Johan Egerkrans is a critically acclaimed Swedish illustrator and author. Drawing has always been important to him; he first picked up a pencil and started drawing at the age of two and hasn’t stopped since. He has worked as a professional illustrator and concept artist for over twenty years and contributed to a variety of books, games, comics, and films. He has written and illustrated books about dinosaurs and pterosaurs, Norse gods, and supernatural creatures. Additionally, he has provided illustrations for books by Astrid Lindgren, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. For this year’s festival poster, we are fortunate enough to feature his illustration “Sjörået”.

Johan, you’ll have to explain what a “sjörå” is.

A “sjörå” is a female creature who rules over a lake and the creatures that inhabit it. Anyone who wants to fish in the sjörå’s lake must ask her permission and offer her a small gift (for example, a bit of tobacco). If you don’t, there’s a risk that she’ll pull the poacher down into the depths and drown him.

Literature seems to be a significant inspiration in your work. Tell us more!

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life – just like most writers – so literature is undoubtedly extremely central to my work. I do work on creating literature, after all! At the same time, books are just one source of inspiration for me; comics, movies, art, role-playing games, scientific papers, museums, and nature are equally important because I work not only with words, but also with images. Text and illustrations always go hand in hand.

You’ve also started writing in recent years. What opportunities has that opened up for your artistic work?

I worked exclusively as an illustrator for a long time and felt that it became a bit monotonous over the years; it was as if I was only using a limited part of my brain. Writing became a way of making my work on the books more intellectual. Each new book is like writing a small academic assignment or essay about an exciting new topic (even though the books are, of course, popular science and by no means intended to be at an academic level). But the research process, the gathering of information, and delving into a new topic are quite enjoyable; in many ways, it’s the most relaxed and fun part of any book project. Being responsible for both images AND text also gives me more control and freedom in that I can choose whether it’s more effective to describe something through text or if an image can “say more than a thousand words”.

Which book do you think readers – both children and adults – should start with if they’re curious about “sjörå” and your illustrations?

Anyone curious about the sjörå should read my debut book, Vaesen: Spirits and Monsters of Scandinavian Folklore (Nordiska väsen), which has recently been released in an expanded tenth-anniversary edition in English.

To see how Egerkrans works, check out this video from B. Wahlströms Bokförlag, where you’ll get insight into his creative process and the creation of the illustration of Idunn in Norse Gods.

Nordiska Gudar, Johan Egerkrans – YouTube

Photo: Stefan Tell