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OtʇO News, China

On simple demand of our Chinese editor Maitian (and also because other social media seem harder to share over there), I’d like to blog a bit about my OtʇO-graphical adventures in China…


Last month not less than 4 brand new Chinese OtʇO-titles expanded the already naturally growing OtʇO-stack on our bookshelf with a big boost (the picture above’s actually photoshopped: it’s rotated 90° counter clock wise to make it easier for westerners to read the titles on the books’ spines ;-))

Otto in China1

No need for those tricks in Chinese since the letters can be read both vertically & horizontally! As I already mentioned in a previous post, I’m really fond of Chinese fonts. Every word seems to be instantly calligraphic and the link between text & image is OtʇO-matically thighter than with our plane western characters. So even if I don’t understand a word of it, these books make me happy.

Otto Rijdt Heen en Weer Maitian-1

Our dear Chinese editor also sent us a little ‘wish list’ with a number of questions. Please find it attached below (with all the right answers between the lines ;-))

Otto in de sneeuw-1

1. Was it your dream to become an artist? And how did you find out that you have the talent?

I’m not a big believer in talent. It’s always more in the doing then in the thinking to me. It’s only now – after more then 20 years of full time illustrating – I realize that it’s probably necessary to have a firm first spark of inspiration to absorb all the transpiration afterwards (if you want to keep some form of personal & mental hygiene ;-)) I remember making these small drawings in the margin of my schoolbooks most of the time at high school and I guess that ’s where ‘illustrating’ began for me…

2. By browsing and enjoying the excellent works in various categories of the galleries on your site, we could see the distinct characteristics of your own style such as the patterns, modeling and colors. How did you establish your featured style? Are there any artists or their works from which you ever got influenced?

Style is not a goal in itself. It evolves over time and that‘s mainly due to observation. And yes, many other artists have inspired me (and still are inspiring to me) like Antonio Segui, Alain Grée, Eric Carle, Marc Chagall, Edward Hopper, Richard Scarry, Jacques de Loustal, Constant Permeke, Philippe Weisbecker, Martin Jarrie, OtʇO Dix, OtʇO Seibold, Dick Bruna, Lucy Cousins, Brad Holland, Eidrigevicius Stasys, Jeffrey Fisher, Jef Nys, Saul Steinberg, Ever Meulen, Christopher Corr, Sue Coe, Julian Key, Ray Davies, Raymond Loewie, Raymond Savignac, Cassandre, Mariscal, Marc Boutavant, Mucha, Sasek, Caravaggio, Costello, Norman Rockwell, Gust de Smet, Hergé, George Grosz, Wolf Erlbruch, Lorenzo Mattotti, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Taro Gomi, Peter Blake and Pieter Bruegel (the old) to mention only a few (not necessarily in this order ;-))

3. How do you usually get the inspiration for creating arts (especially for OtʇO)?

Mostly it’s the Monster von Deadline that brings me inspiration and that pushes my half-awake-early-morning-daydreams in the right direction, but in this case it was our youngest son who brought me to the idea of creating a loop-book: I initially painted a bunch of vehicles on cardboard for a commission of wall stickers and literally cut them out to watch them from a distance on my workplace’s wall. They turned out to be fun playing material for him (with their distinctive recto- & verso side) as he always put the cardboard vehicles in a loop on the ground around my desk by the time I had to meet my editor with the concept for a new book… the spark for the whole OtʇO-loop-book-concept!

4. Does the name/title OtʇO have some special meaning? How did the image and name of OtʇO, as well as each of his trip stories come out in your mind?

In my ‘mothertongue’ (Flemish Dutch), the German name OTTO sounds like the word AUTO, short for automobile or vehicle. The name of the character is as such closely linked to the vehicles in the series. And as we all know German cars are always in demand ;-) The destinations were equally inspired by OtʇO-biographical events such as our annual trips to Switzerland for the travelling to the snow or an occasional flight to my brother’s place in the USA for the airport-book.

5. You made the books in funny and original ways. For example, for the print materials, you chose the board rather than simple soft paper. And for the inside picture design, you introduced a special mode of 180 degree reversible reading. Could you share with us more about your original ideas? Do you have some tips for the readers about how to read/play with and what to learn from OtʇO-series?

Every reader looks at a book in his own way but the better observer always gets more out of it. I often remark that young children, who do not yet read and write, are the better observers of images. In general they see small details which parents – and even I – mostly look over. Generally spoken, I would advise them to continue their journey through these books from the beginning to the end (not constantly turning around), but who am I once a book’s in those little readers’ hands?

6. Would OtʇO grow up gradually? Might there be any more books or stories of him?

Yes, I think little OtʇO might still grow a bit. Original editor Lannoo here in Belgium & the English Tate Publishing lately bundled the first and the last 2 volumes as ‘double books’. For these I adapted the covers, created extra double pages in the middle and added many more details, which was fun. But we’d also like to make OtʇO travel a bit to particular cities or countries like London or Paris in the near future and –why not? – China in the further future. And since the very beginning I’ve been dreaming of an ‘OtʇO by night’ with nearly black backgrounds. Filled with almost abstract sparks of light like Chinese fireworks & with our dreamy little cat in square pijamas watching all that poetry from the backseat…

7. There are some photos on your site showing great interaction of the little readers and OtʇO. For instance, the kids laid the books on the ground and enjoyed the reading or visited your studio. Have you got the feedback information about OtʇO such as the comments from the cute children? Besides, have you ever taken any suggestions made by the readers including your own kids?

I do keep eyes and ears open so yes, I certainly value comments from kids. As I regularly visit primary schools, I do get feed-back from young children. Concerning my own children: they are getting older and as I explained above, the older children get, the less concentrated they look at images. However, as I said, our youngest was the main inspiration for the OTTO-books and the elder is so book-wise by now that he often helps me make decisions: I definitively pick up something valuable from them!

8. Through your blogs we could see you are not only an artist but also a father who loves family and life. So do you have some feelings or experiences of education that you could share with young parents in China? For example, which aspects do you often focus on through the process of cultivating and educating children?

I find it important to offer them culture in the broad sense of the word. As school focuses mainly on reading, writing and maths, it remains the role of parents to stimulate all forms of culture  like theater, music, languages, dance, beautiful books, museum visits, city maps… not to forget an evening story before going to bed. It would be great if our kids keep on enjoying all of this…

9. Could you send us a picture of you with 1 of our books?


Well here I am. On a rainy Belgian morning (with the focus  apparently on the OtʇO‘s in the back), reading 2 of the books at school, together with Sylvian, a charming classmate of our oldest son, who’s also learning Chinese after school (besides Dutch, French & English!). I gave her that book ;-)


PS In 2014, this smaller OtʇO-book will also be available in China and may help Chinese children to count to 10 (if there would still be any need to ;-). Meanwhile we’ll provide a second part in these series too. The inside pages already look a bit Chinese, don’t they? More about it next year…

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