By Rachel Roberts
The creator of Bob the builder on how he built his career. He said:
“I was always doodling, always had a crayon in hand,” Curtis Jobling speaks through crackling internet from his shed.
It is filled with shelves covered in colourful models and figures; a proud display of the physical manifestations from his vivid childhood imagination which has followed him through adulthood.
At 48 years old, Jobling has had a fulfilling career as an author and animation artist, designing the iconic children’s show, Bob the Builder and picture book Frankenstein’s Cat, as well as several other animated series and a collection of horror novels.
Originally setting out to be an archeologist, he later failed his college exams and had to re-sit, dropping maths for art. Jobling had high expectations to live up to as he explained his older brother passed exams without revision, He said:
“I had to work really hard to keep up in his shadow.”
Whilst setting up roleplaying games at college, he began to learn vital storytelling skills which he admits in hindsight, set him up for his career successes.
After writing a letter to Bristol animation studio, Aardman (home to Wallace and Gromit), he began work experience learning the craft of model making and prop design. He worked as a runner and became known for taking lunch time orders, branded as ‘toastie boy’ by the people he worked with, who still make sure to never let him forget.
Just three days before he was due to give up on his career as an illustrator and work in kitchen design, Jobling landed his career designing the characters for Bob the Builder, with designs originating from his earlier work, the weird and wonderful zombie characters he named The Crombies.
He admits to feeling as though being the creator of those characters can often feel like a double-edged sword. He says the reality of such success can often shelve him as a children’s illustrator when in reality, he has a deep-rooted passion for horror and fantasy:
“I like having nightmares, it’s like a free horror movie.”
Jobling’s cheeky and childlike humour is woven effortlessly through his presentation, “Dora [The Explorer] is a lying cow!” he exclaimed laughing to himself, “television will never teach children how to speak”. Not backing away from controversy, he boldly stated the Shrek films were “poorly animated,” which caused a tsunami of nostalgic disbelief from behind the muted microphones.
Jobling’s own children have led to inspiration for his ideas. He shared the story of a trip stuck in traffic on the M26, where he sang ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ out of boredom and ran out of animals. He then added in a lion to the song which made his daughter yell ‘raa raa’, bringing the idea of Raa Raa the Noisy Lion to life.
As a child himself his imagination ran wild, “I used to go around telling people my dad worked for the SAS,” his humour dry and natural, “nobody was more disappointed than me when I was told he worked for Parcel Force.”
Jobling talked non-stop with spirit and rapture, offering to sign models and books. Even with so many successes, his inner child appears to always be present and thriving. He leaves the audience filled with inspiration, so much so he received a virtual standing ovation.
He ended the talk that had been full of industry knowledge for future illustrators and authors, with the lesson of:
“never think of a closed door as the end of an adventure.”