‘Direct and risky’: illustrating Stagno | Jimmy Grima

Though it’s already set to be the publishing sensation of the year, Ġużè Stagno’s latest novel ‘What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels’ is also made special for being accompanied by illustrations by Jimmy Grima – who gives us the lowdown on the process.

Jimmy Grima:
Jimmy Grima: "Since the novel ends up with a very long sex scene I tried to have elements of sexual innuendo in nearly all the illustrations."

Apparently, the one thing that coursed through Jimmy Grima's mind as he went about illustrating Ġużè Stagno's latest novel was "sex, sex, sex".

"Big lips, big eyes, protruding plants in the corner, big boobs, erect penises underneath trousers, pointy furniture, pointy architecture, delicate lines... butterflies, cats and hair."

Though this may sound facetious at the face of it, Grima argues that in fact, this aesthetic choice is perfectly in line with the narrative and thematic drive of Stagno's 'What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels', which throws a young Maltese journalist, Gustav Azzopardi, into the Brussels rigmarole after he's sent to interview a prominent Labour-leaning MEP.

"Since the novel ends up with a very long sex scene I tried to have elements of sexual innuendo in nearly all the illustrations. Some of them are direct and very evident, while others are subtle and more intellectual."

READ - Interview with Ġużè Stagno

This was also a way for Grima to depict immediate, visceral moments or, in his words, "moments that usually pass by in a split second, but which in fact create key reference points in one's memory bank".

"It is not very often that I draw people and faces and this was a great opportunity to play with the human body and its interaction with spaces and situations," Grima said.

Grima, who apart from being an illustrator is also the co-founder of the performance troupe the Rubberbodies Collective, said that his formally simple illustrations were done pretty much on the fly, as he "doesn't like to do preliminary drawings".

"I believe that my relationship with the paper and my pen has to be direct and risky. I start with a blank paper and just like a sculpture I engrave the lines. It is a one-time process. If I don't like the end result I scrap the drawing and start from scratch."