Here at Arteaser, we normally keep readers up to date on shows and events that artists we've covered are participating in. Last month, The King Rat and his Court by William Bruno was published, featuring illustrations by Eduardo del Rio.The book takes an intangible topic (corporate ethics) and uses a physical vehicle (rats) to communicates its message, much in the way an artist might express an idea through symbolic imagery. To find out more about how The King Rat's visual themes manifested, I conducted a Q&A with the author and Eduardo about the book and its illustrations:
DG: Bill, when did you start writing The King Rat? What were your immediate motivations?
WB: I began writing The King Rat and his Court about four years ago. I wanted to shed daylight on how unqualified, unethical individuals achieve high level positions in corporations. The comparison in behaviors of rats and wayward CEOs had always intrigued me.
DG: The book is structured around introducing a cast of corporate characters, all rat-like in their own ways, of course. Why did you decide to organize the piece like this?
WB: The King's Court is the essence of the book. The King is only able to gain and maintain his power by building a court of vassals within the corporation and exchanging bilateral gratuities with those outside the corporation.
DG: It's a pretty serious topic, and one that certainly resonates with the current financial crisis. So, when and why did you decide to add illustrations to The King Rat?
WB: The illustrations were added after the text was completed. I decided to add the illustrations when I saw Eduardo's creative work. I thought that he could bring to life to the King and the members of his court. Eduardo illustrated the cover and the five section heading, full page illustrations. Later in the final book design phase, Eduardo recommended that we add the inserts within the chapters.
DG: Eduardo, when tasked with animating these characters, were there any parts of the book that especially fed your vision of the rats?
ED: Having worked in many commercial and corporate situations, I felt that many of the descriptions in the writing hit all too close to home, or office. The characters colluding and conspiring behind closed doors were all too reminiscent of many executives that I have seen hording their 'cheese' and keeping the inferiors on a need-to-know basis. These characters practically drew themselves.
DG: What do you think the illustrations bring to the message you are trying to send to readers?
WB: I had two goals for the illustrations. The first was humor - although ethics is a very serious subject, I wanted the reader to laugh at the perverse behaviors. The second message is greed.
DG: I definitely found the illustrated rats simultaneously grotesque and amusing. How did you approach the goal that Bill had set out?
ED: Well any corrupted character is seen as both evil and pitiful. Their intentions are loathsome while their greed is laughable. You always hear about people becoming corrupted without them being aware. This is pitiful. But ethics predominantly reflects natural morality, so people should know better. I sought to represent both these sides of the described individuals.
DG: Greed and humor seem like they would be drawn from differnet aesthetic wells. What sort of visuals or artists were inspiring for the rats?
ED: I know the lively, playful characteristics of the rats in the books subconsciously emanates from the work of the great Maurice Sendak. He was able to breathe life into his illustrations, and you watched as they danced around the page with souls all their own. On the other hand, the metaphor of evil and corruption given form in the book I know is directly reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch. His manifestations of ideals into imagery has always inspired me to find the links between a thought and its visual representation. I actually recently saw the painting "Death of the Miser" for the second time after a long time, and I smiled to myself as I realized that the work had indirectly influenced my art for the book. The miser is sitting on his death bed clawing after his pouch of gold as demons crawl unchecked like rats around his luxurious bedroom.
DG: I'll go back and check, but I don't think there was any Bosch in my Accounting 101 textbooks. It seems like many business-themed books seem to use stock illustrations or reproduced cartoons (Dilbert comes to mind) as visuals. What was it like to collaborate with an artist on this project for creative and original visuals?
WB: Since the text was written before the illustrations were prepared, Eduardo was able to grasp the nature of the characters. My message to him is that I wanted these characters to be humorous rather than sinister. After a couple of initial sketches, we agreed on a basic characterization. Then Eduardo took over - and with limited direction he used his creativity to come up with the scenes and individuality of the characters. He came up with the logo design "Stop the King Rat" and book design which create continuity of the theme, and link the message of corporate greed to the King Rat.
DG: So, I take it you weren't a fan of Disney's Ratatouille?
WB: I never saw Ratatouille; however, The King Rat would make a great animated movie!
DG: What were some of the challenges of working on an illustration project like this?
ED: As an artist I am often guilty of not relating to many of the utilitarian matters of business. That can be an excuse and it is something I have always grappled with. In this day and age these matters cannot be denied, seeing how the global economic situation has been so affected by the recent events. The message in the book is not just for businessmen. If it were, the problem may never be solved. My challenge was to become involved and truly understand a realm that I generally overlook.
DG: It's definitely a topic everyone should tune into and I think the illustrations really help make it more accessible. Thank you both!
The King Rat and his Court is available on Amazon.