"I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Waldo has taken on a life of his own," says Martin Handford, the man behind the mind-boggling books that take a bespectacled fellow around the world and back in time as readers clamor to find him. "I’d like to inspire children--to open their minds to explore subjects more--to just be aware of what’s going on around them. I’d like them to see wonder in places that might not have occurred to them."
Certainly Martin Handford himself was keenly aware of the world around him as a child. "My earliest influences," he says, "were epic films and playing with toy soldiers. I attempted to recapture the excitement in my drawings, which started as crowds of crude stick figures." This obsession followed him into adulthood, when he made a living for a time as a freelance illustrator specializing in drawing crowd scenes for numerous clients. The turning point came when Martin Handford was asked to create a book showcasing his singular talent, and the character Waldo was born to provide a link between each scene. "That’s who Waldo is--an afterthought," he says. "As it turns out, the fans were more interested in the character than in the crowd scenes."
To say that people were interested in the red-and-white-shirted Waldo is something of an understatement. Since Waldo’s creation--and through his transformation from clueless nerd to confident, cool guy--Waldo and his books have wandered through some 28 countries. From the original WHERE'S WALDO? to WHERE'S WALDO? THE GREAT PICTURE HUNT!, the Waldo books have sold a phenomenal 40 million copies. As intrepid a traveler as Waldo is, however, Martin Handford presents something of an antithesis. A self-proclaimed homebody, the reclusive illustrator works fervently for eight weeks at a stretch to create each two-page Waldo spread, often while listening to the Bee Gees or The Clash or--his all-time favorite--old SERGEANT BILKO tapes. "As I work my way through a picture, I add Waldo when I come to what I feel is a good place to include him," he says. "I have a love of situations that include visual puns."