Interview With Richa Jha (Author), Mithila Ananth (Illustrator) author of The Manic PanicThe Manic Panic" is very special to me as it is the first picture book I ever illustrated! Oddly enough, I didn’t approach it with any particular art style in mind.
on May 30, 2023
Richa Jha is a children's author and a passionate advocate of children's picture books. She runs Pickle Yolk Books, an award-winning independent publishing house for picture books in India.
Mithila Ananth When not illustrating or dreaming up stories for her yet-to-be-written novel, Mithila Ananth can be found reading books, collecting stationery, trying new hobbies, and watching FRIENDS on Netflix (on repeat). She lives in Bangalore, India, with her husband Nikhil and their 5-year-old cat, Ollie, and is currently still awaiting her Hogwarts letter in the mail (any day now!).
Frontlist: Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind "The Manic Panic"? What led you to write this story, and what themes were you hoping to explore?
Richa: The story idea began brewing around 2011 when my daughter, who was 6 years old at the time, would always draw me with a mobile in my hand. That got me reflecting. I remember sitting with her on the slides one evening and asking if there were some things she would love to be different about me. "I wish you didn't love your laptop and your mobile more than you love me," she said.
The story started taking shape that same day! Although it took another five years before Mithila and I began collaborating on this book.
Frontlist: What do you think about the contrasting portrayal of a child trying to save her family from getting consumed by the internet in the book, while in reality, it's often the other way around?
Richa: Role-reversal is at the heart of the narrative technique used in "The Manic Panic," wherein the child assumes the role of the wiser, more responsible one compared to her parents. They are depicted as tantrum-throwing whiners and sulks the moment every form of net connectivity disappears from their lives for that one day. The humor lies in this role-reversal.
However, in reality, I feel that both these accepted representations of the tantrum-throwing child and the wise parent are a bit of a stereotype and a lie. We parents often make unwise choices in our actions and behavior (most of which our children silently observe us indulge in), while our children often possess far greater levels of emotional and social maturity than we adults may credit them with. So, in that sense, the book doesn't merely portray a swapping of roles. As much as we may pretend to be digital hermits, the fact is that we have allowed our lives to be ruled and consumed by one digital format or another. Our children are only taking their cues from us.
Frontlist: We’d love you to discuss your creative process for developing the illustration style of "The Manic Panic." Were there any particular artists or styles that influenced your work on this project?
Mithila: "The Manic Panic" is very special to me as it is the first picture book I ever illustrated! Oddly enough, I didn’t approach it with any particular art style in mind. It took us a while to nail down the character looks (I think we even considered having the characters be anthropomorphic animals at one point!). However, once Creston and their team came on board, Richa and Creston’s editors had the wonderful idea of starting off the artwork with a desaturated look and then slowly introducing colors once the parents shake off the social media brain fog and start engaging more with their daughter. I thought it elevated "The Manic Panic" to a whole other level.
Frontlist: How did you visually create the distinct personalities and traits of the different characters in the book?
Mithila: Richa didn’t want the characters to look, behave, and interact with each other based solely on gender and age stereotypes. She had each character fully formed in her head, and that helped me translate that onto paper.
Frontlist: Which parts of the book come alive only with the help of your illustrations?
Mithila: I loved showing the parents' temper tantrums, their general grumpiness, and their unwillingness to enjoy their day without the Internet! I also added a little Easter egg in the form of an elusive mouse on each page for readers to try and spot for a bit of fun.