Eric Hill, the children's author who topped bestseller charts with his brightly-coloured picture books about the mischievous yellow puppy Spot, has died at the age of 86 at his home in California after a short illness.
Hill's publisher, Puffin, has confirmed the news, describing him as "a master of simple design. He created one of the world's most loveable children's book characters – Spot, the charming, naughty, playful puppy, loved and appreciated across the world".
Hill's family said: "Although this time of loss is a great hardship for us, we can honestly say that we take some solace in the joy he brought to so many children and families through his work. We know Spot, and therefore Eric, has had a beloved presence in so many homes and bedtime readings. And we know we share our grief with many."
Hill, who received an OBE for services to children's literature in the 2008 honours list, was encouraged to draw cartoons in his spare time when he worked as a messenger in an art studio as a teenager, going on to draw comic strips, and work as a designer, before he came up with his stories about a puppy for his young son.
Where's Spot?, which incorporated the innovative lift-the-flap concept – something devised by Hill after he noticed a flap design on an advertising flyer – was published in 1980, and topped the UK's bestseller lists within weeks. Hill went on to introduce further books in the Spot series, and to develop the adventures of the character's friends and family in titles including Spot's Birthday Party, Spot Goes to the Farm and Spot Loves His Friends.
"When I first drew Spot I realised that when I came to draw the spot on his body and the tip of his tail I was copying the markings on an aircraft. I grew up drawing aircraft – that is how I learned to draw," Hill said. "I am quite convinced now, as I look back, that the actual training of drawing cartoons – which is, of course, my style – led to my producing Spot. Cartoons must be very simple and have as few words as possible and so must the Spot books. I designed Spot out of my previous background as a designer and illustrator. It was quite unconscious but I can see now that I have created a ready-made trademark of its kind, with the essential spot on the body and a bit on the tail."
He first introduced Spot's friends in Spot Goes To School. "I thought about the friends – should they all be different breeds of dogs? Too boring. I provided friends in the shape of other animals such as a hippo (Helen), a crocodile (Tom), a monkey (Steve) and so on," the author said, in an interview on his official Spot website.
Hill wanted, he said, to acknowledge with his books "that children have far more intelligence and style than many adults credit them with", and he wanted them "to experience, through my drawings, ideas which were just outside their experience yet were basic enough to be understood. In Where's Spot? I thought it would be fun to draw a chair - in a period style rather than a straightforward type. A grand piano instead of an upright – pink rather than brown. Tables with cabriole legs and other decorative details. All to broaden the visual scope that a book can bring to a young mind," said the author.
Their appeal, he has said, stems from their "sense of fun". "When he shows excitement on Christmas Day and cries 'Yippee', that's me in there. I love the character, he's my buddy and I'm at ease with him. Subconsciously I see things from the dog's point of view, so Spot is within me."
Hill's publisher described Spot as "the world's favourite puppy", and said he was "one of the best-loved pre-school characters of all time". Book sales top 60m around the world, there is an animated series, and the stories are now translated into 60 languages, with Spot known variously as Dribbel (in Holland), Tippens (in Sweden), Bolinha (in Portugal) and Tassen (in Norway).