Rob Hodgson is a British designer, illustrator and writer. After graduating from Plymouth University, he worked in a design studio before launching into children's books and games. His book The Cave, was sent to 700,000 Reception-aged children in England as part of the Booktrust's annual Time to Read campaign. Other projects include Monsster Trumps, a monster themed Bingo game and a range of fabric designs. We caught up with Rob and his monsters, who have been locked down in Bristol to find out more about his scary, not scary creations.
You do a lot of work for children and collect strange toys, did you always have a vivid imagination, and how did this manifest itself?
I'm the youngest of three brothers, with quite a big age gap between them and me, so I think my parents were happy to leave me to my own devices without worrying too much. And for me, that meant getting into creative things like drawing and writing and skateboarding and music. I liked to spend a lot of time at my friend's house, whose parents ran and lived in an old people's home. The house was a very, very big house. The mum of the house was really into spirituality and folklore, and she had a room that was full of books about fairies and different religions. She would tell me very sincere stuff like 'all rocks have feelings'. So I'd go over to their house, and we'd play in the garden building things, making models out of bits of rubbish, and lying on the floor watching clouds. The house had a calm feeling about it, and I loved going there, and I think that place and those nice people maybe tweaked my imagination a bit.
Kids fear and love monsters too, did you fear monsters as a child. Were you scared of the dark or check under the bed for monsters?
I definitely remember checking under the bed for monsters and a general sense of another mysterious layer to the world that was hidden, like monsters hiding in the shadows. And for kids I think the idea that there's something out there they can't quite see, good or bad, is so exciting. The idea of a world of secret monsters just out of view of the normal world, like in Ghibli films, is something that really plays on a kid's imagination. Actual real-life monsters are maybe too scary, but a world where you might go, and there are different monsters there, away from the real adult world… That's so compelling. I guess it's where imagination and real-life intersect. Maybe that's why 'Where the Wild Things Are' is such a perfect book.I definitely remember checking under the bed for monsters and a general sense of another mysterious layer to the world that was hidden, like monsters hiding in the shadows. And for kids I think the idea that there's something out there they can't quite see, good or bad, is so exciting. The idea of a world of secret monsters just out of view of the normal world, like in Ghibli films, is something that really plays on a kid's imagination. Actual real-life monsters are maybe too scary, but a world where you might go, and there are different monsters there, away from the real adult world… That's so compelling. I guess it's where imagination and real-life intersect. Maybe that's why 'Where the Wild Things Are' is such a perfect book.
Which was your favourite monster/monster book and why?
Not so much a monster, but I think King Kong was the first monster/creature to first set me off on this stuff. I was already obsessed with the story of King Kong when I first went to New York at college, and when I was doing all the sightseeing stuff, I went up the Empire State Building, which is a kind of mythical thing in itself, and they sell King Kong merchandise at the top. I remember thinking that the building was almost as unbelievable as King Kong, so maybe they were both real. The King Kong toys up there really made my head spin, like it was real life and imagination smushing together and blurring the lines. And that was what sent me down the path of monsters and myth. my role as an illustrator/writer is to stoke the imagination and bring all our collective dreams to life.
Your monsters are a little scary but also have a cuddly/vulnerable/underdog vibe - is this intentional?
Sometimes I try and go full scary, but it just doesn't come out that way. I think I'm always trying to strike a balance of interesting and likeable. Like a monster who is eating a kid is a crazy concept to put into a kids book unless you do it in a certain palatable way. I don't know; I guess it's a bit like when you get a happy pop song that's actually about something pretty dark. You get brought in through the surface of it, and you're humming along, and then you're like, wait, what was that lyric?!
"Children love fairy tales for the same reasons we all love frightening stories — because they allow us a kind of mastery." Leo Braudy
Monsters are born of a fear of nature, science, death or even our own nature. When creating books for children, do you use monsters and creatures to address these fears?
The books I do are definitely about our nature and morality, and monsters/creatures/animals are a great way to represent aspects of personality or emotion. I think you can go into some pretty deep stuff if you're using non-human characters, and you can do it in a way that's just in the safe and creative world of make-believe.
Who/what inspires your monsters and how do you create them?
Sometimes it's about trying to manifest some personality or emotion, like, what would the grumpiest monster in a world of happy monsters look like? And sometimes that comes from my own life, people I know, etc.
But other times, it's more a graphic thing. For the Lagom cards, there's a crazy little monster with giant long wavy arms, and that is just a very satisfying shape to fit the composition of the card, and you can work on the rest of the character backwards from that. So you've got these long wavy arms, and you're trying to think of what kind of monster would have them. You also think of the sentiment of the message which informs the design of a character too.
If you were to create a monster based on yourself, what would it be, and why?
At the minute I think I would be a sludge monster. Trying my best, but also made of sludge
We'd like to thank Rob for taking the time to share the monster magic with us. To shop his exclusive collection for Lagom Design visit.