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Lions and tigers and pyjamas! Inside Desmond & Dempsey's bedtime newspaper

The Big Banana Boat illustrated newspaper for Desmond and Dempsey children's pyjamas

Joel Jeffery and Molly Goddard founded their pyjama brand Desmond & Dempsey in 2014. It's named after Joel and Molly’s grandfathers – Desmond Jeffery and Bob Dempsey – and the pair recently turned to family for inspiration again.

To launch their new collection of kids' pyjamas, they worked with Joel's uncle Grant Wait and sister Emily Jeffery to create a newspaper inspired by the animal-themed pyjama prints. "It seemed only fitting for Emily to illustrate this magical story after growing up with Grant's storytelling," they say about The Big Banana Boat, printed on our digital tabloids.

Below, we talk to Grant and Emily about the joys and challenges of working together, why they wanted to avoid "typical tropes" in character design and how a newspaper fits with the Desmond & Dempsey brand.

How did this project for Desmond & Dempsey come about?

Grant Wait (GW): Molly [co-founder of Desmond and Dempsey] approached me about writing a short story to be included in a magazine for their new kid’s pyjama launch, a little treat inside the box when they unwrapped them.

I work in corporate IT, but writing a children’s story is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d already started writing a story based around animal characters in the Galapagos, and Emily and I had casually floated the idea of doing something together in the past. This project gave us the opportunity for our first collaboration!

danddprints

Prints from Desmond and Dempsey line of children's pyjamas, which inspired the characters in The Big Banana Boat.

Emily Jeffrey (EJ): I studied animation at university and loved making short animated films that were as silly and weird as possible. When [Molly and Joel] said they were looking for an illustrator, I shot my hand up! I graduated recently and this project is a big milestone for me — it’s something I’d never done before and learning a new process is so exciting.

The Big Banana Boat illustrated newspaper for Desmond and Dempsey children's pyjamas

The Big Banana Boat newspaper for Desmond & Dempsey, printed as a digital tabloid.

Can you describe your creative process?

GW: The brief was to weave the story around animals that are featured in the pyjama prints — to introduce different characters with a link to the bedtime routine. Beyond that, we were free to let our imaginations run wild.

Emily was based in London and I’d just moved to Brighton. With both of us working full-time, it wasn’t possible to work together in the same space. There were a lot of emails back and forth, WhatsApp messages and phone calls. I think I drove her mad!

I sent a rough synopsis to Emily along with an in-depth bio of the different characters’ personalities and backgrounds and it went from there. I wanted the story to have a few inside jokes (hopefully a laugh or two that would appeal to the parents reading it as well) and see what zany interpretations she threw back. It took us around 4 months, plus a few weeks in final edits with D&D, to finish the newspaper.

bigbananaboatbts

Behind the scenes of The Big Banana Boat.

EJ: The adult pyjamas come with a newspaper called The Sunday Paper, so the intention was to make something the kids could open with their new set and also read on a Sunday.

There was a lot of back and forth — and Grant did drive me mad! — but I definitely drove him mad, too. It’s really hard to work on something creative where bouncing ideas around is so crucial and things can be missed in translation over the phone. But in the end we did manage it well.

"A newspaper is less formal. Kids can fold it up and tuck it under the pillow."

After I received Grant’s story and character bios I was so excited to start drawing. I know Grant’s wit very well (he’s my uncle!) and I felt like I could visualise and understand the characters he explained to me right away. I started my drawings on paper, and then used a tablet to illustrate them digitally. I made a whole bunch of options in slightly different styles and expressions.

I knew we wanted to have a strong female role and I didn’t want to play on typical tropes in character designs. For example, it was important to me that the female crocodile’s features didn't stray too far from being those of an actual crocodile, instead of trying to make her look overly “feminine.”

The Big Banana Boat illustrated newspaper for Desmond and Dempsey children's pyjamas

The Big Banana Boat newspaper for Desmond & Dempsey, printed as a digital tabloid.

Why did you choose to publish the story as a newspaper?

GW: D&D made the decision to use a tabloid newspaper after they saw Emily’s drafts and the direction the story was headed. The pyjama prints are vibrant and colourful, and a newspaper complements that — especially the illustrations leaping out across a 2-page spread. Newsprint is also a little less formal. Kids can fold it up and tuck it under the pillow.

EJ: Newsprint is a great format for children — it’s the perfect size for them! Initially we wanted to include some big puzzles and crosswords, but that was slightly too ambitious given the timeline.

Do you have a favourite character from the story?

GW: Snippy [the crocodile] is pretty cool, and is based on someone I know. Nibbles [the lion] is just trouble all round, but I love all my babies equally.

EJ: Haha! I think my favourite is Nibbles — he’s a chubby lion who can't stop eating. Also the giant octopus Huey Chiffon and big game hunter Gladamir Shootem (pictured below) because what amazing names and what a fun thing to draw. Just brilliant.

The Big Banana Boat illustrated newspaper for Desmond and Dempsey children's pyjamas

Huey Chiffon and Gladamir Shootem in The Big Banana Boat.

What's the response to the newspapers been like?

GW: Originally the story was going to be part of an interactive booklet that would include puzzles, games and colouring-in pages, but D&D loved the story so much they decided to just run it alone. Seeing the finished story in print was incredible. And I now have four other stories on the go!

"Newsprint is a great format for children — it’s the perfect size for them!"

EJ: The response has been really great! I’ve been sharing it a lot because I’m really proud of it and people just love the story and the characters. It’s a nice thing to bring out when people come round. This first paper was a great stepping stone and I’d love to create a short animated film from it — and to work with Grant on another story!

The Big Banana Boat illustrated newspaper for Desmond and Dempsey children's pyjamas

The Big Banana Boat newspaper for Desmond & Dempsey, printed as a digital tabloid.

What was your biggest learning from this project?

EJ: It's a boring one but I learned a lot about time management. We all thought this process would be so much quicker than it was! If you make one small change, it has a domino effect on everything else and you're in the office until 10pm asking yourself whether “it makes sense” for Snippy the Crocodile to swim across the Sea of Dreams to the Island of Sleep.

Also, you need to remember who your audience is and understand how they respond to things — children will only forgive so many unbelievable things in a story! And finally, always save your files in clear folders.

GW: Writing is a real discipline, especially when you have a deadline. Some days you're inspired, fingers flying across the keyboard, and other days it just doesn't come or you struggle to link ideas together. Don't be too precious — get it all out, then come back and edit, edit, edit!


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