Australian cartoonist Gus Gordon is primarily known for his work on children’s picture books, but that’s about to change soon. Gordon’s debut young readers graphic novel, Into the Bewilderness, has been acquired by Clarion/HarperCollins for English publication in the United States and worldwide, with Australia & New Zealand English publication acquired by Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing. Gordon is represented by Inkwell Management’s Charlie Olsen in the acquisition, with senior editor Kait Feldmann and publisher Ana Vivas acquiring the title for HarperCollins & Hardie Grant, respectively. The book is set for publication in 2024.
Into the Bewilderness follows a pair of unlikely traveling companions, a bear named Luis and a mole named Pablo, who must face their fears and travel out of their natural habitat and into the city after receiving a pair of tickets to a Broadway show. As described in the announcement of the acquisition, the graphic novel is filled with “surprises, nonsensical revelations and silly musical interludes.” In other words, it sounds absolutely delightful.
Gordon’s picture book work includes titles like Big Pet Day, My Life & Other Stuff That Went Wrong, and the acclaimed Herman & Rosie, which received the Honour Book Award in 2013 from the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
“I think Into the Bewilderness is a product of a youth spent feverishly reading fun, adventurous stories,” Gordon told The Beat. “Beginning with Richard Scarry’s Busy books (a large reason why my characters are always anthropomorphic animals), I leapt from Enid Blyton to Jules Verne, to J.R.R. Tolkien via Mark Twain and Kenneth Grahame’s timeless The Wind in the Willows. Along the way I was always an avid comic reader, particularly captivated by Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Footrot Flats by Murray Ball, Bill Watterson’s fabulously contemplative Calvin and Hobbes, and more recently, the mind-wandering beauty of Ryan Andrew’s graphic novel This Was Our Pact. It’s a long, convoluted reading journey, but somehow Into the Bewilderness germinated and leaned earnestly into the sunlight.”
For editor Kait Feldmann, the decision to bring Into the Bewilderness to HarperCollins was a no-brainer. “Gus is a talented author/illustrator who I’ve long admired for the classic charm and natural sense for comic timing he brings to his picture book work,” she explained to The Beat. “I was excited to see he wanted to do a graphic novel, and could tell he had a lot of fun with this idea, which made it fun for me to read, and made me feel this would be a blast to work on together. The pitch itself was a riot, even down to the format and delivery details (“The trim size will be 6” wide x 8.5” tall, the content poorly researched, the pictures haphazardly drawn, and the words written with the normal reckless abandon deadlines ensure”).
“I was immediately enamored by Gus’s silly, inseparable duo and their oddball antics,” Feldmann said of the book’s lead characters. “Luis the bear and Pablo the mole are a perfect pair, bumbling along with the childlike curiosity and wisdom of Calvin & Hobbes and Winnie the Pooh, trekking through their story in Gus’s signature linework that is so full of personality, I’m going to want to frame the whole book so I can ogle it between rereads.”
Likewise, publisher Ana Vivas told The Beat how Gordon’s pitch for the book hooked her immediately. “Gus is a well known talent in Australia for his picture books,” she said, “But when I read the submission for his first ‘early reader graphic novel’ I just wanted to know more about these two fabulous characters and how they see the world. Luis and Pablo’s journey out of the woodland and into the city is at once comical and philosophical. From my own experience of publishing in this space, it is such a rarity to find a talent like Gus who can execute the written and the visual story so beautifully.”
On the philosophical nature of the book, Gordon described how the characters led him down that path as part of their journey. “It is quite an existential narrative,” he said. “I didn’t deliberately set out to make it so, but it just evolved along the way. I guess largely because of Luis’s ‘big picture’ pondering, although Pablo has his grandiose thinking moments too (not that I’m trying to get all post-modern, explaining away the whole elegant chaos of our existence). The pondering is just a convenient way to get to the silliness of it all. I enjoy conjuring up quirky, left of field conversations, logic and thinking, and the woods setting felt like the perfect place for these two characters to wonder what the rest of the world might be like.”
Gordon also expressed his appreciation for both Feldmann and Vivas’s work to bring his first graphic novel to readers. “I was so thrilled when Kait at Clarion/HarperCollins, and Ana at Hardie Grant (here in Australia), decided to take a chance on Into the Bewilderness,” he said. “Thankfully both have an appreciation of nonsensical, whimsical storytelling. They also have a welcome understanding of what I’m trying to do, and what needs to be done to get there. Publishing is so much easier when you’re all on the same page, working together to get the best out of an idea. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s all done and dusted. Of course, at that point, I will be an exhausted shell of a man. A happy one though.”
Look for Into the Bewilderness to trek its way into stores in 2024.