"A lot of my work involves telling a story or making a statement by parodying a very recognisable visual language," says illustrator Toby Leigh. His latest project is no exception, sending up the familiarly small-c-conservative imagery of early learning books.
"I’ve always been amused by children’s books from the past, and the hysterical saccharine world they portray," says Leigh. "A few years ago I found a children's ABC book from the 1970s in an antique shop in Wiltshire. I’d had the very same book as a child, and It was fascinating for me to revisit this innocent illustrated world as a cynical adult."
His response was to create his own version, painted in the same style, but with the seemingly innocent words – Apple, Dog, Queen, and so on – twisted into sinister adult themes. "The obvious way to do such a book would be to just draw adult things: D is for Drugs, P is for Porn etc. But this felt like a crude approach and it seemed far more terrifying to use actual words you’d find in a kids book, but let the way the words were interpreted through the illustrations create the narrative," says Leigh."I wanted the book to be more than a simple throwaway gag."
While the majority of the pages are very much humour-oriented, others highlight serious themes, such as terrorism, animal cruelty and the treatment of disabled ex servicemen and women. Leigh created the images using the iPad Procreate and an iPencil with a great drawing programme for the iPad called Procreate. I also used Photoshop.
The book has already been published in French by Ici Meme, and it’s soon to be published in the US, but Leigh has struggled to find a publisher in UK: "Two quite well known publishers said they would publish the book if I changed some of the images," he explains, "most notably the Queen image and the one showing a disabled and homeless Iraq war veteran. I was’t interested in creating a watered down version of the book, so I decided to crowd fund it myself via Unbound."