In the forty years since he came to Iceland, Liverpudlian illustrator and author, Brian Pilkington, has been extraordinarily productive. His captivating storybooks, amusing postcards and designs for everything from collectable figurines to fridge magnets, can be found in just about every bookstore and gift shop in Iceland. In his latest work, The Yule Cat – A Seasonal Makeover, which he both authored and illustrated, Iceland’s legendary Christmas cat gets his reputation positively transformed. In contrast to the terrifying original version of the Yule Cat, which tells of a brutal beast who devours children who don’t get new clothes for Christmas, Brian’s story reimagines the cat as a less dangerous, grumpy creature who is far too lazy to chase after children. In this fabulous new tale, the filthy, flea-ridden animal gets a thorough and comical grooming from his family of Yule Lads.
Brian, who has also authored and illustrated other Christmas-themed stories, such as the Yule Lads, has worked on countless projects over the years. He has illustrated at least 40 books and has both written and illustrated 14 during his career – a career which started quite unexpectedly while he was on holiday in Iceland back in the 1970s. During his visit, he decided he liked the place and started looking for work opportunities. His exceptional skills as an artist, which he developed during a 5-year apprenticeship and a BA degree from Leicester College of Art, were soon put to use at an ad agency and he’s been living here ever since. After a while, he worked more on freelance projects including the children’s book Icelandic Trolls: a job that cemented his work as a champion of Icelandic folktales and led to more projects contributing to his now extensive oeuvre on Iceland’s mythical creatures and fantastic beasts.
In Brian’s studio, which we were lucky enough to visit recently, an abundant cast of magical characters can be found, where sculptures of his trolls stare at you from the top of bookshelves and vibrantly coloured paintings of Icelandic folktale legends featuring Yules Lads, trolls and his current favourite, The Yule Cat, almost jump off the page. It’s certainly an impressive body of work and with Iceland’s seemingly endless supply of source material, he still has plenty to do!
We, of course, couldn’t resist and bought a copy of The Yule Cat and look forward to reading it to the kids! If you’re currently in Iceland and fancy getting a copy too, you’ll find it available in most bookshops and gift stores. You can also purchase it directly from the publisher, Forlagið.