Picturing different worlds from Meersbrook attic
The illustrations for a children’s picture book, Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, about an American family were produced in an attic in Meersbrook.
The story by Pamela Ehrenberg is about a brother and sister whose mother is Indian and father Jewish and the transatlantic commission launched Anjan Sarkar’s career as a children’s illustrator.
At the time he was working in graphic design but really wanted to become a full-time illustrator and had found an agent prepared to represent this side of his work.
“An American publisher had been looking through their portfolio of artists and saw my name and said, ‘is he Indian?’”Anjan recalls. “ We had never discussed it so they rang and said, ‘Weird question, but are you Indian because the publishers are looking for someone to work on this publication about dual heritage families’. ‘I said, ‘Well my dad is’. And after that I have had quite consistent children’s book commissions. I have been really busy since that came out.”
Next came Rum, Pum. Pum, a story inspired by Indian landscape, culture and heritage, and then another American publisher approached him to do black and white illustrations in a particular style for a projected series of sci fi stores for ages six to nine.
“I sent them samples of how it would look if I did in that style and that lead on to The Alien Next Door series and I have just been sent a script for book eight.
“That lead to Level Up for a British publisher about these two kids who get sucked into a videogame and have to figure out a way to escape. It’s just come out and is going to be a series and I’m working on book two now and there will be two more after that.”
Anjan Sarkar grew up in Cheshire and after university followed the rest of his family to Sheffield.
“As a kid I used to like drawing, probably the thing I was best at at school and at that stage I just wanted to do something with drawing but didn’t know what. I came away with a first class degree (from Manchester Met on Illustration with Animation) which was good but the work I had done wasn’t very commercial, it was more creative. So jobwise I didn’t really know where to go with it.
“I did things like bar work until I got a job with a company on Ecclesall Road called Cool Beans who did 3D animation that they had funding for. It was the time when there was a lot of money going into computer-type businesses. And they had a sideline where they were creating content for mobile phones although back then it was black and white pixels and then after a few months the investors pulled out and that was the end of that.”
Over the next few years he moved back and forth between Sheffield and London, doing mostly graphic design.
He was able to be creative when his brother-in-law, the film producer Mark Herbert, asked if he would produce a graphic novel of the movie they were planning at the time, Dead Man’s Shoes.
“I was working from this tiny room in London with all the pictures stuck up around me and working really long hours because there was so much to do. It was one of those things you say you can do and then you have to work out how you can do it. “
Eventually Anjan moved back to Sheffield for good. “The work had dried up with the financial crash. My wife was pregnant with our first child and we had just bought a house. We were both in creative jobs and just muddling along. We settled in Sheffield because it’s a nicer place to be.
He was taken on by Finger Industries, the Sheffield specialists in animation, illustration and video production.“They said they did needed someone to work on a project they were developing which was the start of my children’s illustration. They had a job with Oxford University Press and they needed to create 3D characters kids doing various activities, with 2D backgrounds and they needed someone to draw the 2D elements.
“It was to teach kids English, in Spain I think, and they needed hundreds of little illustrations of scenery. And it went on for a couple of years and at the end I had a massive portfolio of children’s drawings.”
Anjan says he has become aware of how under-represented people are from different cultures. “As I create stuff I will definitely think about that,” he says. “I think it is really important that kids see themselves in books and learning material. I don’t think it was something I thought about as a young kid but now it is much more diverse in this country.” His own family, with a Japanese wife, son of six and daughter of nine, being perfect illustrations.
The fact that people aren’t represented is not just about the publishing industry but the whole of society. I am doing illustrations because I come from a family which has encouraged me and when I have been completely skint I have had financial support If you don’t have that you are not going to go into a creative job at all.
“Publishing is a very white middle class game. Especially children’s publishing.”