Bizarre creatures and countless stories
German illustrator Bernhard Speh (right) developed the visual concept for Coral Heroes, an educational kids comic starring four coral youngsters. One of them is the elkhorn coral Al Moose (left).
Bernhard, what made you decide to join this comic project?
Bernhard Speh: When I heard that the comic stories would be based in a coral reef, I did not hesitate at all. Ocean conservation is a topic close to my heart, and I especially care about the protection and conservation of coral reefs. So, whenever I have the chance to promote and support both purposes with my work, I’m happily all in. And in this case, I was immediately convinced by the fantastic storyline.
Have you ever seen a coral reef with your own eyes?
Yes, fortunately I have had the chance to dive in the Indian Ocean once and see a reef in Kenya, which was an amazing experience. Apart from that, I'm really interested in topics such as biodiversity and environmental protection in general. I spend more of my time focusing on amphibians and local bird life, both of which I also find very interesting – not to mention it is so much easier to look for birds and amphibians where I live than for corals. Although, there isn’t much that compares to coral reefs: they are called “hotspots” of diversity for a reason.
Illustrating a reef and bringing it to life does not sound like a simple task. How did you overcome this challenge?
First of all, I did an extensive online research for reef photos. Afterwards, I browsed through several reef books and watched many underwater documentaries. The Hagenbeck Zoo here in Hamburg also has its own tropical aquarium, which I had visited several times before. So, before I started sketching, I collected all the material I needed, piece by piece to get inspired. However, in the case of the “Coral Heroes” it was not difficult at all to come up with ideas. Coral reefs offer an endless stream of inspiration and countless stories. The variety of shapes, colors, patterns and bizarre creatures is overwhelming. For an illustrator, chances are high that you might get lost in all those exciting details. Nature has created a magical world, which makes it easy for me to utilize all of what it has to offer. It was a challenge for me not to get distracted from the essentials to make sure that each individual comic scene would be easy to understand and that readers would be able to follow the storyline and its protagonists.
First responses from our readers show that kids and adults fall in love with our Coral Heroes. What do you think makes them so likeable?
I find them loveable, because they show emotions. They are curious, show a positive attitude towards anything and they like to try new things, which I think is a very likeable character trait. In the script, some basic characteristics had been specified – for instance Jo, the leather coral, should always be a little bit grumpy. Those specifications helped to find the perfect graphical shape for each protagonist and express their personality in an entertaining and funny way. In this way the story idea, the text, and the illustrations compliment each other very nicely.
About the illustrator:
Bernhard Speh lives and works in Hamburg, Germany. He is known for his comic series “Redaktion Wadenbeißer”, which he has been illustrating for the famous kids’ magazine GEOlino for several years now. If you want to see more of his portfolio, click here.