Anyone reading The Art Department is likely to know Brom's dark and often disconcertingly beautiful paintings fairly well. Over the past few years Brom has turned his efforts to writing novels, with the highly illustrated Plucker and The Devil's Rose.
His third novel, The Child Thief, is just out from Eos. It is a beautiful over-sized book with a number of color and black and white illustrations and is a decidedly not-for-kids continuation of Peter Pan.
"In the dusk of that early autumn day the child thief peered out from the shadows and falling leaves to watch the children play. The children scaled the giant green turtle, slid down the bright yellow slide, laughed, yelled, teased and chased one another round and round. But the child thief wasn't interested in these happy faces. He wasn't looking to steal just any child. He was particular. He was looking for the sad face, the loner…a lost child. And the older the better, preferably a child of thirteen or fourteen, for older children were stronger, had better stamina, tended to stay alive longer."
When did you begin writing? Where you always thinking of stories to tell while developing as a painter?
I've always told stories, either with pictures or with words. As a child I loved making little books, y'know -- paper, words, drawings, stapler and pesto you have book! It's pretty much the same now -- paper, words, paintings, computer and presto you have book.
Is there a way in which you found writing and painting surprisingly similar?
I'm a very visual person, so the processes are similar in that they both come from the picture part of my brain. The difference is that writing is like watching a movie and I'm playing all the parts. Painting is taking a single frame from that movie and trying to make the strongest image I can imagine.
Was it difficult to convince a publisher that an artist could write well?
The ideas come easy to me, and I love the act of writing, but just like painting, I had to work very hard to develop my craft to a point where it was publishable. What was more difficult, at least in the beginning, was convincing a publisher that it was okay to put pictures and words together in an adult novel. The publishing market can be very conservative at times and in many publishing houses pictures books are for children only.
What is it about Peter Pan that drew you to this story?
Simply reading the original story (not the water-downed Disney version). I was amazed what a dark and disturbing tale it really is. Here's a quote from the original Peter Pan: “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.”
Thins them out? Huh? What does that mean? Does Peter kill them, like culling a herd? Does he send them away somewhere? If so, where? Or does Peter just put them in such peril that the crop is in need of constant replenishing?
That one paragraph forever changed my perception of Peter Pan from that of a high-spirited rascal to something far more sinister. “Thins them out,” the words kept repeating in my head. How many children had Peter stolen, how many had died, how many had been thinned out? Peter himself said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” Once I pondered these unsettling elements I began to wonder what this children’s book would be like if the veil of Barrie’s lyrical prose were peeled back, if the violence and savagery were presented in grim stark reality. How would children really react to being kidnapped and thrust into such a situation? How hard would it be for them to fall under the spell of a charismatic sociopath, to shuck off the morality of civilization and become cold-blooded killers? And these thoughts were the seeds for The Child Thief.
The black and white drawings are (besides being drop-dead gorgeous) reminiscent of intaglio prints. Was this a style you developed for this story, and if so why? Or is this a natural outgrowth of you painting style?
Painting comes very naturally to me, line work does not. In painting it is all about losing the line, to work in tone, to have your shadows hold your image. So I am very pleased that you like the drawings because in many ways they were a lot more work than the paintings.
What’s next? Are you working on another book?
I'm finally getting around to putting together a new art book. This will be a collection of my early paintings as well as new work. Hopefully it will be ready in about a year.