We chat to the creators of We Are All Greta and hear about what inspired them to work together on this topical book about climate change and the youth movement.
Describe your working space for us
VG: I work mainly from home. I have a little white desk in front of a big, floor to ceiling window that overlooks the trees where I can rest my eyes on birds, butterflies and the occasional squirrel. I find nature truly inspiring for the creative process. Other times, I work with my colleague and business partner Lucia with whom we have co-founded a small journalistic agency, Mindthegap, in the vintage setting of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club, in the heart of the city.
MM: My workspace is my home studio, where I am surrounded by plants and books from my favourite authors and illustrators. When I need to take time for a break, I go to a park nearby; I find that walking in the green gives me time to think and plan the illustrations I’m working on with more clarity and creativity.
What inspired you to be a writer and reporter?
VG: I was brought up in Milan, Italy, in a family where art and writing have always been the most important media. My mum is an art teacher and a painter, and my dad had been an editor in chief of well-established Italian magazines for 30 years. He was the journalist that brought the National Geographic Magazine formula to the Italian market in the late ’80s, and I was naturally drawn towards environmental issues since my childhood. He has also run journalistic investigations about water, air and soil pollution in Italy, while working closely with WWF and other green organizations.
I could say I have learned how to gather, process information and how to write from him. But I have also learned how to observe the tiniest detail of reality, the sense of wholeness and perspective and how to express emotions within a context from my mum. I think it’s this mixed approach that has influenced my profession as a journalist and my sensitivity as a writer.
Manuela, how did you find your way into illustration?
MM: As a self-taught illustrator, after graduating in Multimedia Languages, I knew that I wanted to continue my research into visual communication. I built upon my artistic training with lots of workshops and courses, like the Summer Residency in Illustration and Visual Storytelling at the New York School of Visual Arts, as well as a two-year botanical illustration course in Rome. These experiences helped me to gain confidence as an illustrator and build a solid portfolio, which I began to send out to editors and clients.
Do you have any hobbies?
VG: Mainly ecological ones! When my son and my daughter were born, I started volunteering for Genitori Antismog, a very active group of Milanese parents that advocate green policies for a city with better air quality for their children. I also take time to sketch and paint – mostly leaves and nature, to recharge my mental batteries. And I love jogging and taking long walks with my dog along Hong Kong forest trails.
Would you consider yourself an activist and are there any particular movements you have been a part of?
MM: I’ve always felt that my art offers a way not just to see things as they are – but also as they could be. It’s a way for me to express my values and beliefs. My illustrations are hugely inspired by nature and often, my ideas are born in the wilderness; inspired by a day spent mountain trekking or a simple walk in a botanical park.
From a very young age, I was interested in nature and sustainability. As I grew older, I felt the need to return to a more sustainable way of living and adapt my lifestyle accordingly by changing my habits. I sold my car, got involved in urban bikers’ movements in my city like Critical Mass and am following a more sustainable way of living: consuming less, reusing, reducing, recycling, eating locally, abstaining from meat, etc.
Finally, I gave up my secure full-time job in a big company to start freelancing as a designer and illustrator, wherever possible choosing projects and organizations such as FAO and Occupy Climate Change! who share my concerns and hopes for the future of our planet.
How would you best sum up We Are All Greta?
VG: We Are All Greta is a very simple and clear yet engaging book that aims to explain climate change and the relevant scientific facts to a young audience. In a way, it also helps parents to learn how to answer their children’s questions about the challenges that we’re all facing to save our planet, whilst avoiding scaremongering language that could serve to frighten people away from working towards very possible solutions.
The title of the book was inspired by a young Chinese girl who was holding a sign during the Global Climate Strike in Hong Kong that read ‘My name is Greta’. I realized that Greta Thunberg has not only the power to raise awareness on such a vital matter, but also to create a sense of identity amongst young people all over the world.
What makes Greta Thunberg such a great role model?
MM: The first public speech I heard from Greta made a huge impression on me. She’s so young, yet a giant, so determined in facing corporations. When I see her grace and determination, I feel the urge to contribute and to give resonance to her words through my illustrations. I deeply admire what Greta Thunberg has helped to create: a growing tide of conscience and protest!