, SeeSense & Patchblocks), so we felt the time was right to give it a go ourselves. Belfast is an exciting place to be right now in regards to design and we have a very supportive community that will get behind your project and support you.

MICHAEL: This is the first Kickstarter project that we have launched and one thing we have learnt is that preparation is first and foremost. There is an enormous amount of content you have to think about and prepare beforehand. The video itself is an important part of your pitch and we were literally filming right up until a few minutes before we needed to go live.

TIM: Once it went live you soon find yourself working around the clock to promote it, responding to questions and comments, thinking of new strategies to help gain pledges, the list is endless. It’s quite the emotional roller coaster as if you don’t make your goal, you don’t get a penny from Kickstarter. It’s all or nothing which adds to the intensity during the funding period.

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What are your goals for CHALKY? How do you hope your audience will react to the story?

GABRIEL: Simply, we hope that the book resonates with the audience through the beautiful illustrations, typography and engaging story to create the sort of book parents will enjoy reading their kids and the book that the kids will ask for their parents to read them.

chalkycoverWhat will be your definition of success for the book?

MICHAEL: I would say success to us would be getting to the stage where we have physical copies of the book that people can own and can live on their bookshelves. Something that kids and parents will enjoy reading.

GABRIEL: Yeah, and just on that point, I think the greatest moment will be able to read our story to my kids and get to experience what it is all about at the end of the day, a book the family can enjoy.

Do you have a goal for the number of books you hope to sell?

TIM: In all honesty we’re doing this project out of passion to create something beautiful and different from what is already out there on the market. As far as sales go, it is hard for us to project this, because this is our first attempt at entering the children’s book market. All we knew starting this was we wanted this book to exist and every sale after that is a bonus, so we’ve no spreadsheet hidden away with projected sales and targets. To us it’s all about the craft of something great.

What about Chalky do you feel is different from what’s already on the market?

I would say we’ve researched the anatomy of great storytelling and what makes something visually compelling and tried to apply these to the production of CHALKY. An example would be the typography. We could have used an existing typeface for the book but for us to create a richer, immersive experience and to compliment the illustrations, we’ve wanted to get the words hand-crafted. We also have gone for a unique illustrative style, that is totally digital but calls on traditional painting techniques to create them.

If successful with this book, what will you do next? A Chalky sequel or other picture books?

GABRIEL: We actually have another four Chalky stories written and ready to go which will introduce new characters and adventures. If this first book is successful, we’ll start to work on the next one and develop Chalky as a brand. The bigger picture is to become an independent publishing house and work with other story writers, designers, typographers and illustrators to create a rich and varied collection of picture books all created to an exceptional standard.

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Thank you so much Gabriel, Tim and Michael, and I wish you much success with CHALKY!

Dear blog readers, ’tis the season of giving. The gentlemen are shy of their Kickstarter goal, so won’t you consider backing them? Remember, when you back them, they give you something back! 

Click below to go to the Kickstarter campaign.

chalkykickstarter

Plus Gabriel, Tim and Michael would love to hear what you think of CHALKY! Do you have any questions about their creative process or Kickstarter? Please leave them a comment below.

P.S. More PiBoIdMo prizes to come, so stay tuned!