Tomas Hijo interview:
I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at when I first spotted the frieze on Brian
Sibley’s Facebook cover. But the character of Gandalf, central to the piece, made me
think it was a Tolkien-inspired piece that I really wanted to see more of.
I tried the artist’s page (www.tomashijo.com) and found more wonderfully creative
work, but no mention of this piece – or any other Tolkien inspired work. Hmmm…
Undaunted, I went to Sr Hijo’s Facebook page and there I found a couple of
beautifully descriptive photos of the artist working on a scratchboard of such detail
and style, I had to know more.
“Is it for sale?” I asked. More prophetic words were never used.
Tomás Hijo was born in West Central Spain, an area rich with history and legend,
and grew up with the local stories as part of his life. Exploring the stories, Tomás
developed a love for all things fantastic which led him into the world of Mythology,
real and created, and along the way he began to write, documenting the stories he
had heard from childhood and illustrating those stories with his artwork. He went on
to receive his doctorate in Communications in his native city, mentored by some of
the best known authors and illustrators in Spain. Today, Tomás Hijo is considered a
leading authority on traditional Spanish mythos, having published two books on the
subject – both containing his own illustrations. He is also the head of a publishing
house, Tatanka Books, which specializes in Juvenile volumes of myth, legend and
Here is part of a conversation I had with him when we made contact about the piece
I had seen and wanted to know more about:
What is your educational background?
My educational background is still active since I’m a professor (and a PhD) at
the School of Fine Arts, University of Salamanca, in Spain. However, I was not
trained in arts; I specialized in Communication. That (field of study) in Spain is a
branch of Humanities. I have had two fields of study since then: Illustration and
Audiovisual Narrative. I teach the first one right now, but I have taught how to
carry stories onto the screen for years.
Are you a professional artist?
I consider myself a professional artist since more than half of my income comes
from my art. I only leave my desk one day a week to teach. However, I’d like to
say that my works as such artist are not only related to illustration. I often write
my own stories and even design the books. Many of these projects (if they are
child-oriented) are fully managed by myself at my own tiny and lovely publishing
house: Tatanka Books.
Did you write/draw as a young person?
I had an early vocation for writing. I was not the best draftsman in my class, but
(I was) the guy that won literature prizes and spoke well. I devoured all kinds
of books when I was a child and, amongst them, a lot of comics. I loved them
because of the fantasy: superheros, science fiction and, of course, epic fantasy. I
started to draw bulky barbarians and dystopian renegades and didn’t stop. I have
tried to master letters and lines, but images have proven better paying bills (for
Why children’s literature?
Because is almost the only field you can write and draw at the same time. Yes,
there are comic books and adult picture books, but they have little market in my
country. In addition, I found freedom there, and the chance of an ‘arty’ approach
that isn’t always desirable in other media. In any case, I’m not a full-time
children’s author: my two best-selling books are related to the world of legends
and oriented to adults.
How did you become interested in illustration?
As I said, through the comic books. When (I was) a teenager, I spent almost
every coin on them. You could see me reading one even at the disco amongst my
friends. Movies and role playing games were the other usual stuff that flooded
my room. When I reached Communications school at the University, I chose my
friends from amongst those from Fine Arts. Miguel Ángel Pacheco, one of the
finest illustrators and writers from Spain, taught there (from the same chair in
that I sit now) and I discovered that children’s books were a realistic option to
pursue a life of drawing. I did an awful portfolio, but once I got hired, I was hired
again and again. (Nowadays my portfolio is terrific, of course!)
When and how did you discover Tolkien?
Tolkien is incredibly important in my life. Not only from the spiritual or literary
point of view; the discovery of his work fired a chain of events that drove my life
in a certain path. When I was 15, I hung out with two fellas (one is a seaman
now, the other a policeman) that were only interested in girls and alcohol. One
afternoon I saw ‘El Señor de los Anillos’ pink edition of ‘Círculo de Lectores’ (a
huge Spanish publishing house) on the shelf of the room of one of them. It was
still wrapped in plastic. The name was familiar to me, and I realized that it was,
in English, ‘The Lord of the Rings’. These meaningless words were written in a
poster that I had just bought. There was a wizard on the poster and – in spite of
the strange and poor book cover – it was a big enough reason to read the book.
I was shocked, hooked, sucked in by Middle Earth and couldn’t stop drawing the
characters and situations. One day I sketched Legolas at the gates of Moria and
an older boy saw it. “Do you play role playing games?” he asked me. I didn’t
know what they were, so he pulled me to his house and introduced me to a group
of friends; every one of them interested in fantasy. All the fundamental stuff
poured over me and I joined the Fellowship of the Dreamers.
Are you a member of the Spanish Tolkien Society? How long?
I was a member of the Spanish Tolkien Society for three or four years, during the
hype of the first trilogy. Amazing people there! I usually call some of them when
I travel to another Spanish city. I enjoyed the meetings a lot, even when I never
got truly connected with the scholastic concerns nor the playful side of the group.
But I loved to drink singing Dwarven songs with a pack of Castilian Rohirrim and
Catalonian Elven maidens!
What is your favourite medium to work in, or do you have one that you favour
more than others?
I tend to use digital tools when I do freelance work. Customers often request
modifications and deadlines are tight: pixels can be corrected quickly. For my
personal work, I prefer “traditional” media, and I use a wide range of tools,
often mixing it oddly. This is the case of my rendering of “The Battle of the Five
Armies;” that is made with a handmade scratchboard. I often fail, but the risk
sweetens the taste of success!
How do you develop the ideas for new work?
I don’t know. Really. I spend the whole day reading, drawing, listening to
podcasts. Sometimes it’s a theme, a character or a combination of colors, a
concept. I have no idea how, but suddenly an image shows up linked to a deep
emotion; a sort of euphoria that I enjoy a lot. And the way to make this emotion
durable is to start working on it.
Tell me about Tatanka Press.
Tatanka Books is a small publishing house created to publish books by my friends
and me. Kidding? Well, not at all. I’m surrounded by artists with exceptional
skills and I enjoy editing them. Is not a big business, and it doesn’t keep on
a rigid plan, but I’m proud of the work done. We have done some very nice
books, and you can find them on the shelves of the finest Spanish bookshops.
(www.tatankabooks.com may be worth a visit, huh?)
Further info on Tomás Hijo
Communications Doctorate. 2010. Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, Salamanca,
1. Writing and illustration:
– “Leyendas de Salamanca,” a work that has reached its third edition and has been
translated to English (as “Legends of Salamanca”). “Leyendas de Salamanca” has
been the origin of some exhibitions, an interactive application, an audiobook, and a
lot of school Instructional programs. A Japanese translation is on the way.
– “Cuentos de Salamanca en Tiempos de Napoléon” (“Stories of Salamanca in the
Time of Napoleon”)
– “El Libro Negro de las Leyendas Urbanas, los Bulos y los Rumores Maliciosos” (“The
Black Book of Urban Legends, Hoaxes and the Malicious Rumors”)
– “El Libro de Oro de los Magos y Brujas” (“The Golden Book of Wizards and
– “La Otra Mano” (“The Other Hand”)
– “Viaje por la España Mágica del Profesor Pumpernickel y su Ayudante Juanito”
(“Professor Pumpernickel and his Assistant, Juanito’s Magical Travels through Spain”)
– “Lazarillo de Tormes” (“Little Lazarus of Tormes”)
– “Retahílas de Cielo y Tierra” (“Strings of Heaven and Earth”)
– “El Secreto del Huevo Azul” (“The Secret of the Blue Egg”) (Barco de Vapor Award)
I teach illustration at the Fine Arts School of the University of Salamanca. I have also
been a professor at the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, where I taught courses
related to audiovisual and graphic narrative. I have been a regular collaborator to
the Master in Cinema and TV Scriptwriting at Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca,
and worked in the management of one of its editions. I have held conferences,
courses and classes in the programs of many university schools, educational
organizations and public institutions. I’m usually called on as a collaborator in some
nationwide TV and radio shows related to the occult, as a specialist in legends and