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How scary is too scary?

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Hey guys, got a bit of a dilemma here. I'm looking to work on my portfolio a bit in the coming few months and I'm considering leaning more towards chapter books as I've recently been told that my work might have more luck with an MG audience. I'm also looking to do these in black and white as that is currently missing from my portfolio.

I've decided one of the best things to do would be to pick a book in the public domain and create some illustrations for that. I like working on things that are a little out of the ordinary so I want to avoid the obvious like little red hiding hood for example. One title that popped up was Sleepy Hollow and I think this could be a really interesting project to work on, but how scary is too scary?

Since the story is fundamentally a horror story I'm not too sure how to approach it, do you guys know any horror stories aimed at a young or MG audience that I could take some inspiration from? I want these illustrations to fit comfortably in my existing portfolio which is geared more towards picture books.

Another option would be to approach it as a picture book and simply cartoon the illustrations so much that they become comical despite the dark subject matter. This means I would miss out on adding MG work to my portfolio but I would still be adding them as B&W illustrations so it would still  be worth my time.

Sorry for waffling on for so long! As you can probably tell I'm very torn on this one.
#1 - February 15, 2017, 02:05 AM

I have that dilemma myself at the moment since I'm writing about monsters.
Perhaps do what I do:read, or in your case, demonstrate your work & test the market, perhaps to an older audience & gage their reactions.
#2 - February 15, 2017, 04:26 AM

I don't read a lot of middle grade, but I was a bookseller, so I know there's a market for scary/spooky books for that age group. I wouldn't say that a ton of them are published every year, but I think each publisher does at least one or two a year, definitely around Halloween. I found a list on Goodreads that will give you some ideas. DOLL BONES by Holly Black is the only one I've personally read. It was fantastic and had gorgeous illustrations throughout, so it may be a good one for you to look at.
#3 - February 15, 2017, 12:19 PM

Mine isn't scary in the slightest:it's more about the dilemmas a monster faces when hunger sets in. And organising a shocktail party.
The girls in my profile pic were quite forthcoming with their suggestions, which surprised me. I thought they would be too young.
What genre are you illustrating for?
#4 - February 16, 2017, 07:18 AM

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Thanks very much for the replies guys, I've had a quick look through that list and it seems like a fantastic resource. Definitely going to have a proper look through it and pinpoint some inspiration and guidance.

I'm not really sure what you mean when you ask what genre I'm illustrating for - it's a portfolio piece. I suppose you could say horror since the story I'm planning to use is Sleepy Hollow but that's the whole point of my question - should I illustrate it as a (somewhat) scary middle grade story or a silly, stylised picture book?

I'm looking to achieve three things by adding this to my portfolio:

- Add black and white images to my portfolio
- Add a set of images that show the same characters in multiple settings/interactions
- Add middle grade work to my portfolio

Though if the story I've chosen is a bit too grim I'd be willing to sacrifice the last one and instead make it a more silly set of illustrations as I'll still be achieving two of my three goals.
#5 - February 16, 2017, 07:36 AM


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