Today I thought I’d feature an artist that inspired me as a child. I remember being SO excited when my parents gave my my first and only copy of a Where’s Waldo book and pouring over the pages for hours. I was fascinated by all of the tiny little people doing their thing in the giant and elaborate crowd scenes of his hugely popular series of seven books.
British illustrator Martin Handford is the man behind the beautifully illustrated crowds. Handford started drawing crows scenes at the age of 4, and as a child he spent a lot of his time drawing. His illustration career really took off with the books Where’s Wally (known as Where’s Waldo in North America), but before that he worked at an insurance company to pay for art school. He then moved on to freelance work drawing crowd scenes for numerous clients. He created the cover art for the Vapor’s Magnets album as seen below.
In 1986 Handford’s art direct asked him to create a character with peculiar characteristics as to give a focal point to his crows scenes. This is when he came up with the idea of Where’s Wally, which basically is a series of books that are filled with pages of crazy colourful crowd scenes in which the character Wally is hidden for the reader to find. Wally travels through space and time with his partner Wanda and his little dog.
In searching for Waldo the looker comes across a zillion awesome little narratives and hilarious characters. Finding Waldo was one thing, but carefully looking at the details in the crowds to find so many great, quirky illustrations was what I loved best.
Handford is a very diligent and meticulous artist. I’ve read that he would spend weeks upon weeks sketching out his crowd scenes. I can imagine one would easily get lost in their work creating a world full of tiny little people and scenarios.
Where’s Waldo became extremely popular in the early 90’s and the trademark was sold in 28 different countries. There were comics, pillows, pj’s, and even an animated series (I totally remember it!). Waldo/Wally became a huge deal! In 2007 Handford sold the rights to where’s Wally to The Entertainment Rights group which the world’s largest owner of independent children’s brands. Interesting to note that Martin Handford’s work is an awesome example of wimmelbuch, a type of book popularized by early Dutch painters like Hieronymus Bosch (as seen below) that illustrates finely detailed humans and animals in large crowds.
I love studying these crowd scenes. There’s an endless amount of things to discover within them. The amount of work that goes into Handford’s illustrations is incredible! His work definitely inspired me as a child and still does today. Come to think of it, I still enjoy drawing my own little detailed worlds to escape into from time to time. It’s an interesting thing to able to be able to be in complete control of an imaginary landscape.