Tundra is very excited to be publishing Viewfinder on February 13, 2024! Illustrated by Christine D.U. Chung and Salwa Majoka, Viewfinder is a wordless graphic novel that follows a young space traveler who happens upon Earth in the future.
Scroll down for the full cover plus a Q&A with Christine D.U. Chung and Salwa Majoka!
By Christine D.U. Chung and Salwa Majoka
144 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735268753 | Tundra Books
Release Date: February 13, 2024
A young space traveler visits Earth on a whim and finds a planet empty of people. She happens upon a strange contraption that contains images of what the planet used to be like, and using this viewfinder, she sees Earth as it was, juxtaposed against Earth as it is: abandoned, but still full of amazing things.
Her adventure takes her to a museum full of hints about the planet’s past and the strange glowing mushrooms that grow everywhere, a library that has become home to a variety of zoo animals, and a beautiful but crumbling space station from which she makes a daring escape. As she wanders, though, she sees signs that perhaps there is still someone here. A time capsule, a friendly cat and a makeshift railcar all add to the mystery . . . is she really alone?
The lush and captivating art and subtle nod to stewardship in this wordless graphic novel will draw readers in and leave them with a renewed sense of wonder for the resilient and extraordinary place we call home.
Q&A with Christine D.U. Chung and Salwa Majoka
Where did the initial inspiration for Viewfinder come from?
Both: Having known each other since middle school and having had a shared love for art, we first started working together on some short, animated film projects in high school. When we entered post-secondary, though, we were excited to try out a new medium with a book as our next collaborative project! The central theme of Viewfinder was something we settled on surprisingly quickly. At the time, we had been seeing many photographs of real-life abandoned places with buildings overgrown with amazing greenery and vegetation on social media. While some locations felt desolate, others were beautiful and mysterious, prompting questions about their past histories and when humans once occupied them. This was the seed that inspired us for Viewfinder’s premise; a desire to show a comparison of past and present, with an emphasis on how living things can occupy a place at different times and in different ways. Building around this central idea about who would explore these abandoned places and how they came about helped us round out the rest of the story.
Why did you choose to do a wordless graphic novel?
Both: When we had decided we wanted to work on a book together, we knew almost immediately (and even before thinking of the story) that we wanted it to be wordless. We had both been such fans of The Arrival by Shaun Tan while we were growing up, with its timeless, gorgeous, and endlessly enchanting illustrations that narrated a powerful story of hope. We fell in love with the wordless format, in how quiet, yet whimsical it could be, and how there was always something new to find or notice even after multiple reads. Wordless pictures books/graphic novels have this quality of not only pulling audiences through the story with the sequential action of each panel, but by enticing readers to look closely at the details and let their eyes play across the page to form their own ideas. With Viewfinder, we wanted our locations to be the highlight of the book and the wordlessness sort of adds to the quiet beauty and vastness of them.
What do you hope readers take away from Viewfinder?
Salwa: I hope the reader can feel the same sense of wonder and curiosity that the little astronaut character feels as she’s exploring the beautiful and fascinating place that is planet Earth. In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to forget that our world is abundant with marvels to admire and appreciate. Just take a look at the lovely colors of something as simple as a changing sky! We’re so lucky to call Earth our home, and I hope Viewfinder can be a reminder to not only take care of it but take the time to cherish all that it has to offer. After all, every home is special.
Christine: I hope Viewfinder nurtures a fascination with change and encourages a sense of agency to explore it; especially for the changes that may not seemingly be worth our curiosity. I’ve always hoped our book could be a timeless piece that would grow with its young readers and renew their sense of wonder with each revisit. The changes to our planet right now are scary and overwhelming; however, transformation itself is proof that nothing is in a fixed state. I have great optimism in that sense, and I would like for our readers to recognize hope there as well.
How many cover drafts did you have to do before this one was finalized?
Both: Coming up with the cover for Viewfinder was quite a challenge. The book features a lot of different locations, and we weren’t sure at first if we wanted to show any of them specifically on the cover or try to encompass the feeling of them through a different place entirely. We sent around 8 distinct cover ideas (not including additional variations of certain ones sometimes), but the amount of covers that we both brainstormed amongst ourselves before presenting them to the team goes far into the double digits!
How did you create the cover? What tools or programs do you use?
Both: We knew early on that we preferred the cover to have an element of “framing” around the title in some way, and we wanted to integrate some of the recurring aspects of our book, such as the bioluminescent mushrooms, optical toy, and animals, into all of our sketches. Our process involved us coming up with drawings individually first, chatting about them together, and then sharing the files with each other to tinker with. The sketches being digital meant it was easy to move and play around with the elements, so we often piggybacked off of each others’ initial ideas for further revisions and variations. When we both liked the outcomes of certain ones, we would then share them with our editor, Sam, to hear the team’s feedback. There was a lot of back and forth, brainstorming and revisiting to come up with the final, but we’re glad we got there in the end! The final cover was digitally drawn (by Christine) and painted (by Salwa) in Photoshop.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Salwa: Illustrators that are starting out or are early into their careers may grapple with worries about having a notable “personal style” attached to their work (I definitely have), which can make the permanency of a project like a book feel daunting. I’ve personally always felt the desire to continuously learn more and develop myself further, until I’m “ready” to work on something, but that “readiness” is rarely found. Even while midway through an illustration or a bigger project (like a book), you might wonder how it may have looked if you had approached it differently. There are infinite possibilities of what it could have looked like, but you can really only see one of those possibilities through at the end of the day. There truly isn’t a right or wrong way to do it, so let it be what it is! Your style may naturally change and develop with time according to your perception and inclinations, but the important part is how you communicate with images and the story you want to tell with them. That’s the “you-ness” that will shine through in your work.
Christine: My advice isn’t limited to illustrators; more so, it’s general advice for any aspiring artist. Pay extra attention to what draws you in. To me, is more than just looking at art of your preferred field (though it is very important to know the artists and their pieces that you admire because it helps you set a “benchmark”). It’s more about making note of the small and big things that fuel your curiosity, provide joy, or spark new ideas. I think as artists, inspiration cycles through us and meets us through execution. The more we are aware of what is fueling us, the more we can better understand the storytellers we are. Don’t be afraid to dive into your work and play! Experiment lots! Don’t take it so seriously. Take charge, enrich your one life, and let your art be its witness.
What books have you been reading lately?
Salwa: It was very refreshing for me to read lots of other children’s books after working on Viewfinder. I loved going back and reading some titles I had missed out on in the past such as Hot Dog by Doug Salati. The illustrations are full of so much energy and everything is communicated so aptly with such few words. It’s such a fun read! I also enjoyed Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe. It’s equal parts lovely, humorous, and charming all wrapped into one book.
Christine: I’m so happy to be making the time to read again. Right now, I’m enjoying this book called El Anatsui: Life and Art by Susan Vogel. Anatsui is a Ghanaian sculptor who works on huge installation pieces that appear like shiny drapery at first, but on closer inspection, are made of used bottle caps. Another book I’ve been enjoying is Stages of Rot by Linnea Sterte. It’s a beautiful graphic novel that is reminiscent of the late artist Moebius. The story is centered around a dying whale and highlights the life that grows from the aftermath. I find myself revisiting this comic a lot.