Illustrator Kim Raymond on bringing the ponderous bear into the fast-fast-fast world of social media, the legacy of E.H. Shepard and being a ‘creative custodian’ of Disney's iconic characters
Character illustration, says Kim Raymond, is all about storytelling. And he should know. Over the course of his career, he’s illustrated some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters. At the age of 21, he got a job at the Walt Disney Company in London, and then moved into comics, where he worked on titles like Mandy and Tracy at DC Thompson and then 2000 AD. He’s drawn everyone from Judge Dredd to Roy of the Rovers. He then spent 30 years at Disney, where he has penned pretty much every familiar face to have come out of the Magic Kingdom.
Who better to help celebrate the 95th anniversary of Winnie the Pooh, the thoughtful, honey-munching bear? To mark the occasion, Kim has created a short film in the style of Pooh’s original illustrator, E.H. Shepard – and it highlights that Pooh shares his 95th anniversary year with another high profile and iconic figure – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The film sees Pooh and his pals send the Queen a very special birthday delivery. As a child, the young Elizabeth was said to be quite a fan of Winnie the Pooh, so the connection between the pair goes right back.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Kim to find out about creating the film, recreating E.H. Shepard’s iconic style and what it’s like to illustrate beloved Disney characters.
LBB> When you got involved in this campaign what was your starting point?
Kim> We got together as a team and discussed the way in which not so much we, but Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin might celebrate Pooh’s 95th anniversary and coincidentally the birthday of Her Majesty The Queen who was also turning 95 the same year. Some kind of party seemed like a good starting point!
LBB>You've been drawing Winnie the Pooh for 30 years - what is it about the character, his friends and his world that appeals to you as an artist?
Kim> When drawing Winnie the Pooh as E.H. Shepard might have done, I get to look at the characters as he did. His style appears sketchy and loose, but underneath everything are personalities and behaviours which are all unique. For example, Pooh moves differently to Piglet and Tigger, and when drawing Christopher Robin I imagine how a very young child might talk to his toys.
LBB> Why was the E.H. Shepard style so important for this particular project and campaign?
Kim> This year we are celebrating the 95th anniversary of Winnie the Pooh; based on when he first appeared in the Hundred Acre Wood, as illustrated by E.H. Shepard. In recognition of this, I focused the animation on how he looked 95 years ago.
The animation I’ve done is inspired by the original Shepard drawings. For Winnie the Pooh and the Royal Adventure, I simplified the character outlines, keeping them loose but removing some of the sketchiness which would have been problematic when drawing frame-by-frame animation, all whilst retaining their classic look. Similarly, a watercolour wash on the characters would not have animated well so I balanced it with background art painted by hand as close as I could get to the original Shepard style.
LBB> As an illustrator, which of Pooh's cast is most satisfying to draw?
Kim> I love drawing Pooh because he ‘emerges’ out of the drawing with very few strokes, and you can sketch with the pose so easily and let him play on the page. Christopher Robin on the other hand is not like that, although drawing him has its own rewards; he has to be anatomically very accurate, and it is only through the observation of my own children when they were small that I can create art of Christopher Robin that resonates as a small boy in the minds of the audience.
LBB> Of course, the other big character in the film is the Queen - what was your approach to designing her character and making her fit in this world?
Kim> The key was trying to keep faith with who she is now, her poise and general appearance, and being subtle with it. The story is fundamentally about Winnie the Pooh yet she is as recognisable as he is, which helped.
LBB> What are your favourite details from the film and why?
Kim> I like the preparation scene best. It gave me plenty of opportunity for storytelling as Pooh looks for the biggest pot he has, right through to using too many balloons that cause the pot to rise, and Eeyore’s dogged determination to bring it back down. Loved working on that!
LBB> From your experience working across the huge cast of Disney characters, what you think the key is to creating enduring, appealing characters and mascots?
Kim> These characters are not mine of course, yet when I draw them I feel I am a creative custodian. They belong, in spirit at least, as much to Disney, as they do to the millions of people whose hearts and minds have been touched by them.
My first thought when drawing any Disney character is to call to mind the character in action – talking and interacting - to remind myself who they really are. If I don’t bring them to mind it’s much more difficult to make them flow onto paper - or drawing tablet - to continue their story in a way that reminds the viewing audience, whether on screen or on shopDisney products (which I spent many years working on), who they really are. It is why, as you rightly say, Disney characters have such an enduring legacy.
LBB> What emotional impact would you like this film to have?
Kim> I would like people to watch it and smile (or in the case of my granddaughter, to clap!). Winnie the Pooh is whimsical and for many, nostalgic, and a warm emotional response is something I hope we evoke here.
LBB> And were there any unexpected or interesting creative challenges with this project?
Kim> The biggest one was trying to tell this fairly uncomplicated story in such a short time, just based on the format of exposure it would have. Everything on social media is fast-paced - I even have to watch Instagram stories twice to get them sometimes! Winnie the Pooh is not fast-fast-fast. He is gentle in speed and action. A thoughtful bear.
LBB> I have to ask, as I think a lot of our readers will really dig this, what your early years in DC Thompson and IPC were like?
Kim> DC Thompson gave me my first break on girls’ comics; a story called ‘Mum’s Bargains’. But the more interesting stories came later when I moved to IPC (and then known as Fleetway), usually spanning four or five pages, so more of a story to get your teeth into. And these were mostly on boy’s titles. I had an agent based near Fleet Street and he managed the flow of work. Contrary to popular conception, the artists and writers hardly ever get together, each working in different parts of the country, or in these days, the world. One exception of course was A A Milne and Ernest Shepard. Milne got to know Shepard through his work on Punch.
LBB> And what did you learn from those experiences that have really helped you in your journey with Disney (for example, there probably isn't an obvious connection between Judge Dredd and Winnie the Pooh, but I'm so fascinated about that transition!)
Kim> It’s fundamentally about following the character model. Dredd was created by others, and I needed to continue the audience’s experience so that they recognised the same character.
More importantly, the one universal truth is that a successful character is all about storytelling. Storytelling comes first so whether it’s a good comic story or a Disney story, the strength of the character shines through. It’s what Disney does best and what attracted me back over 30 years ago (my first job after art school when I was 21 was at Disney as a junior artist before working in comics).
I was working on the best stories with the best character designs, which made it a pleasure for me on both levels. Every single drawing we make now is a tribute to the original creative Disney talent that lies behind it.