Sunday, February 27, 2005

On Illustrations

Nowadays, we take it for granted that a printed novel contains no illustrations. But it wasn't always so!

In the 19th century, most novels - not just for kids - were illustrated, and often with great skill. Book illustrations in Japan were especially good, and those led to the development of Japanese comics of today.

Check out this large and beautiful online exhibition of book illustrations, "Accent On Images". It contains images from medieval books, to 19th-century novels, to our time.

I'd really like to see the tradition of book illustration revived to its former glory.

Perhaps I'm less prejudiced against illustrations because I started out writing and drawing comics (in the 1990s). When I wrote my novel Darc Ages, I drew illustrations for almost every chapter. The illustrated online edition can be read for free here, or visit the Darc Ages Gallery .

Sometimes even in modern fiction, illustrations are not just nice, but absolutely necessary to clarify events. Rudy Rucker's novel Spaceland, illustrated by Taral Wayne, needs its images to help readers imagine the two- and four-dimensional worlds of the story.

In fantasy literature, J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated his own books, and included maps of his imaginary countries. Tolkien's many imitators have continued the habit of putting imaginary maps inside their books, but their books are mostly lacking in actual illustration.

And then there is of course William Blake - who not only illustrated his own books, but others as well. On the Web I located his artwork for Dante's Divine Comedy.

I know, I know... publishers will tell you, "We can't afford illustrations! Besides, why would readers want that?"

Well. The very first publishers could afford illustrations, and readers certainly didn't complain back then... so why not now? Explain this to me. Is there a desperate shortage of paper or artists? Would readers throw away illustrated novels in disgust... or collect them?

You tell me.


Anonymous said...

Nope, I'm a grown-up and I like illustrations too.

Rackham did illos for The Ring of the Nibelungs, and that sure isn't for kids, so why can't we have illos?

And no one makes fun of certain science fiction mags for having illustrations--seems to me more of them could incorporate that. Naming no names, of course.

A.R.Yngve said...

As a kid I read old yellowed copies of GALAXY I had found in an attic... the stories had great illustrations by Wally Wood, Kelly Freas, and others.

For example, the first serialized appearance of THE STARS MY DESTINATION in GALAXY was illustrated. I didn't just read about Gully Foyle, I SAW his tattooed face stare at me! :)