Klaus Flugge, founder of Andersen Press, talks to NBG

Interview with Sarah Robinson
Klaus Flugge
Klaus Flugge

 

The Backstory

‘I didn’t have any picture books as a child growing up in East Germany,’ recalls Klaus Flugge, who founded Andersen Press in London in 1976. The story of Andersen Press is inseparable from Flugge’s own. He had long wanted to work in publishing, but this proved difficult as he had not completed his schooling. He was offered the chance of an apprenticeship with a bookshop in Leipzig, and emigrated to America in 1957 where he was taken on by publishing house Abelard-Schuman. In 1961 Flugge was sent to London to expand Abelard-Schuman’s small UK list. He went on to found Andersen Press to publish children’s picture books, with the help of the established publisher Hutchinson.

The List

Andersen Press has built a reputation for striking images, with the quality of the illustration always playing a decisive role in the commissioning process. Yet this is not the whole story, as the publisher does not content itself with filling its list with safe titles. Andersen’s editors look for the unusual, the provocative, for a new perspective on life and its stories. Flugge believes that picture books like the beloved Not Now, Bernard by David McKee have become more and more difficult to find. One look at Andersen’s list, however, with the recent publication After the Fall by Dan Santat depicting Humpy Dumpty’s life after his dramatic accident, and you can see that the tradition has been wonderfully and consistently upheld.

Translation and Anthea Bell

Translated works initially featured prominently in Andersen Press’s lists, but Flugge is frank about the drop-off in the number of overseas picture books in recent years. When it was first started, the company would buy books from France, Sweden, and Germany for the UK market, a demand Flugge puts down partly to the significant involvement of very discerning librarians who would purchase their books. Being of German origin, Flugge is not only able to judge the quality of proposals but is also able to seek and find German authors and illustrators who would do well in translation. While the role of translation appears to have become less prominent for the publisher, Flugge remarks that the market has become more open to foreign titles and authors, recalling the now abandoned practice of removing umlauts from certain authors’ names. Flugge recalls the wonderful relationship he and Andersen Press had with Anthea Bell. As Ruth Martin notes in these pages, it was Flugge who was the first to commission a translation from her: Otfried Preußler’s The Little Water Sprite for Abelard-Schuman in 1961. The two were introduced by Bell’s husband Antony Kamm, and this proved to be the start of a long and memorable collaboration between them, with Bell translating authors including Janosch, Peter Härtling and Elfie Donnelly. Flugge admired Bell’s other translations, in particular her ‘spectacular’ interpretation of a favourite author, W.G. Sebald.

The Klaus Flugge Prize

2016 marked the inaugural year of the Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. The impetus to set up a prize for illustrators came not from the man himself but from the Andersen Press team. After some initial reluctance to have it carry his name, Flugge decided to put forward his own money for the good cause. The prize honours the first-time illustrator of the most remarkable picture book published during that calendar year. While Flugge does not sit on the judging panel himself, he sees the prize as a way to continue to honour the best of the industry, while perhaps leaving something by which to be remembered.