Interview with Mark Janssen, famous artist from Netherlands


Hai Mark Greetings from Nepal. Will you please tell our readers briefly about your literary career and achievements?

Hello people in Nepal! I graduated of the Art Academy in 1997 in Maastricht, The Netherlands as an illustrator. From the beginning on I have been a fulltime illustrator, having an own business in drawing illustrations for newspapers, magazines, educational books for children and children's books. Publishing houses asked me to illustrate a book project, always together with a writer. In 2014 I started writing stories for the youngest readers myself, stories to learn reading; until 2014 I was only an illustrator; doing drawing and painting for books. Two years later my first big picture book was published by a well known publishing house in the Netherlands; ‘Nothing happened’. I did the story and the drawings. It became a success with until now, twelve translations in different languages, including Nepali (by publishing house Kathalaya). After 2016 I made more big picture books. They all became international successes. Until now I illustrated almost 500 childrens books, and 6 own picture books. I wrote in total 20 titles. My picture book ‘Island’ won two big prizes in the Netherlands.

How were you inspired to take up writing and illustration as your career?

I was inspired by my girlfriend I met at the Art Academy study; I wanted to become a designer and work with computer designing. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, she wanted to become a children's book illustrator. When I saw how much fantasy and imagination was involved in creating these images; I was hooked up to doo just the same. I am still happy with my choice!


Besides writing, you have also been illustrating for children. What are some of the things an artist illustrating for children should keep in mind?

Illustrating is my first passion. I started drawing when I was a toddler and never stopped. Writing is something that has grown for me in the last 5 years, because I wanted to do more projects by myself; writing and illustrating in one book.Everybody needs to practice a lot, in drawing and in writing. When you want to achieve a gold medal in a sports-competition; you have to practice almost every day. And by doing that, you become better and better and you also see what is lacking. When you want to become a professional in illustrating or writing; start doing it a lot because then you see what your strong and weak points are. Start working on your weak points. Ask people to help you, or go to real good art classes or art schools. Look what is needed for the quality in Nepal, but please also look to the international market of children's books. This is the quality that is possible for you.


How much difference does illustration make in making literature palatable to children?

 It is very important for children's books. It opens gates in the mind of a child that has sometimes difficulties in reading books. It is sometimes an appetizers. Sometimes the illustrations are of the same value as the text. Without illustrations, the book is not communicating to the reader. Like picture books. And even sometimes, even the text is not needed to tell a story. Like in my nepali translation of my picture book ‘Stop! Monsters! (publisher Kathalaya) there are no words, except one;’ Stop!’

So stop thinking illustrations are only to explain the text. They can be very power full and even more important than words. It can be an art-form! 

You have been voted best writer and illustrator by your child readers themselves. What appeal, do you think, your writing and illustrations have, which inspired the children to declare you their best?

My work appeals the children because it is positive and made to bring happiness. I think my imagination is on a high level and I have the skills to get these things on paper. It is a combination you need to appeal the readers and viewers. Bright colors and a little bit of humor is always an ingredient that makes it more easy to reach children. They are always willing to laugh and have a good time. Try to put that in your picture book stories and drawings!

You have visited Nepal a couple of times, and have seen the type of children’s literature and illustration produced here. How do you judge their quality? Do you suggest any essential improvement?

Yes, I have seen some difference. I believe that talent is born in every country on earth. The difference is always if there is easy access to develop that talent you have. It starts at home; when you see your child is artistic; do parents stimulate this by giving the child what it wants? A good feeling and deliver papers and materials to draw or paint? Then the school is the second point; are there teachers who see this talent and tell them everything is possible in life? Also become a professional artist or illustrator? And the next thing is; is there an industry that provides projects and work for these talented people?

So I have seen talent for sure in Nepal! Now the next thing is that the children's book market has to grow and grow. When it grows, the quality goes up and up. New talented people will try to do projects and the to be the best. So illustrators and writers start to improve more and more. It will take some time, but I know for sure this is happening right now in Nepal. A lot of young people see what is going on in the international market and they know what they have to deliver to be a good illustrator. Essential improvement will come when they start making books that have international value with themes that are not only interesting in Nepal. Themes like ‘friendship’ or ‘loss’ or ‘love’, ‘monsters’, ‘animals’, ‘the universe’, ‘dreams’….and lots more. There is a chance that foreign publishers want to  buy this product and publish it in their own country. It means a lot in growing as an illustrator to look over the borders of your country.


What is the market of children’s literature in Europe? Please share your observation with special regards to the Northern European Countries.

The market in Europe is stronger than I have seen in Nepal, but that is because the market is older. The market is steady and when you are an talented writer and illustrator you can make a living out of your children's books projects. It has to be combined with income that comes out of your new books and of royalty-payments of older titles. There is also a fee at the end of the year from public library calculations; every time a title is lend out you receive 13 Nepali Rupees (0,10 eurocents) for illustrations only. The same for the writers.

There is also a lot going on because the digital devices have become more important for children. They often choose not to take a book to relax, but take the phone or laptop to look at social media or youtube videos. So there is also a lot of complaining. Markets are changing, we have to go with the flow. Do our best to keep the attention of parents, grandparents and teachers; let them know how important reading is for the development of a young child.

Do you see any potential avenue of collaboration between Dutch and Nepalese writers in the near future especially in the field of children’s literature?

Yes, that could be. But first connections have to be made an then the second step is very important. The quality has to be right on top. Then it is a pleasure to cooperate with nepali people. International children's book publishers cannot be fooled; when the quality is not good, the book will not be sold and they have a loss. As I told you there is a lot of talent in Nepal, for sure some of them will make it to the top. Working hard and always be honest  to yourself; is this the quality that is needed or does it have to be a little bit better? Do more exercise in writing and illustrating and believe that the right moment will come for you. Good luck!

By Mahesh Paudyal