An uncompromising, non-traditional storybook that holds surprises even for adults. The book entitled Soft Opening was created via a Kickstarter campaign, and the international success was followed by a Hungarian edition, which hit the bookstore shelves last Christmas. Zsuzsi Linka, the illustrator of the book, told us about the story and details of Soft Opening.
Zsuzsi Linka has loved drawing ever since she was a child, and creative work has always been present in her life with changing intensity, but she was not planning on joining this line of business initially. She pursued English Studies at first, then after a few years of working in marketing as a detour, she started a joint project with Áron Markó. Since they both missed doing creative work, they wanted to design a self-published children’s book: this is how the story of Soft Opening began.
“The whole thing was Áron’s idea. We’ve been working together for years, and he knew that I loved to draw melancholic animals—that’s where the idea for the storybook came from. This might be an overused cliché, but besides the product itself, the process was at least just as important: we had never written or illustrated a book, we didn’t have the faintest idea of how the publishing industry works. So we had to experiment a lot, but we’ve learned a lot from the whole thing,” said Zsuzsi.
Zsuzsi and Áron complemented each other well during the project: Áron worked on the text, while Zsuzsi created the illustrations, but the story formed in parallel with the graphics, influencing one another. Zsuzsi’s sad animal drawings gave the starting point, so the creators knew from the beginning that the book would be about their quest for happiness. The protagonist, Walter, was with the duo from the very beginning: “the round and soft shapes of wombats are very dear to us, and I also had an adopted wombat at the Budapest Zoo,” Zsuzsi pointed out.
“The story of Walter finding himself in an unknown world to discover a soft universe together with the children unfolded relatively late. Áron reshaped and restarted the text several times until Walter’s »stream of consciousness« was finally created. The process was very unusual in this sense, too” she added.
Softness as the main motif was already given, as Zsuzsi emphasized: “the grandiose title, Soft Opening, embraces the ars poetica of the storybook: soft animals cook soft food in a soft world. This is our own system of coordinates.”
The book unfolds a complex yet followable story with a moral, the main target group of which are children from ages 6 to 8. However, the creator duo knew from the beginning that they wanted to create a storybook that’s enjoyable not only for children but also for adults. To achieve this, the book comes with extra accessories, such as background stories that are invisible to the naked eye and appear only under UV light, as well as a playlist with music selected by the authors.
“We wanted to talk to the parents as well without confusing the kids. That’s why we decided that the hidden comments and behind-the-scenes secrets for adults should be completely invisible under normal light. On top of that, UV-light treasure hunting would fire the imagination of all age groups, and it’s not an overly widespread, hackneyed technology. The playlist compiled for the book also serves the purpose of making Soft Opening exciting even after many readings. Last but not least, we as authors were also very entertained by the whole process, free association and the fact that in addition to a classic children’s tale, we can give a little extra for adults,” Zsuzsi said.
In addition to these extras, the lovely hand-drawn illustrations also hide several pop-cultural references: for example, Frida Kahlo greets us on a page corner, and we can also discover Birkenstock slippers on an alpaca’s feet when leafing through the book. The authors’ favorites include details such as a Finfolk magazine in the hands of a hipster octopus, or a pelican wearing the jersey of Jens Voigt, the professional bicycle racer. “I admit that perhaps I enjoyed coming up with these small details the most. I hope that the readers will be at least as thrilled about discovering them as I was when placing them,” Zsuzsi told us.
“The most important moral of the tale is that everyone is good at something and everyone has value. It’s just that sometimes you need some help finding this. Besides this, Soft Opening is also a celebration of entrepreneurship and teamwork: our protagonist, Walter enters the restaurant industry as an outsider, similarly to us and the publishing industry. So our message is that anything’s possible!” emphasized Zsuzsi.
Soft Opening is already available in the Federation of Soft webshop, Libri stores and the Bookline webshop, but it can also be found in other concept stores, including Garden Studio or SparkLeMonde.
Photos: Géza Talabér