The Man and the Monster
by Rosemary Sorenson
Image copyright © Bendigo Weekly 2011
Image copyright © Bendigo Weekly 2011
Sometimes, as John Lennon said, life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
In Chris Kennett’s case, life is what happens even if you don’t make plans.
This affable young Bendigo dad has built a career in design through simply being pleasant to people, and making sure he is easy to get on with.
It’s the kind of philosophy that might make a nice children’s picture book. Now he’s in the business, that may well come to pass.
Chris’s first picture book, Alpha Monsters, is published this week by Scholastic.
A bright and busy learn-your-letters book, it was conceived when Chris’s first child, Sam, now seven, was learning to read at kindergarten. “They used the letter cards, and most of the girls were into it, but I noticed a lot of the boys were restless,” Chris says. “Sam was having trouble, so I decided to create ABC flashcards for him –using monsters.”
Sam enjoyed his dad’s monsters, which are daggy and sweet rather than scary and mean. At this point, we need to wind back and find out how Chris from Canterbury came to be living with his podiatrist wife Sooze and a couple of kids (Rose, now five) in Bendigo, contemplating his monster flashcards and thinking, maybe there’s a book in this. Chris is the youngest of five, born and bred in the cathedral town south-east of London. With no formal training in graphics, his obvious skill landed him a job when he was 18 and just out of school at the Canterbury council offices.
He was given the rather grand title of reprographics officer. “It was basically doing all the photocopying,” Chris says.
Accepted into that system, you were guaranteed a good job for life, and that’s what Chris thought was in store for him.
But along came a couple of Australian lasses whose presence changed his destiny.
Chris remembers it well, the hockey tournament in Canterbury to which Nicole Murphy (Bendigo Weekly’s original Food Fossicker) had dragged her friend Susan Morrison (Sooze), so they could watch Nicole’s then-beau compete. Chris wasn’t a player: he was at the tournament for the social side, and he met the Australians. A year or so later, Sooze had moved in with him at his parents’ house, and they were tentatively looking at a life together.
A year later again, and they were in Australia, he on a working visa, living this time with Sue’s parents in Queanbeyan, helping out in their newsagency. “It wasn’t quite what everyone expects,” he says of that time living in a town just outside Canberra. “None of my family had been to Australia, and we tended to associate it with barbies on the beach.”
The couple travelled around, up to far north Queensland and down to Gippsland. He describes himself at this part of his life as “a bit aimless”. Meanwhile, back at the newsagency, word was getting round that he was a dab hand at caricatures, and slowly but regularly, orders rolled in.
“I didn’t like doing them,” he says, “because you couldn’t please everyone all the time.” They also took a lot of work, and so Chris would end up undercharging for his caricatures, but he was developing useful skills in cartooning through the process.
By 2000, the young couple was living in Castlemaine, where Sooze and her friend Nic were working as podiatrists at the hospital. Once again, gradually, Chris found work as a designer and caricaturist, but at the same time he began training himself in what was then fairly new software for computer graphics. “It was the very early stages of quick animation software that is very well developed now,” he says. “At that stage, we didn’t know how it would manifest itself as potential for work, and I did have to start helping to pay some bills.”
Self-taught, and enterprising, Chris eventually built both his skills and his networks sufficiently to land a regular job with an e-card company, based in the United States. When that bubble burst (as software became easy enough to use on rapidly developing home devices as well as more sophisticated systems used by design companies), he went back to freelancing design here in Bendigo, and developed his blogspot, crikeyboy, where a steadily growing friends and fanbase can keep up with his animation projects.
He also revived a long-held desire to create a children’s picture book. This brings us back to Sam, on the floor of the Kennett’s lounge room, playing with monster alphabet cards. With the same quiet confidence that had landed him the e-card job, Chris began to send off proposals to publishers. The rest is history.
“It ended up on the desk of someone who liked it,” Chris says, “and I came up with the narrative about a monster who lost his teddy bear. “There are a lot of ABC books, and the monster idea has certainly been done for a long time by Sesame Street, but there was something out of the ordinary about my monsters that appealed to them.” It took over two years, but this week, Alpha Monsters is on the shelves.
Next month, it will be officially launched at Dymocks in Bendigo. “I’ve always wanted to do this, so now I’ve come full circle,” Chris says. “Everything up to here has been about getting the experience and knowledge. I hope this will be the stepping stone to another book.”
Rosemary writes for the Bendigo Weekly newspaper. Image copyright © Bendigo Weekly 2011