We caught up with author Tim Harris and illustrator Shiloh Gordon to learn about their new series, Ratbags.
What happens when a prolific children’s author and rockstar illustrator team up? An amazing new series, of course!
Written by Tim Harris and illustrated by Shiloh Gordon, Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good is the first book in the Ratbags series, a collection of books that follow a pack of rats as they live and learn along the way.
Starring a misfit named Jigsaw, Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good is a one-of-a-kind tale that introduces readers to the raucous world of rats with delightful characters that they will come to love throughout the series.
Heavy on illustrations and light on text, the book walks the line between a graphic novel and a chapter book, making the books approachable for young readers of all skill levels. With rich storytelling, punchy comic-style illustrations and plenty of humour to go around, this series is set to become a hit amongst kids – both naughty and good.
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Ratbags is a stupendously rat-tastic new series featuring the Ratbags, a gang of rats who are notoriously naughty. When Jigsaw runs into two of the most ratbaggy Ratbags around, his world is turned upside down as his orderly, rule-following ways are called into question. An introduction to the Ratbags world, this book is rip-roaring fun aimed at readers ages 6+.
‘There’s always that exciting stage of bringing new characters to life and exploring new settings and adventures,’ says author Tim Harris. ‘What makes Ratbags different is for the first time in one of my series, the main character is quite naughty.’
With heaps of illustrations, the book gives young readers a close-up look at what life as a naughty ratbag looks like. Despite the rats' bad behaviour, however, there are several heartwarming messages buried beneath the surface. ‘It’s not preached at all, but there’s a nice subtle message that we can be friends with other people, no matter what our belief system or no matter how different we are to them,’ the author shares.
In addition to the friendship angle, there’s also a message about peer pressure, and staying true to who you are. ‘Jigsaw constantly faces that with the other rats,’ who encourage him to engage in naughty behaviour like stealing. ‘He keeps sticking to his guns, saying “no, that’s not following the rules, and I want to follow the rules.”
Funny, intelligent, and with powerful moral messages, the book is a delightful read that kids and adults alike will love. One such fan – Shilioh’s daughter – can testify. ‘My youngest daughter adores Ratbags,’ the illustrator explains. ‘It’s her favourite ever, so that’s a good sign.’
While there is so much to love about Ratbags, it’s the characters that will win readers over with this series.
They’re funny, fun, and quirky – each with their own physical and behavioural traits that make you feel like you really know them. . . even though they are rats.
From the beginning, the characters were always a central focus for the artist and illustrator alike, with the understanding that how they established the characters in the first book would drive how the rest of the series unfolded. ‘Focusing on characters is what usually helps set up a series. Once the characters are set, then each book will become a separate arm of those characters and a self-contained adventure, says Tim. Ratbags has three protagonists: ‘two of whom are the naughtiest rats you can imagine. But also one who likes to follow the rules.’
When Shiloh first read the manuscript, he got right to work bringing these fun personalities to life. ‘With good manuscripts, I immediately want to start drawing them,’ he says. ‘Characters are driven by shapes, with different shapes for different styles of characters.’ He doesn’t have a particular image in mind, but rather draws until he finds shapes he likes that seem to represent each unique personality.
The collaborative process
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Developing the characters wasn’t the only way that Tim and Shiloh collaborated while writing Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good. The melding of the images and words necessitated that the two work closely together throughout the entire process.
‘Initially, the text was 7,000 words long,’ says Tim. Working with a publisher and editor, the author pared down the text, leaving space for the illustrations to tell the story. ‘For the first time in my career, I got to sit down and have a proper round table page by page, talking about where the text should be what the text should say and how the jokes were working.’
Then, adding Shiloh’s art to the mix was the final piece of the puzzle. With his signature drawing style and love for illustrating stories featuring animals, he was the obvious choice to help complete the story.
While Shiloh has always worked as an illustrator, it was the creation of his Instagram profile that cemented him as one of Australia’s best in the children's book scene. By drawing in a way he loved and sharing his art on the social media platform, Shiloh found his unique pathway and personal style.
It wasn’t something he did intentionally, but simply putting the hours in and sharing his fabulous work was what eventually led the artist on the path that has now led to Ratbags. ‘It was just something I wanted to do, but as it grew I realised it was like a portfolio,’ he says. ‘When that first publisher contacted me, they said: “don’t worry about a portfolio – this is all I need.”
In addition to social media, other technologies (such as his Wacom drawing tablet) have changed the way Shiloh works. Instead of going through several sheets of paper on a lightbox, Shiloh can easily sketch up an illustration before sending it off to the publisher.
In short, ‘it was a real collaborative experience,’ says Tim. ‘It’s been a blast.’
Learn more about Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good.
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