Rockin' in a free World Pushing the limits of the picture book market, Graeme Base's new book The Worst Band in the Universe uses brilliantly colorful illustrations and whimsical, witty verse to introduce Sproc, a teenager living in a universe that frowns on musical innovation. Widely quoted as saying the book came falling into the bedsheets, Base adds, It fell purely as a title. Now what preceded that was the desire to marry my two interests, my two passions: art and music, something he had not been able to do professionally since the publication of his best-selling alphabet book Animalia. I was playing in a band; the band fell apart at the same time as Animalia took off, so I just sort of went down the book illustration and writing path, but I always wanted to get back to music, and The Worst Band in the Universe just hit me as a perfect title to carry that through. Having a title fall into the bedsheets does not necessarily mean, however, the book was easy to write. While I'm writing, it's all to do with the visuals. I try and construct a story which enables me to go to these places in my head. I came unstuck with that in The Worst Band in the Universe because in my mind I had these aliens coming to Earth. I thought most of the good illustrations, most of the jokes were in that. For two years I struggled to write the story with this as a central part. I finally realized I was completely going up the wrong path. What made him change his mind? Well, I was looking at it more analytically. When I brought my story to Earth, I was actually shattering my own allegory. It all fell apart. I brought the fantasy to the real world. It messed the whole thing up. So, in fact, it was only when I cut out the entire Earth 50% of the book that I realized it was an excursion which went whoop and then back onto the story. In fact, you could slice it off and the story worked better without it. Slice he did.

The original text for Worst Band ran to the length of a short novel rather than a picture book. It was enormously difficult to condense the idea down to something approaching a picture book text. Just to reduce it down was painful. It took me two years. Then I had to get away from it. That's when I did the final text for The Discovery of Dragons book. I had done the artwork; it had been published in calendar form some years ago, but I still hadn't clicked on how to do the final book. I realized I had gotten to a stage in Worst Band where I just needed a circuit breaker. So I left it alone and I went back to the Dragons project. I did the dragon book, had a lot of fun, and then I came back to Worst Band and said, all right, I'm not going to write it in prose. I'm going to go back to what I've done in the past verse. Verse is a fantastic way of telling the story. The original setup for the book was taking two or three pages minimum, but I wrote it in the first stanza, just four lines, which set up the entire back story. It's very economical. I love writing in verse for that reason. And looking back on it, how obvious that was. This is a book which is totally founded in music, and yet I wasn't writing it in verse, which is a musical form. I must have had rocks in my head. So when I came back to the project, I got the text down very quickly. I spent the next two years doing the artwork; then put the music on at the end. Unlike other projects, Base has a definite message in The Worst Band in the Universe. More than ever before, it is about something. As I say, it's very allegorical. With music as the metaphor, it's focused straight away on freedom of expression. We must maintain that right. I think an important corollary to that statement is that innovation in isolation is a headless monster. It will in the end self-destruct, but if this generation is allowed to express itself and then build on the past, you've got great synergy for those innovative ideas, and that will take us further. That's what's going on behind the story. Fans accustomed to searching for hidden objects in Base's artwork will not be disappointed, but in addition to the morphing alien in each illustration of The Worst Band in the Universe, Base has included something new a CD of music which causes Base some concern. I feel nervous about the music. It's like I'm newly published all over again. I'm sort of hoping, actually, that people will like it, but sort of aware that everyone's musical tastes are so polarized. All of a sudden I've gone all nervous. Nervous is the last thing he should feel. His newest addition entertains and enlightens all ages. As Base says, Who's to say how old kids are? There should be a 40-year-old kids' section: Kids' Books for Adults.

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