The Cartoons That Came to Life – Tom Ellen

Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Finn and his parents have just moved from owning a cafe in Cornwall – where his Dad cooks amazing food – to a town where Finn isn’t happy and feels as though he is alone. He’s yet to make any friends at school and is often in trouble for drawing comics and cartoons when he should be focusing on his lessons.

His cartoons all centre around Arley and Tapper, two mischievous heroes who not only fight the evil Professor Fart-Munch (who looks suspiciously like the school bully…) but keep Finn entertained, too!

One morning, he wakes up to discover Arley and Tapper no longer live on the pages – now they’re in his room! When they follow him to school, he needs to keep them hidden so they don’t cause trouble…

This is a fun, funny book which will have children laughing not only at the story but with the hilarious illustrations which accompany it from Phil Corbett. I loved the development of friendship between Isha and Finn. They both really helped each other and I really enjoyed the adventure they went on with Arley and Tapper.

I am so excited today to have a Q&A from the author, Tom Ellen. Here, he tells us all about how the illustrations compared to the creations in his mind, as well as his favourite cartoon characters!

This is your first middle grade novel, was writing it different for you compared to your writing for YA and adults. Did it bring up any new challenges?

Well, a major challenge initially was just writing on my own. I co-authored my three YA books with my friend Lucy Ivison, so it took some time to adjust to the fact that I couldn’t just write one chapter and then send it over to someone else to write the next one! Aside from that, I think younger readers will probably tolerate less meandering and navel-gazing than in YA and adult, so it was a challenge to keep the action coming thick and fast, and never let the pace drop! Lastly, THE CARTOONS THAT CAME TO LIFE is the first illustrated book I’ve written, so that was a big – and very fun – challenge: getting to write little descriptions of the illustrations as I saw them in my head, and then be utterly amazed by the brilliant stuff that Phil Corbett delivered!

How did the illustrations compare to the characters in your head? How did that process work?

I actually came up with the characters Arley and Tapper when I was about ten – I used to write and draw comics about their adventures. But those early versions looked VERY different to the extremely polished and slick version that Phil draws in the book! The 10-year-old me’s version of Arley, for instance, was basically just Bart Simpson with Lisa Simpson’s hair. Not very original. So, Phil’s illustrations were far, far better than the characters in my head. The process was really fun – as I was writing, I would occasionally add a note if I thought this was a moment where an illustration could work. I’d describe the character(s), or the action, of the illustration, and then Phil would go and away and improve on it one-million-fold!

If you could be a cartoon character, who would you be? 

This is a great question, and one I spent much of my childhood (and adulthood) considering. I’ve had many different answers over the years – Spider-Man, Danny from the Bash Street Kids, the Roadrunner out of Roadrunner and Coyote. But right now I think I’ll choose Rick Sanchez from ‘Rick & Morty’ – he’s the greatest scientist ever and can pretty much do anything and go anywhere in the universe he wants. Plus he’s pretty hilarious, too. 

And finally, do you have any favourite books, characters or comics that inspired the book?

Yes, there’s a book called ‘Puckoon’ by Spike Milligan, which was a big inspiration. I read it when I was about 13 and was really blown away by the opening chapter. A third-person narrator is describing an idyllic scene in the countryside, and then they start describing a man in the field, but then the man starts talking back to the narrator. He starts asking them, ‘Oi – did you write my legs? I don’t like them!’ and things like that. And that was really revolutionary for me when I first read it, because I was used to weird things happening in books (monsters, time travel, what have you), but I wasn’t used to seeing the actual mechanics of a story being messed about with in that way. A character talking back to the narrator – I couldn’t believe it! So that really inspired the idea of having Arley and Tapper come to life and start talking back to Finn – their creator – making fun of him and asking him why he drew them the way he did, and so on. The Beano comic was also a huge inspiration – I was obsessed by it when I was Finn’s age (and older!) and the drawings in particular of a cartoonist called Leo Baxendale (who drew The Bash Street Kids) were a big influence on me and the book. 

THE CARTOONS THAT CAME TO LIFE by Tom Ellen, illustrated by Phil Corbett is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House) 

Like the sound of this book? Buy it here.

Emily x

📚 Book gifted by publisher.

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