We've all heard the term "wolf in sheep's clothing", but what about the opposite? Award winning Toronto artist and writer Sid Sharp's funny, deliciously dark, and gently thoughtful graphic novel The Wolf Suit (Annick Press) follows Bellwether Riggwelter, a sheep who is just plain fed up with having to sneak around scary predators to get his beloved blackberries. He hatches a plan to walk amongst them, dressed in the titular wolf suit.
Playful, wistful, and visually stunning, The Wolf Suit uses a quirky and sweet premise to raise piercing questions about appearances and prejudice, conformity and connection, and the value of community. A tale that will resonate with kids who have ever felt pressure to present as someone other than their true self, it's a gorgeous and memorable tale with tons of heart.
Today we're speaking with Sid about The Wolf Suit and their creative process. They tell us about the strange dream that first inspired the story, why there is a feeling—rather than a moral—they'd love readers to take from the book, and what they have in common with Bellwether (despite their dance floor-related differences).
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
My book is called The Wolf Suit, and it’s a slightly scary graphic novel for early-to-middle-grade readers. Years ago, I had this vivid, twisty dream where I was a sheep surrounded by wolves, pretending to be one of them and trying not to get eaten, and it has stuck in my mind and made its way into many of my drawings ever since. Eventually I kind of casually brought it up with my wonderful editor, Serah-Marie McMahon, and her face lit up and she was like “that’s a book!” and then we basically talked about it forever until it was a book. The story has changed a lot from the version in my dream, but a lot of the feelings in it have stayed the same.
Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?
I remember hating fiction with a lot of morals and lessons as a kid. I don’t think I even really liked happy endings? So I hope whatever messages this story imparts are relatable, but not overly instructive—I don’t want to give anyone homework. That being said, I think it probably never hurts to remember that there are tons of people out there who are going to love you and think that you’re the coolest once they get the chance to meet you. I’ve met so many people that have made me feel like, “wow, I’m so glad we were able to emerge from our little hiding places and take off our costumes and find each other, because you’re absolutely delightful.” I think I want the take-away from this book to be that feeling.
Is there a character in your book that you relate to? If so, in what ways are you similar to your character and in what ways are you different?
Bellwether the sheep is a lot like me. We like the quiet, we drink a lot of tea, we’re very crafty and very vain... I think we even hold our bodies the same way. And I guess most importantly, we both have difficulties with opening up and trusting others sometimes. However, I can’t dance at all, whereas Bellwether is an excellent dancer; this is because I really like to draw him dancing, and I do so as often as possible, so he’s got good from all the practice. Maybe if I draw myself dancing I’ll get a little better at it??
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
I love a routine, and I love my little art studio that I work in almost every day. It’s extremely comforting and full of art and creepy stuff and nice sticks I’ve found. It also has enough space for me to lie on the floor, which is very necessary when I’m thinking about what to do next. Usually when I work I’ll play some ambient-ish music, or put on background comfort viewing (I love Dark Shadows and the original Degrassi), or else just work in silence all day. I drink endless tea in there, and light a lot of incense—for whatever reason, smells are maybe the most important thing for making my mind work.
What are you working on now?
Another kids’ book! I guess I can’t say too much about it right now, because it’s early on and who knows what will happen, but I’m really pleased to report that at this point in the process I am having a lot of fun and drawing a lot of spiders. I’m also working on a graphic novel for adults, and I think I might like the idea of bouncing back and forth between kid and adult lit forever.
Sid Sharp is an artist, illustrator, and sometimes bookseller who is interested in folklore and finding good sticks for their stick collection. They recently graduated from OCAD U, where they won the Illustration Medal. They live in Toronto, Ontario.