TWG interviewed the art director and illustrator of Star Wars Rebels: Rebel Journal by Ezra Bridger, a book written by Daniel Wallace and based on the popular animated series on Disney XD.
This replica journal follows the adventures of young Ezra Bridger on his home planet, Lothal. Filled with exciting sketches and interactive elements that entice young independent readers, the book also includes 16 blank pages that invite other rebels to continue the fun and imagination with their own stories and drawings.
Art director and illustrator Andrew Barthelmes joined us recently to talk about his experience behind designing and illustrating Ezra’s journal.
Tell us about your role as the art director behind Star Wars Rebels: Rebel Journal by Ezra Bridger.
As art director, this was a really exciting project for several reasons. This is our first Star Wars project at Studio Fun International, and also our first time designing a replica journal. We wanted to make sure the book was on the shelves when the show went on the air, so it was a tight schedule, but the reaction to the finished project has been terrific.
When and how did the idea of exploring Ezra’s journal come about?
Before we began working on Star Wars projects, we had a brainstorming session where the creative team at Studio Fun got together and threw around ideas. Then we took what we thought were the strongest ideas and pitched them to Lucasfilm and Disney. One of their favorite ideas was the replica journal, and it just seemed to make sense for the Star Wars Rebels series. Books that look like journals are very popular in the market right now for 8- to 10-year-olds. We wanted to make sure our journal looked as real as possible, like it was found somewhere on the planet Lothal before it could be completed. We chose a handwritten font that worked for Ezra and added lots of “taped-in” flaps and fold-out pages, and partially-completed pages in the back.
Star Wars Rebels is the first major project under Disney and Lucasfilm. What attracted you to the project?
We work with Disney on many projects and knew the combination of Star Wars and Disney would lead to a great show. Based on the episodes I’ve seen so far, I think they did a great job! If the show is successful then it should work well for other books that tie into the show. I’ve watched Star Wars Rebels with my kids and I can see that it will be an effective way to get kids excited about Star Wars before The Force Awakens movie comes out.
Did you get to work with the Lucasfilm Story Group? If so, what was the experience like? What advice did they give you, if any?
They were fantastic to work with. They really made sure that our story aligned well with the show and they gave us lots of insights into this specific time period and location in the Star Wars universe. It was especially important for the earlier parts of the book where we were imagining what Ezra’s life is like living alone in a communications tower.
You’re also the illustrator of the Rebel Journal. Can you tell us about your personal illustrating process?
I don’t usually illustrate our books. My role at Studio Fun is mostly designing and art directing books, and so I really enjoyed the chance to create so much of the artwork in this book. As for my process, I was provided with really good reference from the archives at Lucasfilm so that was really helpful. Although I did most of the sketches at one time, I also made drawings during the design process. If I felt a spread needed something, a cool ship, or some humor, I would make a quick sketch.
The sketches and doodles are done from Ezra’s perspective. How long did it take to figure out Ezra’s style and what made you choose that style in the end?
Actually that’s a funny story, I made some sample spreads to review on a phone call with Lucasfilm. The creative director there said the artist did a good job getting the right look for Ezra’s sketches. Although my sketches were rough and only meant to be placeholders in the sample designs, it was decided I should illustrate the whole book. Although I hadn’t seen it coming, I couldn’t wait to get started. By the way, some of those original sample drawings got printed in the final book.
Studio Fun makes the reading experience more interactive for young readers. How did you go about choosing which pieces would be fold-outs and flaps?
We really tried to imagine the kinds of objects a tough and smart kid like Ezra Bridger would find and save in his journal. For example, a map of Capital City with his notes and catalog-like pages showing the helmets used by the Empire that he either had collected or hoped to, made sense. We wanted to get across his attitude but also that he has been outsmarting the Empire for years.
Is there a specific illustration or page you did in the Rebel Journal that you like the most?
Some of my favorites are the fold-out map of Capital City and the drawing of Obi-Wan Kenobi towards the end of book. I also really like the spread for Day 60—on the left page we came up with some booby traps that Ezra set up in the tower, and the right page I made a sketch of one of Ezra’s few friends Moreena Krai. I was only told that Moreena had red hair and was about Ezra’s age, so I had a lot of creative control.
Having focused on several characters from the animated series, who turned out to be your favorite and why?
Well, this may be the obvious choice, but I think Ezra Bridger is a great character. I really like that he was able to survive alone for so long and now we get to see him use his many skills for a good cause as one of the Rebels. The combination of Ezra finally getting to be part of a family again, and getting trained as a Jedi by Kanan, is really going to be fun to watch as the show progresses.
What advice can you offer illustrators looking to work with children’s books?
I would say that although there may be roadblocks along the way, stay with it. Remember that what makes a good book is a good story. Also, as I was reminded with my experience on this project, you never know when you will get the chance to illustrate, so be ready!
Can you tell us what project(s) you are working on at the moment?
Well, I am working on lots of cool new books. For Star Wars Rebels, I have two new books coming out soon. The Secret Jedi is a book about Kanan Jarrus that includes a folding holocron that gives you exclusive access to a website that is loaded with Jedi history and secrets. There is also a second journal coming out, Sabine: My Rebel Sketchbook. I found an excellent artist named Annie Stoll that really captured Sabine’s graffiti look. They both come out on February 3, 2015, so please check them out.
While you’re there, make sure to place your pre-orders for Star Wars Rebels: The Secret Jedi: The Adventures of Kanan Jarrus: Rebel Leader and Star Wars Rebels: Sabine My Rebel Sketchbook, both set to be released on February 3, 2015.
Star Wars Rebels airs Monday nights at 9pm ET/PT on Disney XD.