Fix-It Ninget by Sarah Dabro and Luca French

Fix-It Ninget co-written by Sarah Dabro, co-written and illustrated by Luca French (published by Five Mile)

Author interview with Sarah Dabro and Luca French

There was a Space Ninget who loved building things,

She made gadgets and robots and rockets with wings.’

(Fix-It Ninget by Sarah Dabro and Luca French)

Luca French’s Ninget Universe animation reached a wide and appreciative audience when his animated creations lit up the ASN Clocktower at Vivid 2022.

He is the youngest artist to have work featured at Vivid.

Luca’s fantastical world and characters are now a picture book series for children. Fix-It Ninget is the first book in the Planet Ninget series.

In Fix-It Ninget the Space Ninget travels to the rocky Pink Planet where she helps its diverse inhabitants improve their environment with her seed-planting, temperature cooling and other inventions.

The story is told in rhyming text.

The bright, clean, imaginative illustrations in block colours are the highlight of the book. Their composition and layout on each page are also remarkable.

Thank you for speaking with Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords, Sarah and Luca.

Where did ‘Ninget’, the word describing your universe, come from?

LF: Hi Joy, I needed a name for my favourite character which I always draw and doodle, so I called them Ningets, and the Ninget Universe is where they all live. I just invented the name Ninget and it stuck. I’ve always invented my own words for things so I can speak in code with my friends during class.

Luca, how old were you when you created the images used for Vivid 2022?

LF: Before starting Vivid my dad went through all my old sketchbooks and found drawings to animate. I have a lot of sketch books filled with characters and doodles, but I guess he used images from around 2-3 years ago so I was 9 or 10 years old.  I’ve been drawing characters since I was in kindergarten.

How has your life changed since Vivid?

LF: Getting a book deal from Five Mile was pretty amazing. It’s given me confidence in my work that so many people like it.  Some kids have started to copy my style and draw Ningets too now which is pretty cool.

What was the process in transforming your animated artwork into the picture book Fix-It Ninget?

LF: Vivid started off from my drawings and sketches and we went back to the original artworks for the book creation.  We had a pretty tight deadline so it was great to use some of the artwork I had already done and coloured. I had created a world and the characters for Vivid so we just built on that. I always have an environmental message in my drawings as the Ningets try to fix the mess created by humans and I continued this theme.  I drew some pictures on my ipad and also some by hand which were then scanned and traced into photoshop. My dad Jason French is an animator and was able to help us assemble all the pages which was very handy.

Your art for the Ninget Universe has changed format and possibly style a few times now. What has been a big change OR How has your art developed recently?

LF: Yes  it has evolved. I started off with characters and doodles, then built environments around them for VIVID. For the picture book I had to really focus on the background detail and depth, also drawing my characters from different angles which I have never really done before.

( see below for original doodle, ipad drawing ( by finger), VIVID projection & Fix-It Ninget Book spread. )

How have any of your characters changed or developed from the Vivid animation into the book?

SD: Through the book development we worked together to invent backstories for the characters, and give them more defined personalities and motives.  Space Ninget is more focused on being helpful and problem solving in the series. Floss is easily spooked and highly emotional, perpetually working on calm breathing.   Slush is tall and playful but prone to loneliness as he is the only being of his size. One of our favourite characters is Sushi who can be forgetful and is often easily distracted, causing chaos for those around.

(some of Luca’s characters below)

Sarah and Luca, how did your collaboration on the book Fix-It Ninget work? Who did what?

LF: Once we went through my drawings and settled on a story together, my mum wrote the words and I added to them to make sure it fitted with my world and characters. I really liked working on it with my parents and bossing them around!

SD: Luca and I worked out what images to use for the story and built story beats around that so we re-used existing assets when we could.  Jason was really helpful in helping us import it into the right format technically.

Luca, what media/materials did you use for the illustrations?

LF: Sometimes I draw characters in pencil on my sketchbook, when I do this my Dad has to trace the lines in photoshop to digitise them.  But I mainly draw on an ipad with my finger (rather than a digital pen) so it’s really easy to figure out the colours and it’s much quicker. There are some characters like Ningipede that I doodle so often in my school books that I find it really tricky to draw them on the ipad! But luckily not too many.

What colours do you like using? Why these colours?

LF: I love bright colours because they seem cheerful.  I also love contrasting colors but they have to be bold and strong.  I’ve actually always hated the colouring in sheets they give you at school- I could never see the point in colouring in someone else’s pictures. I always turn the page over and draw my own picture then colour that in and encourage my friends to do the same.   I think all kids should be encouraged to have confidence in their own drawings rather than copy or colour fill in between the lines of someone else’s work.

SD: Luca has a natural instinct for colour when we watch him work he chooses them really quickly and intuitively.  The way he works in general is really fast,  his drawings will take just minutes and seem to embody so much character this way.

Symmetry and balance in your illustrations is very strong. Could you please choose one page as an example and briefly explain how you’ve used symmetry or balance.

LF: Here’s a page from the book of one of the characters Slush. I really like the bold composition.

SD: Luca has always loved symmetry.  Even from a very young age we could see this in his drawings and all his lego creations were perfectly symmetrical. He seems to have a natural instinct for composition and often draws entire dynamic scenes rather than a collection of individual elements like many children do.

How have you incorporated humour into the story?

SD: Luca’s characters are naturally humorous, he often captures their personality quirks in their expression, sometimes it’s as subtle as a well placed pupil in an eyeball.  During the book development it was really enjoyable building on those physical characteristics to create storylines and characters.

As I have a background in creating children’s television and podcasts I know the importance of humour in connecting and engaging a young audience. We call it ‘hiding the vegetables’ building educational concepts into the content but making it a really enjoyable experience to consume. In the Planet Ninget book series each character displays distinctive personality and behaviour traits highly relatable and amusing to young book lovers. They may be attempting to grow out of toddler-hood into more social creatures,  to overcome a challenge by learning to coexist with others,  or trying to make sense of the world around them. Throughout the book series we plan to plant recurring regular characters and jokes,  who’s predictable behaviour we hope will delight young readers and reflect real life in some way.

LF: Fix-It Ninget uses humour in the story and the pictures. In the story whenever Space Ninget tries to help it often ends up in chaos which can be pretty funny.  When the friends on Pink Planet are building the shed there is a little character called Sushi hanging from a rope from the sky. It makes me chuckle when I add in details like this and I hope kids will find it amusing too!

What are some ideas that you have for the continuation of the Planet Ninget series?

SD: We have such a rich world of characters and adventures planned. The second book due for release in April is about a Nibbling Ningipede who won’t stop growing, is forever hungry and often encounters prejudice due to his size. ( The character is based on Lucas’ s older brother Max ).  Ningipede goes in search of a snack and somewhere to live,  learning a lot of life lessons along the way.

The Planet Ninget book series aims to celebrate the unique differences and diversity of creatures as they learn to co-exist together and find creative solutions to their everyday problems and obstacles. With themes of friendship, identity, empathy and the environment, along with simple moral lessons.

What do you hope your readers take away from your book, series and/or work?

LF: I hope Fix-It Ninget makes readers think about how they help people by listening to them first.  I also hope kids can think about how they can help their planet in some way and that they can be creative in finding unique solutions.  I also hope it encourages kids to draw and doodle more!

Ninget Universe full story loop (see others on YouTube)

Ninget Universe Luca French Instagram

Fix-It Ninget at Five Mile

Planet Ninget Youtube ( Book Trailer and Interview with Luca)

Luca French Website password: Ninget (until live)

Luca and Sarah

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