“Misunderstood Monsters”: My 2018 SCBWI Narrative Art Award Challenge Entry

Posted by on Oct 7, 2018 in illustration

Every summer, SCBWI illustrators all over the world anxiously await the announcement for the theme and assignment of the Narrative Art Award. Unfortunately, my freelance schedule kept me from participating last year. This year, however, was a different story.

To mark the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the theme of this challenge was “Misunderstood Monsters”. Participants were to “depict a narrative of a misunderstood monster from literature, fairy tales, or folktales appropriate for your audience.” — showing the arc of Dilemma/Conflict/Resolution in three illustrations.

This was a huge challenge for me. I’m not used to illustrating monsters so I spent a lot of time working out narratives for different monsters and how I’d attack the trio of illustrations. The one that I ultimately chose was a lake monster. At first I was going to go with Loch Ness’ Nessie but I really wanted an American story, with current and diverse American characters.

A sound bit of research turned up a whole bunch of American lake monsters and the one that captured my eye was the Wallowa Lake Monster in Oregon. Because I think dinosaurs are pretty boss (huge Jurassic Park fan here!), I based my version of Wallie, the lake monster, on a plesiosaur. What can I say…flippers!

I then was able to craft a story of two young campers, 11 years of age (my illustrations are for a middle grade level) who decide to sneak a canoe out on the lake at the crack of dawn in search of the mysterious lake monster their camp counselor told them about at the campfire the night before.

Early character sketches of Esther and Monique.

more Esther and Monique sketches…

thumbnail concepts for the illustrations

even more thumbnails

more thumbnail concepts

Esther Oh, intrepid adventurer, manages to convince her best friend, Monique Williams, to tag along with her on the quest to find the monster. Neither expect the monster to find them and it’s in trouble.

It appears Wallie, the lake monster, has gotten herself into a bit of a snag on some fishing nets and can’t get herself untangled. Enter our intrepid wildlife warrior, Esther, who abides by the Campfire Girl credo, “always ready”. She grabs a knife and jumps in to cut the creature loose. Meanwhile, Monique tries not to allow the monster to make her its next meal.

Back on the safety of the shore, Esther shows off the net while Monique films for their vlog. They are so focused on filming, they miss an amazing shot of Wallie leaping triumphantly out of the lake. How will anyone believe their tale?

That’s it, how I came up with the story, characters and illustrations of The Misunderstood Monster of Lake Wallowa. I never thought I’d have so much fun drawing a monster and who knows, maybe Esther and Monique will have some further adventures.