Der Schweizer Bajazzo-Verlag schafft seit seiner Gründung vor zwölf Jahren den Spagat, Künstlerisches in Wort und Bild auf hohem Niveau in kindgerechter Form zu präsentieren.
Right from the start the publisher specialised in illustrated children’s books, and is today considered a picture book publisher whose books not only communicate values and bring enjoyment, but also encourage appreciation of art. “We don’t want to be moralistic and educational. Our perspective isn’t exclusively orientated towards saleability. It is quality that takes priority, and originality as well where the illustrations are concerned”, says publisher Ingrid Rösli. That is also the reason why the publishing house particularly welcomes young illustrators and debut works.
The two publishers Ingrid Rösli (press, marketing, production, licences) and Thomas Minssen (programme management, proof-reading) are discovering what a challenge this programme involves with each book. But their success proves them right. They are a two-person team and they make all content-related decisions together: “We both have to agree with any suggestion”, explains Rösli.
In October 1998 the first five books were published – including Die Geschichte von Gina und Herrn Seeger (The Story of Gina and Mr. Seeger), the debut work by Andreas Schendel and Lola Renn (illustration). Since then 120 titles have been published, of which 80 are still in print. Some are on their 4th or 5th edition, others even on their 15th edition. Many titles have been sold abroad and are published as licensed editions in Belgium, Holland, Italy, France, Greece, Denmark, Spain, Israel, Mexico, England, North and South America, but also in Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan.
So far, nine Bajazzo
books have been nominated for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis
(German Youth Literature Prize). In 2007 the book Schwester
(Sister) by Norwegian author Jon Fosse and German-Russian illustrator Aljoscha Blau won the prestigious prize. The jury gave these reasons: “Fosse mastered new and fascinating forms of expression in this children’s book through his linguistically extraordinary portrayal (…). Illustrator Aljoscha Blau successfully captured the magic of this childhood story through cool landscape drawings and atmospheric scenes (…).” The award was a special gift for the publishers, because the publication of this picture book was an affair of the heart for them both. “We had read many works by Fosse, adult books and plays. We set off in search of a text for children and found Schwester
In May 2010 the Österreichischer Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis
(Austrian Children’s and Juvenile Book Award) went to Heinz Janisch and Søren Jessen (illustration) for their picture book Jumbojet
. In addition to international authors and illustrators such as Heinz Janisch, Hannes Binder and Claudine Desmarteau, German artists in particular are represented at Bajazzo
. For instance Isabel Pin (Die Geschichte vom kleinen Loch
/ The Small Hole and Ein Regentag im Zoo
/ A Rainy Day At The Zoo) and Aljoscha Blau (Schwester
/ Sister), Martin Baltscheit (Die Geschichte vom Löwen, der nicht schreiben konnte
/ The Lion Who Couldn’t Write), Christian Duda and Julia Friese (Alle seine Entlein
/ All His Little Ducklings), Dieter Böge and Bernd Mölck-Tassel (Was tun?
/ What Is There To Do?), Manuela Olten (Echte Kerle
/ Boys Are Best) and Verena Ballhaus (Der Tag, an dem Marie ein Ungeheuer war
/ The Day When Marie Was A Monster).
Text and illustration often come from the same source – but this is not essentially so. Quite the opposite, programme director Thomas Minssen is equally happy to find an illustrator for a submitted text. That’s creative publishing.
With depth – for adults too
In Autumn 2003 the publishing house started up a range of books aimed at all age groups. The first text was the Goethe poem Gefunden
(Found) with illustrations by Verena Ballhaus. The rediscovered classic Das schiefe Buch
(The Slant Book) by Peter Newell has been published as a new translation by Roger Willemsen – and finally the impressive picture book Um Mitternacht
(At Midnight) based on a poem by Eduard Mörike with black-and-white illustrations by Hannes Binder using the scratchboard technique. Publishing a poetry book with black-and-white pictures means having the courage to create art. Rösli says: “I was pessimistic about the sales figures, but as a result of being nominated for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis
and because of good reviews we were able to re-print and now we have sold twice as many as we expected.” Where does the publisher find her courage? “It’s really more like over-confidence! I’ve been putting the brakes on more recently, Thomas Minssen wants to carry on like that. But as far as finances are concerned, it’s a gamble.”
The publisher is not associated with book series or sequels, but they want to retain illustration of poetry as a concept. Publishing such ambitious books always incorporates a financial risk. Ingrid Rösli admits to having a patron who gives the Bajazzo-Verlag financial backing but does not become involved as regards content: “But if a deficit arises, the gap is always filled. That’s why we can afford books like this, and can be braver. But our figures have improved a great deal over the years.”
The publisher has also been providing high-quality board books for children aged 3+ since 2006. Isabel Pin’s Die Geschichte vom kleinen Loch (The Small Hole) was one book that became a public success, which was contributed to by very good reviews, it is now in its 5th edition and has been translated into eight languages.
“Bringing enjoyment in an intelligent way”
According to Rösli, “We want to bring enjoyment in an intelligent way, and sometimes provoke as well.” Publishing the illustrated book Notizen vom Käptn’s Dinner
(Notes From The Captain’s Dinner) by Marei Schweitzer, which manages completely without words and is all drawn in biro, was provocative. Another provocative issue in the children’s literature scene is making illustrated books that go beyond children’s books and target adults equally. “Als Mama noch ein braves Mädchen war
(When Mommy Was Little) is one of those books that was difficult for the book retailers to place. Now it’s in its 15th edition. It’s nice when books are exciting for adults as well.”
Being different (Alle seine Entlein / All His Little Ducklings), tolerance (Schnurzpiepegal / Let People Talk), unemployment (Suche Arbeit für Papa / Looking For Work For Daddy), death, honesty and heroism (Echte Kerle / Boys Are Best) are some of the themes communicated at the Bajazzo-Verlag, in a child-friendly way, in child-friendly stories and pictures but never patronisingly.