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Ben Newman on working with writers

The Bento Bestiary (above) is a brilliant example of how collaborative work can take a zine to the next level – but rather than team up with other illustrators to create the project, Ben Newman turned to a writer, Scott Donaldson.

The project started when Nobrow contacted Ben “and asked if I’d be interested in creating a limited edition, screen printed book,” he says. “I’d been reading up on the Japanese Yokai [mythical demons] and was completely fascinated by them. This seemed like a strong theme with plenty of room for reinvention and artistic licence.”

He says: “Scott and I have been friends for years and I’ve always enjoyed reading his short stories, so it was a great pleasure to find something that we could work on together.”

Each spread of The Bento Bestiary features an illustration and a brief text on a particular character. “I would take three Yokai away to sketch up, and Scott would take a different three to write out ideas for,” explains Ben. “After a few days, we would meet up and show each other what we had come up with.”

He continues: “Some of the Yokai changed dramatically visually after reading Scott’s ideas, and vice versa, but on the whole we worked pretty much in tandem.”

This independent way of working suited them both. “Working on some of the ideas separately meant that we didn’t worry too much about what the other was expecting, so that both of us could [be] creatively free,” says Ben.

One of the project’s key lessons is a technical one. He explains: “Next time I’ll make sure I own
a physical Pantone book to check the colours against how they appear on the computer screen – the difference can be quite significant.”

Still, that doesn’t seem to have affected the book’s success – the original zine sold out, and Nobrow has released a hardcover edition.

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