Friday, 5 September 2014

Children’s Magazines and the Working Illustrator

One page of an 11 spread story,
Doudou du Loup,
for Belles Histoires Oct 2012
© Bridget Strevens-Marzo
Illustration is not only for books! With broad experience of working internationally in a wide range of published media, Bridget Strevens-Marzo looks at opportunities to work for children's magazines in this country and overseas.


Have you ever considered working for US or French children’s monthly magazines as a worthwhile sideline to your career as a children’s book illustrator?   If you are starting out, seeing your work in print for the first time will give you some hope.  If you are published, perhaps there is a gap  to fill between the last book advance and the next.  That’s how I first started, filling in gaps to keep my bank account in the black.

Why not UK children’s magazines?  Well I’d be curious to know if anyone is getting decent pay from original illustration work here.  Please say if you are!   What happened,  for example, to the lavishly illustrated Look and Learn and their stories, features and games? Aside from increased production costs, I suspect it was all about hard competition with good children’s TV not to mention the licensed TV character take-over of UK kids magazines. From the 1980s most of those titles offered far less, if any, space for original illustration. The good news now is that some new and exciting print magazines are now seeing the light, including Okido (for 3-8s) Anorak (for 6-12) and the bi-monthly Stew.  Fingers crossed that they’ll prove as successful as the US and French magazines.  That way they will be able pay illustrators properly and let’s hope they can then call upon an increasing variety of talent.

American and French children’s magazines which are mostly monthlies, have survived ups and downs and pay illustrators fairly, thanks to  a large and loyal family of subscribers, good distribution and arguably less competition from quality TV.  Highlights magazine is the oldest established magazine -  for 6-12 year olds – of a range published by Highlights Corporation has been going for over 50 years.  Like many of the French magazines it is a veritable institution.

Small selection of Highlights High Five Mags

“The Highlights staff are a lovely bunch of people to work for" writes UK author-illustrator and active SCBWI member, Mike Brownlow.

“(Highlights High Five) gives me roughly two covers a year plus the occasional double page spread illustrating a story or a poem. They’re always polite and complimentary with lots of positive feedback, and they always pay on time. They’ve been a repeat client of mine for about 3 or 4 years now. I never did find out how they came across me, but I know they have links with SCBWI. They decided to award me ‘Best Cover of the Year’ for 2012, so I’ll always be fond of them.”  You can find out more about High Five here.

Here’s Mike’s Highlights High Five prize-winning cover

Like Mike, I’ve been illustrating a couple of stories a year in an occasional series for High Five.  For 4-5 illustrations on two spreads I get around $1800- 2000.  Some illustrators may perhaps balk at the work-for-hire terms – they buy both copyright and authorship.  I see it as all about quick turnover and a window onto another market – a refreshing counterbalance to the slow book publishing world  - and it keeps you busy!


Even more plentiful are French children’s magazines. I took this snap of a small area of the children’s magazine section in a French railway station this summer and you might think they all look pretty similar.  In the summer many come with freebies which sadly means you can’t flick through and marvel at the variety of features, stories and illustrations they contain. And inside they do look different, though full of variety. Each magazine is aimed at a distinct age group and market. Milan’s Toboggan for example, has a very different feel to it from Bayard’s counterpart for the same 3-7 age group, Pomme d’Api.

You don’t have to be French to work for French children’s magazines.  I know of Spanish and Japanese as well as several English illustrators who work for one or more of Bayard’s range of 27 magazines for children from 0- 16. One famous name long associated with Bayard is Helen Oxenbury who created a long term series Leo et Popi (Tom and Pippo in the US)  which gave its name to Bayard’s youngest magazine for 0-3 year olds Popi. Helen Stephens (guest illustrator at the SCBWI Picture Book retreat) has also worked for them more than once as you can see from this English language version of a story she illustrated for Belles Histoires.  She writes “I first met Bayard when they came to London to meet some British illustrators in about 2003 (ish) I think. They seemed to like my folio, but didn't get in touch. So the next time I was in Paris I went to see them, and a lovely relationship ensued!” 

The first page of Bayard’s English language Storybox magazine
with Helen Stephen’s illustrations to a story for Bayard’s Belles Histoires.
My own contact with Bayard started when I met David McKee of Elmer fame in Bologna in the late 1990s. I was then in publishing limbo and David suggested I show my work to an art director at Bayard Presse. He said he did the odd commission for Bayard and it was good for expanding your repertoire. It certainly did mine!


Around 15 years ago I started by illustrating countless graphic games for Bayard’s general magazine for 3-6 year olds in Bayard’s Pomme d’Api  which has been famous for its games features since the 1960s. I’d never have tackled  this kind of work in the UK and it taught me to be bolder and work with limited colour palettes. Some of these illustrations were the springboard for two big doodle books published by Bayard Editions co-edited with Tate Publishing UK in 2006 -7. The first, Les Petites Mains Dessinent has just been reprinted in paperback.


Bayards’s Popi, for babies and toddlers has very short stories and sometimes, like this spread I illustrated, a novelty element. In this instance, a baby rabbit you can punch out, and slot into bed.

Bayard’s Tralalire magazine for 2-5 year olds, also has the odd novelty element as well as great regular features by well-known names including Herve Tullet, UK illustrator Tor Freeman and Jennifer Darymple.

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In recent years I have been lucky to have had several commissions for the main story in Bayard’s Belles Histoires. At 11 spreads, this story is virtually a picture book though the magazine contains other features, including at least one comic and a science-based article.

You’ll find more information about the full range of Bayard’s 27 magazines here but to appreciate just how wide the range of types of illustrators they and other magazine publishers use for kids of all ages, it might even be worth going to the illustrator heaven of the French national kids book and press fair in Montreuil, Paris this year from November 28 - December 1 or at the very least spending some time in a newsagents in France.

If you want to work for magazines, you’ll have to be able to work to clear specifications and layouts – and be supple enough to adjust the content to the feedback they’ll give you on your roughs. As for payment – there are fixed prices. For an 11 spread story I am currently illustrating I will get €4000.  You’ll get a contract for a limited term of usage, which ensures you will get additional payment for any reprints in other children’s magazines across the world (and there are plenty from Spain to China) and the promise of a separate contract if ever your work becomes a book.

Talking of foreign reprints, here are some covers of Storybox
alongside a couple of Belles Histoires covers I did
Storybox is the youngest of the three monthly Bayard Box magazines for English speaking children. Like its older siblings, Adventure Box and Discovery Box (ages 9-12 ) it offers an excitingly varied compilation of features translated from several of the French magazines using the illustrations that went with them.  So there is no point submitting your work directly to the Box Magazines. There is every point in looking at them and considering a subscription for any English-speaking kids, school or library you know. You can see more about the kind of content they cover from the editor here.

Interested in getting in touch? Here are some links.


Marianne Vilcoq, my Bayard art director at Belles Histories and Tralalire, has kindly agreed to me sharing her name, if you’d like to send a PDF of samples to this address which she can pass on to another Bayard magazine if relevant. Like most French publishers, she’s happy to work in English with foreign illustrators.

Milan Presse, another reliable publisher, publish 17 children's monthlies as well as books. It is based in Toulouse, and in the past held an open day or ‘portes ouvertes’ for illustrators to meet with their ADs online or in person. There is talk of this happening again in June so follow this and practise your French.

Oh and don't forget that SCBWI has a Magazine Merit award! Deadline for submissions is Dec 15 in the year of publication.

Now I'd better get back to work on the next 11 spread story for Belles Histoires

Here’s a rough with a layout and  art director comments in yellow.
The final colour spreads for the January 2015 number are  due on September 20th
and I have not begun them yet – help!
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Bridget Strevens-Marzo is a former SCBWI board member and International Illustrator Coordinator. Based for many years in France, she now lives in London and is a key member of the illustrator's committee. www.bridgetstrevens.com

9 comments:

  1. Thanks Bridget, some really useful information. I love your rabbits image with the pop-out baby rabbit.

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  2. Thanks Anna - glad you think so! That baby rabbit also gets to go through a punch-out hole out of the warren into a snowy landscape on the next spread - hard to show that..

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  3. Tons of juicy contacts to get my teeth into, Bridget. Ta muchly

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  4. Wonderful article Bridget! There's a big potential market for children's illustrators outside trade picture books, magazines are a great way to break into the market and provide a secondary source of income (provided of course that they pay, which is a bit of an issue in the UK!). I remember when I started out in the 80's Marshal Cavendish produced Storyteller, a great magazine that published my first story, sadly long gone now. Would love to hear of any other children's magazines in Europe and further afield.

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  5. Some hot news just out - a new UK children's magazine - called Storytime. Saw it on a Sainsburys news stand yesterday and there's a good spread of illustrations. More about it here from Zoe Toft in her great blog Playing by the Book http://www.playingbythebook.net/2014/09/10/storytime-a-new-magazine-for-families-to-encourage-a-love-of-reading/

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  6. Such generous sharing Bridget, thank you.

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  7. Excellent post, thank you for sharing Bridget : ) !

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. Bridget Hi, such a generous article, many thanks for sharing.

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