Food, Festivals and Micro-Publishing

by Ziggy Hanaor

Cicada Books is a small, London-based publishing company specialising in high-end illustrated books. By small I mean very small.  There are two of us doing everything from editing to production to press and PR for ten titles a year. Fortunately, we are distributed by Thames and Hudson, so we don’t have to actually sell the books into shops.

I set up the company in 2009, and in the early days I focussed on quirky, beautifully-presented books for adults on trends like alternative craft and cycling. Illustration has always been a great passion of mine, and when Instagram became a big thing I found myself gazing longingly at some of the illustrators, whose work was very obviously kid-oriented, wondering how I could find a way to collaborate.

Picture by Michael Crabtree

Activity books were the obvious first step, as they are quite straightforward to put together and seemed like a safe way of venturing into children’s publishing. Louise Lockhart is someone who I had admired from afar for a while. She runs an online shop called the Printed Peanut, which I hit up every time I need to buy a birthday present. I had spotted some gorgeous prints that she had done of traditional food packaging, and I approached her to see whether she’d like to expand upon it, which is how Playing With Food came about.

Picture by Michael Crabtree

The great thing with activity books is that you can do it spread by spread. You’re not following any particular structure or narrative, so editorially it’s very fun to put together. I would say ‘let’s do a fruit wordsearch’ and Louise would say ‘I want to draw a kitchen that you can fill with all your favourite foods’. I have two kids who were aged 4 and 6 at the time, so they were my market research group. I would bring home printouts and watch them attack with their crayons.

We always spend a lot of time thinking about how the physical book will look. I love looking at paper samples and thinking about how effects like foils and die cuts might work. On Playing With Food, we wanted to replicate Louise’s vibrant screenprint style, so we used a very limited palette of pantones, which Louise carefully layered up, and we then printed in special colours. I just love the way this book feels when you turn the pages.

Festival Folk is a by another illustrator whose work I adore. Rob Flowers has a brilliant, subversive style that feels simultaneously retro and timeless. When he approached me to do a book about festival customs and costumes I leapt at the chance to work with him.

This was a beast of a book to put together. Rob drew up a list of festivals and a long research process ensued. We did a lot of the writing in-house with the help of folklore specialists. It was absolutely fascinating. A lot of the carnivals have roots in Medieval traditions and are about letting loose and turning the world upside down before the deprivations of Lent. Some of the festivals are completely insane. The Baby Jumping Festival in Spain features a devil, who leaps over babies that are laid out in the street. The Kasedori in Japan are dressed as haystacks, and run barefoot through the snow as villagers hurl freezing water at them in order to protect their houses from fire in the year to come.

Rob worked like a madman to put the book together on time. He did all the illustrations (of which there were thousands) as well as laying the book out. Probably because it was such an intense process, he really managed to capture the energy and abandon that characterise the festivals.

Festival Folk has just been released, alongside our other Christmas books, and right now I’m in the thick of the Spring list, which has some lovely picture books by new and established illustrators. We finally ventured into fiction, and we’re having great fun creating storybooks for kids ages 3 and up. But we’re continuing to invest in non-fiction ideas – it’s so important to have educational books for kids that maintain a spirit of humour and fun. This time next year we’ll have a book about microbes and another about underground trains. Stay tuned on cicadabooks.co.uk

This is a guest post by Ziggy Hanaor and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.

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