Inspiration for the book:

Abraham spent several years working in the Asian art department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Around 2005 or 2006, when he was in the middle of a project cataloging the museum’s spectacular collection of Japanese prints, he found among them an 1880’s woodblock print of bats by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. He started thinking about bats, umbrellas, and Western fashion in Japan at the end of the 19th century. With this seed of inspiration, the first few lines of the rhyming story took shape. Then, with years of coaxing and prodding and refining, they eventually grew into The Gentleman Bat. Keep an eye out, and you might find a version of the Japanese print hiding inside the book.

Abraham was looking for an illustrator who could help bring the story to life, so he started bouncing ideas off of Piotr, a skilled painter, and friend from graduate school. Piotr and Abraham passed hundreds of sketches back and forth over the years, discussing every little detail and testing big and little compositional elements, gradually getting the characters and the story to fit together the way they are today. If the first book is a success, there are several more books in the series ready to be pulled out of sketch form and finalized for publication. We hope to share them with you someday soon!

Check the Illustration Process page on this website to see how Piotr created the illustrations, and how they grew from rough sketches to final paintings. To see some of the hidden details, art and art history jokes, and references that were included in the book, visit the Hidden Details page on this site.

There is not space here to share all of the awesome bat-related Japanese prints and their fascinating stories in the MFA collection, or to elaborate fully on what this print and its partner are all about, but perhaps we will find time to provide some more links and explanation in the future.

In the meantime, here is the image that started it all:

Bats in the Fifth Act [of Chūshingura] (Kōmori no godanme) [Top];
The World inside the Bell [of Dōjō-ji Temple] (Kane no sekai) [Bottom];
from an untitled series known as Sketches by Yoshitoshi (Yoshitoshi ryakuga) - 芳年略画 「蝙蝠之五段目」「鐘之世界」

Japanese, Meiji era, early 1880s
Artist: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839–1892

Dimensions: Two horizontal chūban on uncut vertical ōban sheet;
36.8 x 25 cm (14 1/2 x 9 13/16 in)
Medium/Technique: Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Type: Ukiyo-e print; giga (humor); Chūshingura

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.22587

Click here to see a larger image and explore the MFA website.

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