Our writing project embraces the idea that business books might benefit from a refresh. We think a lot of business books are unnecessarily long and dense. Our suspicion is that some business books are written more for the authors than for the audience. We were adamant that A Career Carol should focus on the reader. We summed up this approach in our mantra of being relevant, practical, and (whimsically) entertaining.
When we brain-stormed ideas for how to achieve our goal for A Career Carol, we kept coming back to two things: (1) Let’s try to deliver the advice as an entertaining story, augmented with explanations and advice, but (2) let’s also give our readers a visualization of the story... let’s work with an illustrator to bring it all to life.
So, we set out in search for an illustrator who might (be eccentric enough to) share our vision.
YOU HAD US AT MEERKATS
In December 2022, we met Andy ‘Doodles’ Baker.
When you visit Andy’s website you immediately get a flavor for the man and his uniquely English eccentricity:
“Born in a cave and raised by meerkats, Andy started drawing at a very early age. After years of doodling on the walls of their cave, his parents (now quite old in meerkat years) sent him off to school with his own kind in the hope that he would stop messing around with his pencil and become a doctor or something.
Sadly, his parents’ hopes were dashed and a career in the arts beckoned.”
We were immediately intrigued and fascinated. Was he a Meerkat who thought he was a human or a human who had been deserted as a child? Given he lived in Birmingham, could this explain much of his strangeness?
We caught up with Andy last week to ask him some overdue questions.
FROM A CAVE TO BE MENTORED BY SOME OF THE UK’S MOST DISTINGUISHED COMIC BOOK ILLUSTRATORS
“Ah...well.... you have to understand the wild and uncontrolled imagination that comes with being an illustrator and animator,” Andy explained. “I’ve always loved to draw but what I realized through my teens and early 20s was I excelled more at story telling. I used to set up clay dioramas and come up with backstories of my crudely sculpted play-doh characters.”
This is Andy at his typically modest. The reality is that Andy’s ‘drawing’ had been nurtured by some of the UK’s most distinguished artists. In 2002 Andy's talent secured him a place on StripSearch, a UK-based program designed to find and develop young comic book illustrating talent. During this course he was mentored by comic book legends such as, John McCrea, Hunt Emerson and Jimmy Broxton. It was with Jimmy that Andy went on to create and run The British International Comic Show - which was the largest UK Comic Convention at the time attracting over 3000 visitors!
Andy’s artwork has led him from Alton Towers, where he served his apprenticeship as a working caricaturist, through bars, clubs, weddings and Bar-Mitzvah's. He has drawn comic books and storyboards, designed zany characters and mentored kids, big and small, on how to draw!
When we made the observation that this was very impressive, Andy said “yeah, well, as I said I really enjoy drawing. I do it for love. It gives me peace and enormous fulfillment. It will always be a part of my life.”
ILLUSTRATOR, ANIMATOR, AND STORYTELLER
Andy, however, nowadays has migrated into the big leagues. He has been active in all area's of the creative sector. His talents have been used by the likes of IBM, Sky, Disney UK, and many more. He remains very understated and grounded about the whole thing, “Yeah, I plan on going to LA at some point to pitch some of my ideas - see how they stick.”
We asked Andy about the book illustration work he has done. “I am very choosy about what I work on to be honest. I have done about a dozen projects, but I only work on things I’m interested in or that are important. I have done several comics for schools helping young adults make smarter choices in life - something I know I would have benefited from. These days I’m mostly working in game animation so the book projects I choose to do really need to speak to me."
Of course, we had to ask about A Career Carol. What was it that made him agree to take on two new authors with a different approach to a business book? “Oh, I read your pitch document and loved the riff on Christmas Carol. The story of redemption, the concept that a moment, perhaps fleeting, could change your destiny. It’s inspiring and intriguing to think of the tiny moments in life that, if you are really paying attention, could have such a profound impact on your life.”
Andy shares some of the struggles he has had to overcome. “Maybe I’m more sensitive to where I choose to spend my time now. When you face some pretty dark things in your life and prevail... well you tend to look at life a bit differently. I only want to work on things I enjoy and believe in. Life is absolutely too short to do too many things you dislike.”
THE A CAREER CAROL PROJECT
We worked with Andy for nearly 3 months on developing a dozen illustrations for the book. We weren’t looking for a story book or illustrated novel, but just some images to punctuate the text and help readers visualize some of the main points. We were intrigued to hear Andy’s reflection on the process.
“The key point is, that for me, it all starts with the authors and the book narrative. I don’t start with any style or image in mind. I want to understand the author's vision and how specific they are on what they visualize. I was heavily influenced by the work of Bill Waterson and Jim Davies so my default stance is inky and quirky. But we needed to find a happy medium. I love that retro aesthetic, classic comic screen tones, etc, and fortunately - so did you guys. Style aside it’s important for me to start with a mental story board. I’m 100% story led.”
We asked him about the specific illustrations he made for us. “Well, I am proud of the Ice Cream van scene, the whole idea of 'mister whippet good' pitched up in the middle of winter really tickled me. Also, the graduation scene. The way the characters came together in that scene I think we all remarked how it just suddenly solidified the chapter. You know it’s good when after you’ve seen the illustration you can’t imagine the chapter without it.”
We wondered if he had a favorite character, “Well, yes, Sir Ant is probably my favorite. Most of my characters have traces of personalities in them. With Sir Ant I saw a mix of Doc Brown (Back to the Future) and Dr Who (Tennant). Shey, on the other hand, felt like a mix of Adrien Brody, Shaggy from Scooby Do, and Robert Sheehan.”
ANDY’S TAKE ON QUIZ SHOWS AND AI
As we were wrapping up our conversation, Andy said “Oh, did I tell you I was on a gameshow the other day?” This sent us on a desperate search for a YouTube video of the show which, as yet, we haven’t found. “I did ok ... I won’t spoil the outcome for you,” said Andy teasingly.
In parting, we asked what he thought about all the AI buzz. “I’m actually planning to return to the Meerkat Cave with the family so we can shelter during the inevitable AI/Skynet apocalypse on the horizon” he said, presumably jokingly. “Yeah, AI is a real disruptor and it’s not clear whether it becomes a new interesting tool for artists or whether it causes a nuclear winter. Really not clear at the moment. My best guess is it ends up as a powerful tool, but I fear we’re going to bite off more than we can chew. Where I’m uncharacteristically optimistic though is the conception of ideas remains a very human job - for now at least.”
And on that prophetic note, we said our goodbyes.
ANDY ‘DOODLES’ BAKER
If you are working on a book, need help with creating a pitch for an animation, we can’t recommend Andy highly enough. You can find him via his website or on Reedsy. One of the last things he mentioned was he really would like to work on a children’s book at some point “I have a 2 year old daughter now, so doing a children’s book would score me serious dad points.” So, if anyone reading this has ever thought of writing but hadn’t for want of an illustrator.... problem solved!
Very loosely transcribed conversation between Andy ‘Doodles’ Baker and Drs Schuster & Oxley April 26, 2023.
Picture credit to Andy 'Doodles' Baker - His Man Wearing Hat and Tie Portrait