Ben Clanton: "Narwhals are creatures too magical to be of this world"

The head of Ben Clanton (Tacoma, Washington, 1988) does not stop creating.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 22:56
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Ben Clanton: "Narwhals are creatures too magical to be of this world"

The head of Ben Clanton (Tacoma, Washington, 1988) does not stop creating. If it were a pressure cooker it would always be hissing. He has dozens of notebooks full of drawings that he makes anywhere and at any time. The plane trip from the United States to Barcelona that he made a few weeks ago earned him the opening of a new blank notebook that is now beginning to be full of characters similar to dragons and various monsters. It's fascinating to see the sketches of him. Narval and Medu -a narwhal and a small jellyfish that always accompanies him- are the characters that have given him worldwide fame.

He traveled to Barcelona not only to see first-hand how Sant Jordi is lived, but also to introduce his new character, Rot, a kind of charming potato-monster that the author himself describes as a selfie of himself.

With Rot, the bravest man in the world (Youth), Ben Clanton abandons the comic format with which he introduced children to the popular Narwhal and Medu, whose adventures are already in the eighth book. This series began to be published in the United States in 2016 and later, in 2018, the Juventud publishing house did the same in Spain, where Clanton was one of the pioneers in introducing the comic genre among the youngest readers (4-5 years). He was also in the United States, where the publishers of this comic duo did not have all of them. Would the genre work for children that young? More than five million copies sold worldwide and in 17 languages ​​give the answer.

“Rot appeared at the same time as Narwhal in my sketchbooks. They were potatoes that were evolving and made all kinds of funny expressions. Sometimes they would show up eating other friendly creatures in my picture books. And they were not going to leave, ”she says. While Narwhal and Medu's oceanic adventures are about friendship and the importance of being yourself, Rot explores the limits of courage and trust.

In a first title of the series, Rot, the most handsome in the world, our beloved mutant potato cannot resist participating in a beauty contest when he sees it in an advertisement. In this second installment, Rot, a lover of mud like any mutant potato, finds a large and appetizing puddle, but his older brother, Moco, warns him about the existence of Gusamalo, a monster that eats all living creatures.

Behind this story is much from Clanton's own childhood. He says that to go to the park that was next to one of the houses where he lived as a child, he had to go through a space that was quite dark and that scared him. His sister wasn't very helpful and she was always making up stories to add more sinisterness to the matter. So little Ben, like Rot, would dress up in some kind of cape, like a superhero, to give himself courage. Does her sister now know that he has turned her into a potato and that her name is Moco? “Sure, now we get along very well…”, she laughs. Without a doubt, revenge is served cold.

“Both in Narval and in Rot there is a lot of projection of me and how I would like to approach certain things”, says the author. “For example, Rot is confident but also competitive and that is very mine, because I was competitive as a child. But he also has this good loser part and is very confident, and deep down I would also like to be like Rot and have more confidence and be the bravest in the world," he smiles.

Asking Clanton how he came to turn a narwhal into a children's comic character is a must. It all started, he says, when he was looking for inspiration to write a book about a tree and came across the photographic work on polar animals by Canadian biologist Paul Nicklen. "I have to confess that I didn't know much about narwhals before I saw your photographs and I think a big part of what struck me was that these creatures seem too fantastic for this world."

This is how he began to draw Narval. and medu? "Well, when I was drawing Narwhal, I would fill pages and pages with narwhals, and suddenly I began to notice that next to him was a little jellyfish. I would turn the page and there she was, always by Narwhal's side, keeping him company."

Now Rot will also have company, since he will be, together with his older and younger brothers, the protagonist of a graphic novel that Juventud will release at the end of this year. His own children, ages seven, five and two, will certainly add a lot to the series, as will Clanton's older sister, Mean Green Samantha Jean, whom he always thanks in his books for the inspiration their sibling relationship has given him. .

This is not the only project the American creator is working on. Just two weeks ago he finished a four-handed book with a friend, Ploof, about an empathic and interactive cloud. And to round things off, for the next book they have added one more guest: six hands for a children's book. Quite a challenge for someone who never imagined drawing professionally and whose plans included being an astronaut, a professional football coach or the president of the United States. At least that is what he always tells his interviewers, although there must be some truth when his first published book, Vote for me (2012), speaks in a particular way of the American election system, where an elephant and a donkey compete to be elected president.

Another project is also going through his head, a story, which he admits that he still does not know how to approach, how to tell it. It is very personal and may have to do with the difficulty he had as a child learning to read. "Any book I do has a certain amount of myself that can make me feel very vulnerable," she admits.

Ben Clanton has declared himself a lover of comics since adolescence, which is why he refutes that it should be classified as a minor genre to the detriment of reading, especially in middle grade. What's more, he has the interesting opinion that "when a small child has a comic like Narval and Medu in his hands, he considers that he has a book for older people, a different book, and therefore I think it encourages him to read a different way”. He can agree or not, but in any case, his success is indisputable. And the charm of him too.