Megalopolis: a three-metre long children’s story book from illustrator Cléa Dieudonné

Graphic designer Cléa Dieudonné’s new children’s book folds out to reveal a three-metre long illustration depicting the fascinating fictional city of Megalopolis.

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Megalopolis is published by Thames & Hudson on March 7. The book tells the story of an alien who travels from space to find a fictional city complete with a zoo, Chinese gardens, opera house and underground network of tunnels.

Instead of reading from left to right, viewers navigate the book vertically – each panel folds out to reveal a new part of the story and a new section of Megalopolis, stretching from the clouds to dwellings hidden deep underground. The attention to detail is impressive, with unusual creatures and scenes hidden in every panel: there are over 100 buildings and 514 inhabitants, plus ghosts, thieves, cars, cakes and pastry chefs, giving children something new to look out for on repeat readings.

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Dieudonne, who is based in Berlin, says she was inspired by the fictional setting of Paul Grimault and Jacques Prevert’s 1970s children’s film Le Roi et l’Oiseau (The King and the Bird), and the enclosed world in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. She also drew inspiration from a trip to Hong Kong, which is perched on a mountain.

“The story is quite personal as well. I am French but had been living in Amsterdam for two years by the time I started creating Megalopolis. So I was thinking a lot about the idea of home: was it France or the Netherlands? For me, a city becomes a home when people are welcoming and friendly – when they’re kind towards foreigners. So Megalopolis is a lot about how people can make you feel at home and how chance meetings can be enriching and enjoyable, you just have to be open to the unknown. Maybe it’s a bit idealistic of me to say this, but I think this theme is increasingly important given the current refugee crisis in Europe,” she adds.

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To create the book, Dieudonne says she started by planning the different areas in Megalopolis and the key buildings that make up a city, from town halls to factories. “Then I made a second list of the fun, unexpected things that I could use, like a volcano, a haunted house, even a zoo. I mixed up the two lists to try to create a logical order to the city, and came up with a structure whereby the upper parts of the city are the institutions and official buildings, and the lower parts are the living areas, houses, roads and factories. In the underground, you might spot the famous Berlin Club Berghain – I was living in Berlin when I drew that part.”

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She also wanted Megalopolis to reflect the diverse architectural styles that can be found in cities: “I did a lot of research to define a particular architectural style for each of my city areas. There are 118 buildings in Megalopolis and all of them are different…. If you look closely, there’s a Calder sculpture in the background. I matched windows to doors, and used simple shapes to add details to the façades of my buildings.”

She also worked to a rigid colour palette: “Each building touches and overlaps another, and they all needed a separate colour, so it was quite complicated … but I hope from a distance, the colours are balanced.” Each person is unique and Dieudonne says she wanted to reflect the diversity of modern cities in her characters. “I hid some unexpected characters in the story as well, like a man on a flying carpet … and many dogs.” The artwork features as few curves as possible, she says, and was created using vector illustrations which could be scaled down.

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“Digital children’s books combine my passion for children’s stories, illustration and graphic design. I find it so wonderful to see kids going crazy over Megalopolis, searching for thieves together and noticing all the little details. After the tremendous amount of work that went into the project, there’s no greater satisfaction than to watch children bring the story to life.”

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Megalopolis is priced at £14.95. Advance copies are currently available at Stanfords London and Bristol or you can pre-order online here.