If you’ve found yourself in the children’s department of a bookshop recently, the chances are your attention may have been drawn to a book published by Flying Eye. In amongst classics by Dahl, Carle and Blyton, Flying Eye books stand out for a number of reasons, but mainly for their use of quirky but beautiful illustration and unusual characters, which include a little girl called Hilda and Professor Astro Cat.
An imprint of Nobrow, the publisher of illustrated titles for adults, Flying Eye initially emerged for practical purposes. “We’ve always loved children’s picture books and found the genre to be really inspiring,” says Sam Arthur, co-founder of both Nobrow and Flying Eye. “We had created a few books under the Nobrow imprint, such as the Hilda series, which were always intended to be for kids. However, publishing them under Nobrow meant that they were never looked at by the children’s buyers and often ended up in the adult graphic novel sections of the stores. We set up Flying Eye Books as a direct way to answer this problem.”
Now the brand more than holds its own alongside Nobrow, and was last year awarded the CILIP Kate Greenaway Prize, widely seen as one of the most significant awards in children’s literature/picture books, for Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, which chronicles Ernest Shackleton’s crossing of Antarctica in 1914. Meanwhile, the Hilda titles by Luke Pearson are being turned into an animated TV series that will air on Netflix in 2018.
“It’s been extremely exciting to see Hilda go from a 24-page single issue comic to a fully fledged graphic novel series and now a TV show,” says Arthur. “It’s evolved over the last seven years, so for us it hasn’t happened overnight.”
Arthur’s main desire with Flying Eye is to create children’s books that people will cherish and keep. “We want to make books that children will want to hold onto and pass on to their own children in years to come,” he says. “We have books for 0-5 years and books for 6-11 years, and hopefully some of them are enjoyed by 11-99 years too.”
At a time when parents are often struggling to find books for their children that will attract them away from the dreaded screens, Flying Eye titles stand out for their unusual style and approach. “Over the years the children’s book market has become quite generic,” agrees Arthur. “The publishing industry has relied on tried and tested formulae to create new titles rather than pushing into new areas and ideas. It’s much more exciting suddenly because we understand that our audience is open to something more unusual – though for me, unusual really just means different and fascinating.”
As well as bringing joy to children, Flying Eye is also nurturing the next generation of illustrators. Shackleton’s Journey was a debut title for William Grill, and Arthur is always on the look out for new talent. “We are constantly looking for new projects and dreaming up new ideas,” he says.
“I’m really excited about Joe Todd-Stanton, he has created a new series based on ancient mythologies, with the first book Arthur and the Golden Rope based on Nordic folklore. I love his beautiful illustration and clever storytelling – I think he’s going to be someone to look out for. We also have a first book coming out from a very talented individual – Roisin Swales. She graduated from Manchester School of Art in the summer and her book Big Hid is an astonishingly good picture book for someone so young.”