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Lulu Skantze Interview

Lulu Skantze

Art Director, Storytime magazine

Tell us about your career background and give us an insight into an average day as Art Director at Storytime magazine.

As a child I’ve always loved illustrating and creating my own comics and magazines. My parents used to buy lots of books and comics for us, and I had a lot of freedom to create and read all sorts of subjects. I feel very lucky that my job is partly what I already loved doing as a child. I graduated in Media and Advertising in Brazil and went to work as a Designer for advertising agency Grey in Dusseldorf, Germany, before moving to London to do a Master in Communication Design at Central Saint Martin back in 2000. The degree led to a job in publishing...and I never looked back. Launching our own title and becoming a Publisher has been the biggest career high, for sure. 

There’s no strict routine in a publishing start up, as we fit the development of our monthly issues of Storytime around exciting client work - developing products for publishers, tourist attractions, educational tech companies, children brands etc. We like to keep our portfolio varied and help brands to thrive. 

For Storytime, I usually receive all the stories that will be part of the next issue and once I have read through I select 3 illustrators for each story - trying to make the issue as varied and exciting as possible. I share my thoughts with Maxine, the editor and she helps me to pick our favourites for the issue. I’ve built a very large database with over 800 illustrators from all over the world, which I check every month when choosing a match for the stories. I then create briefings and set up the pages - and contact everyone involved to get it rolling. I like to give enough time for them to work on it - and we approve a round of sketches before the colours start coming in. It’s always very exciting when the new issue starts to be formed. I usually spend a week or so designing the pages, which will be edited, proof read and go through 2 rounds of print-proofing. Usually I go to the printers to do press pass - and check the colours and the quality before the new issues are ready to be sent all over the world to our lovely readers! 

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Take us back to Storytime magazine's inception, what was the overall vision behind the magazine and what have been some of its biggest successes so far?

Luma Works - the publishing company behind Storytime - is a start-up founded by Maxine Stinton, Leslie Coathup and myself. After over 15 years each working for various media companies, we thought we would use our experience in the industry to create Storytime. We knew the market was saturated with branded products for kids and magazines that relied on the cover mounted plastic gifts to attract readers. We felt there was a gap in the market for a magazine that was loved for its original content - and wanted to create something that could be enjoyed by parents and kids together, over the years. Storytime has grown steadily since its launch and we turned 3 in September which is a great achievement for us. 

We’re very proud to have subscribers in over 50 countries and in 2017 we launched our first International edition in Singapore, with three international editions following later this year. There are Storytime books and e-books coming out later this year too. 

We’re being used by thousands of schools who are using our title in the classroom and as a resource for children to take home with them. To support our school subscriptions, we also created special classroom activity packs for teachers as well. Improving literacy is a cause we feel very passionately about. 

We ran our first poetry competition with the support of the talented poet Brian Moses and an illustration competition - with Luke Flowers as our guest illustrator judge. The wonderful writers and illustrators working with us to support our mission to take beautiful content to kids has been certainly the most rewarding experience of all! 

Personally - there's a little extra in it for me...growing up - one of the challenges while learning a language, was to have material that was inspiring and engaging - and now it's a huge pleasure to do something I always wished for. I'm immensely proud to know kids use Storytime to learn English (as a second language in some cases) and to improve literacy levels. 

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Tell us about some of your favourite Storytime covers.

No matter how close I work with the illustrators on our covers, the end result is always a surprise and I love the variety of colours and styles we have had so far. One of my all-time favourites was our issue 25 - the Budgie Likes to Boogie. I love the air guitar playing Budgie that celebrated our year 2 - it’s bold and fun. I'm also very proud of our issue 34 - which has a new story called Superhero Supermarket and features a girl superhero in primary colours - also bold and bright - and highlights the diversity and originality we want to bring to the market. On the Fairy Tale front an old favourite is our issue 9 which has the loveliest Little Red Riding Hood - and I like the foresty feel we've achieved, and I'm equally proud of our classic Nutcracker cover for issue 27 from the wonderful Gaia Bordicchia. Our first cover for the Hare and Tortoise will always be close to my heart as well as it represents the start of it all. Each of them has a story behind that makes me smile. It's hard to leave any of them out really! 

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What trends do you see in children's illustration at the moment?

I see a lot of simple traces enriched by texture - a lot of the illustrators I've been working with are able to tell quite a lot with cleaner lines which I think takes a lot of skill. Sketchy lines and some return of pencil lines mixed with digital colouring has given it a warm and more textured finishing. 

Illustrations had gone too digital for a while and I like the more mixed media approach I’ve seen lately. I also have noticed some real classic styles popping back in - which have been ideal for some of our fairy tales and classic stories. They are playful with the colours - adding more daring palettes to quite classical traces. I appreciate that twist too - Flavia Sorrentino and Alessandra Fusi have done some lovely work for us like that. 

Storytime features a broad variety of illustration styles. How would you articulate the kind of artwork you are interested in and what makes a portfolio stand out?

The idea is indeed to have something for everyone in every issue. We also wanted to be a window for new artists and I think we've have achieved that in each issue. So I keep looking for illustrators that can tell a story in the portfolio already.  

I appreciate when I can see some humour on a portfolio and I can see the illustrator took the story into his own world and added some magic to it. I try to have the briefings flexible enough to allow for that collaboration and I'm always happy to work with them in composing the pages. 

I also like when there's a clever use of colours and palettes in a portfolio as it's such a big part of a successful story - to feel the pages belong together. 

I see some good portfolios but sometimes I'm not able to tell whether we can tell a story together or not - so it's lovely when there's a hint of character creation and background development there already to help me to see how far we can go together. 

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Which issue(s) are you most proud of and why?

Our issue 4 - The Snow Queen - was particularly special because I feel that's when everything fell into place with the structure of the magazine. It was quite a striking issue -also one of my favourite stories as a kid and still one of our best sellers. We had a summer issue last year (24) with the Little Mermaid cover that was very summery and fresh - and another of those feel good moments with the print result - followed by the anniversary issue 25 which I also think was a very happy issue all around. 

Which comics and magazines do you fondly remember from your own childhood?

I was very lucky to grown up with so many books and magazines around - I feel it was almost inevitable I would work in publishing growing up! I always had piles of them next to my bed - and used to cut them out to create my own ones. I read a lot of French comics like Asterix and Tintin, I also remember fondly receiving a whole box of special edition Paddington Bear books from my uncle who lived in London at the time and imagining Paddington station. Little Lulu comics were quite big in Brazil - and I loved that the character had the same nickname as me so it used to be one of my favourites. I also liked Moomins, some of Hanna-Barbera and Justice League comics too. I've only learned of Twinkle magazine later, but it's been an influence to Storytime too. 

What are the biggest challenges of running a children's magazine and how do you stay ahead of the competition?

The biggest challenge is competing with TV brands and the constant media advertising that children are bombarded with. It’s also a challenge to find a place in the shelf to get in front of the little ones. As a small publisher - there aren't so many outlets willing to offer that space. 

It's also important to find the right balance on content with enough activities and stories to grab their attention and make them come back to the issues for more. We have a challenge every month to make every issue colourful, exciting, engaging and fresh, and though we are never short of ideas for that - we would love to have bigger budget to add all the ideas we have for the magazine with every issue. 

To stay ahead we certainly use a lot of creativity and always try to introduce something new to our content - plus we like to talk directly to our readers. We run regular newsletters, competitions and surveys to find out more about what makes them like us -  we hope they feel we are responding to them in every issue, because the best way to grow for us, is to grow with them. 

Professionally-speaking, who has been your biggest mentor?

I was lucky to meet some lovely inspiring people on the way in my career. When I worked in advertising, I had a creative director called Ricardo Schrappe - who was an avid reader and excellent writer - who gave me the confidence to start. I also worked with the wonderful Yuval Zommer (a children's illustrator and author) back in Germany who had a very creative approach to new ideas and was inspiring to work with. My biggest mentor has been my uncle, Victor Hugo, who travelled the world when he was young (inspiring me to follow) and opened his own business back in the 80’s - and is still going strong. He made sure I learned that working hard and having a vision was the secret to success. I learned a lot on how to start my own business from him, and I still often ask for his advice. 

What are some of Storytime's goals going forwards?

Growth Growth Growth! We are looking forward to launch Storytime in a few other countries in 2018 - and I really like the idea that our title speaks to children from all cultures and backgrounds. We also want to continue to grow schools side of our business which has a huge amount of potential, and to make more of the teaching resources we produce with every issue. 

We are hoping to participate in more conferences and events to grow the profile of the magazine, and to work with some partners in developing some more content that goes beyond the printed magazine. Brand expansion is certainly on the cards and we have now amazing content, resources and an endless pot of ideas, so watch this space.

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