Saturday, 4 February 2012

Where have all the book illustrators gone?

Independent Review

The Independent recently published an article on 'where have all the illustrators gone?' The clip deals with the bicentenary of Dickens' birth and holds him at the core of the writing, but author Melanie Mcdonagh poses some interesting questions about contemporary illustrators in comparison to his age old classics;

'Why don't contemporary novels have illustrations as standard? Why are illustrators corralled into children's fiction? Are modern novelists just too precious to collaborate with artists? Is it the additional cost in an already tight budget? Are modern illustrators just not that good?'

It is true that more often than not illustrators illustrate children's books moreover than adults. The market for adult illustration still exists but it is often considered less stimulating for the artist as imagination is required less so. And, for what it’s worth, the adult fiction that I personally digest gives no need for illustration. Providing illustrations takes away, for me, the power of my own imagination. It is this mature imagination of the adult that provides images of their own whereas a child's less mature mind often needs that extra stimulation in the form of pictures. Children's fiction requires images to stimulate the child's imagination and the story gives more opportunity for the artist to convey their own imagination on the given subject i.e. both parties gain. Contemporary adult fiction can often be dry or the subject matter, for illustration purposes especially, can be monotonous or repetitive resulting in limited outcomes for similar story lines. There is then a clear divide between adult and child literature where images are prevalent in the latter but not the former, which is a definite reversal of times gone by. Images are seen as something which people grow out of with age, considered more for this ‘immature’ mind and mentality, where children cannot imagine or picture text as clearly as adults.

Of course money is a big issue, certainly in such uncertain economic times. If a novel can escape having to pay additional costs such as an illustrator then of course this will mean a bigger profit and businesses are predominantly centred on that, the highest profit margin. So in response to the question that Melanie poses, modern illustrators are still good but unfortunately they require the wage to match, but in the world of dog eat dog business, if a company can wriggle out of commissioning an extra contract to save money they will. So is it a case of where have all the illustrators gone? Or a case of where have all the commissions gone?

Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl are probably one of the most renowned marriages of illustration and fiction and have stood the tests of time with millions of copies of the classics still being purchased today. Blake goes on to say ‘You don't always want to see what the protagonist looks like. Are you drawing surroundings, atmosphere, furniture?’ It is true that even in other illustration arenas such as editorials, it is key not to be overly literal because that can get very boring very quickly.

The Independent’s article I commented on can be found here: accessed 04/02/2012

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