If you’ve ever felt different, or just like you didn’t fit in, you might just find a kindred spirit in Stick, the hero of Stick Boy. Just released by Cork publisher and illustrator Paul Coomey, it tells of a world of fully-illustrated, well rounded characters, where our hero Stick is, well… a stick-boy.
Coomey grew up in West Cork, and attended school in Macroom, where any of us might have undergone the same growing pains that Stick and others among us felt at the ages at 8-12. The author's own childhood informed his latest artistic excursion.
“It was ordinary, really. We moved to Crookstown when I was two, all the families on this terrace moved in at the same time, when it was newly built. We’d kick about on the road, all the kids… nothing ever happened. Kind-of like Little Town, where Stick lives in the book. The thing was not to go down the fantasy route - those stories are being told. I’m more drawn to regular stories, and the story is rooted in reality. No-one’s been in a plane crash, or dug up treasure, it’s just exploring the ‘ordinary-ness’ of existence.
“That’s part of Stick - he’s ordinary. He feels disconnected from everyone else, but can’t put a finger on why, and it’s a matter of seeing that everyone feels that way sometimes.”
While pursuing English Literature in University College Galway, Coomey took up work as a lighting engineer in the world of theatre, in itself another means of storytelling. Being involved in staging influenced his visual sensibilities.
“It’s about drawing focus and leading the viewer. In a dark room, you can choose where people look. It’s similar with a visual image - you put your hero at the vanishing point, to draw attention to him, or if five characters are looking in one direction, your eye will be drawn toward it.
“Contrast as well - you use heightened areas of colour. With Stick, everything around him is filled in - except him, his face. Getting the reader’s gaze to the crucial moment in the image. Over the course of the book, there’s less set-dressing, background detail, and a focus on Stick and the other characters.”
Moving to London to pursue a career in publishing after graduation led Coomey to further hone his instincts for storytelling in different ways. Over the course of a decade, Coomey’s way into the publishing realm, and his current role at publishers Little Tiger, took him in an unexpected direction.
“I came here, worked in a pub for two years, got a phone book, and applied to everywhere in town. I happened across some good advice while volunteering in an Oxfam bookshop, from a woman that was working at Anvil Press. She said - ‘don’t apply for a job in editorial, apply in any other aspect of the business’. I applied for roles in production, dealing with printers and designers.
“When I got a job in production, I then realised, I didn’t want to be an editor! What the designers were doing was my interest. After 18 months, I got a job as a design assistant, after putting together a portfolio, with a picture-book company, and I learned how to evoke some visceral reaction in the reader - laughing, crying, that moment of conveyance and communication.”
Launching the book amid the current circumstances provides plenty of challenges. Instead of the joyful slog of physical launches, readings and other events, Coomey has hosted his own online happenings, like Q&A sessions and virtual book tours. Measuring the response and engagement in this new set of circumstances is tricky, but he’s confident in its outcome.
“It’s been great. I’m communicating more with people than I would be in normal circumstances, with people I don’t know, in different towns, with local booksellers over social media. Because of lockdown, I’m not commuting, so I’ve had time to create stuff, and hone it a bit, and I’ve had the benefit of talking about the book and its ideas, how people react to visible difference.
“The thing about it is finding readers, going online and engaging with people instead of being found in a bookshop, and bought for the cover. Finding people where they are. I’ve loved all of it, it’s much more intimate than being in a big hall, queueing for a glass of wine and then shuffling back into your seat. There’s no barrier between you and the author, sharing their wisdom.”
- Stick Boy by Paul Coomey, is published via Little Tiger Press and is available now from booksellers