The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Q & A with Lincoln Agnew, Harry and Horsie


Children’s picture book Harry and Horsie by Katie Van Camp has mostly been in the news because the eponymous Harry happens to be the very real son of TV host and comedian David Letterman (who also provides the foreword to the book).

But what caught my eye were the illustrations by Calgary artist Lincoln Agnew. The illustrations, which bring to mind 1950’s advertising, cereal boxes, comics, vintage toys, pop art, and Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, give the book a distinctive retro look.

I managed to catch up with Lincoln by email and ask him a few questions about his work.

Briefly, could you tell me a little about yourself?


Hahahahaha…. I kid….. apparently I think I’m funny.

I’m just an artist trying to find my way with as little compromise as possible.  I go to sleep when I am tired, get up when I’m awake and work on any project i deem “fun” during the hours in between.  I’ve gone into debt trying to maintain my “artistic integrity” and on the days that I become too hungry to care i give in to my belly and use a steel scrub brush to bathe off the guilt…. after i finish my steak dinner.

Is Harry and Horsie the first children’s book you’ve illustrated?

Yes, the first of many i hope…. i really enjoyed the process.  I had no idea what i was doing but was inspired by the challenge.

How did you become involved in the book?

A great friend of mine, Alan Rosales introduced me to Katie at a New Years party in Montreal long before she decided to write a book.  We spoke for about ten minutes before she grew tired of my jibber jabber and moved on.  Years later he heard that she was looking for an  illustrator and recommended me for the job.  Katie and I then started tossing ideas around over email for the next few years but we didn’t reunite face to face until we both arrived in New York to celebrate with our publishers.  She was taller than I remembered.

How did you create the images? Could you describe your process?

My process is clumsy at best, I fumble around with rough outlines, scanners, photocopiers, pencil crayons, ink pens, sandpaper and computers. It’s a struggle, nothing really comes easy and there’s only a small window of time before the love turns to hate.

The illustrations have a wonderful retro feel. Where did you look for inspiration?

It all started with the toys, while I was doing up some rough sketches for the story I figured the rocket ship should look like a vintage tin toy from the 50’s.  That initial research inspired the look of everything to follow.

Where else can we see your work?

It’s around. I do freelance design, illustration and photography for magazines, studios, bands and clothing companies.  I vary my medium and style to fit the project…. so very little of it looks like the book.

Can we expect more children’s book illustrations from you in future?

Absolutely! Katie and I learned a lot during the initial process so we are eager to apply our new found knowledge to create something bigger and better than the first!  We are currently working on a second Harry and Horsie adventure with the lovely people over at Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins.

Thanks Lincoln!

And special thanks to Melissa Zilberberg, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator at HarperCollins Canada, for helping arrange the interview.

All illustrations copyright (c) 2009 by Lincoln Agnew

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  1. This is awesome. I saw the initial illustration, and I want the book. I’m in art college now, researching children’s books for ideas, and I so want to steal this (though ethics seem to deem that bad-darn). Anyway, I can’t wait to get my hands on this for the illustrations alone, I hope the story matches in awesomeness.

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