John Bemelmans Marciano
Why did you set your new book in Rome?
I lived in Rome for a time and have come to think of it as a second home. Its neighborhoods, its color, its architecture, and its people are all things I know and can represent naturally. I always felt it was my grandfather’s love for Paris that showed through in the original Madeline, and that love is something that can’t be faked.
What inspired you to create a new “Madeline” book?
A good story, really. And a love of cats. When I first came to Rome the little strays that inhabit every corner of the city constituted my only group of friends, and it amazed me the way they were allowed to live undisturbed in some of the greatest ruins of the ancient world. In fact, cat colonies have an expressed right to exist in Rome’s city charter, and the people who take care of them are called ‘gattara’ (gatto means cat). The idea of a little gattara who will do anything to help the cats seemed like a natural to me, and a perfect foil for Madeline.
What steps did you take to learn and mimic your grandfather’s style?
Lots and lots of copying from the books. The hardest part is getting into the right mentality. A picture is a series of problems to solve, and whereas an illustrator generally thinks, “What can I do to make this better?” I had to think, “What would my grandfather have done?”
Which is your favorite of the original “Madeline” stories?
Madeline’s Rescue for its story, Madeline and the Bad Hat for its heart, Madeline and the Gypsies for its sense of fun, and the original Madeline for its sheer, indefinable genius.