This month we have the fortune of interviewing Leon Thomas, illustrator of Missing Letters: An Alphabet Book. Leon is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and in honour of pride month, agreed to a short interview!
- Why do you think it is important to have LGBT representation in the book and illustration industry?
Storytelling plays a significant role in educating our youth. It helps them to develop empathy and understanding by putting themselves in the story’s narrative and relating with the characters. Diverse representation in storytelling can be a very powerful tool, planting seeds in children’s minds as they grow and learn about what is “normal”.
Normalizing LGBTQ identities can help mitigate the harsh stigma perpetuated elsewhere in American culture while creating relatable characters for members of our community to see ourselves in. I wish I grew up with books, movies, and TV shows depicting LGBTQ individuals in a positive and normal light. I didn’t even have the vocabulary to convey my thoughts and feelings on the subject until my late teens when I learned about it through my peers. That’s why I believe it’s so important to use the power of representation to show today’s youth that diversity is a normal part of life. Accepting ourselves as we are would be considerably easier if we were able to see characters similar to us portrayed in a positive light more often. This doesn’t just apply to the LGBTQ community: I believe it is important to include diverse representations of race, ethnicity, and disability in literature and illustrations as well. Increasing the number of people we can help feel seen and appreciated with our work is always important and worthwhile.
- When did you decide to become an illustrator for children’s books and why were you drawn to it?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I was always drawn to comics and illustrated stories. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of becoming a comic book or graphic novel artist. During my sophomore year at the University of Missouri, I stumbled upon the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book: that is how my career in children’s illustration began.
I am especially drawn to children’s literature because it’s cartoony and cute. It gives me the opportunity to think back to my childhood: what kinds of imagery would I have loved to see in my books? What was it about the art that captured my attention so thoroughly and how can I recreate that experience for future child audiences? Working in illustration is not only interesting, but enjoyable, making it the perfect industry for someone like me.
- Have you faced any difficulties in your industry?
I have not personally experienced many difficulties in the illustration industry so far. I believe that as long as I am willing to put in the effort to keep creating and continuously look for new opportunities, they will present themselves.
Networking, especially on social media can be a somewhat slow and daunting process, but it can be rewarding because it gets your work out to lots of people. I am not a huge social media person so it is difficult for me to keep up with all of the various platforms, but it really is the best way to stay relevant and visible in such a large industry.
- What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Start right now! Your work is not going to be perfect, it never will be perfect but starting as soon as possible is the best thing you can do for your growth. Build an online presence and keep up with it! In our increasingly digital world, an online presence has become a necessity for artists; Instagram pages are becoming portfolios and websites are becoming resumes.
Making examples of your work accessible to future employers and the rest of the world provides insight into the quality of your work while simultaneously demonstrating your dedication, growth, and how much you are willing to strive for your goals. But above all, remember what’s important to you and put it in your art: that is what will make your work memorable, meaningful, and personally fulfilling.
If you would like to support Leon’s work, please check out their illustrations in the book, Missing Letters: An Alphabet Book, here!