Where have all the book illustrators gone? Open your bloody eyes…

Published On April 9, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Animation, Books, Comics

The original piece in the Independent by Melanie Macdonagh was published back in January, and I meant to write something on it then, but it rather got away from me.

Basically Macdonagh’s contention is that there just aren’t many good illustrators anymore. Which, is patently, as anyone who knows anything about comics and children’s books in the UK right now will tell you, utter bollocks.

Worst of all, we have Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape stating

“I think a) it’s fashion”, he says trenchantly. “And b) there aren’t that many great illustrators. It’s rare you can come across someone who can draw. Even when you’re looking for someone to do book jackets, it’s hard to find someone who can draw the human figure – it seems to be unfashionable now.”

Which obviously is ridiculous. How many people do you regularly see who can draw? God knows we highlight many, many examples every week here on the blog. And as for the comment about being able to draw the human figure as unfashionable, well that’s just so limiting and shortsighted beyond words.

But like I said, I didn’t get chance to write about it at the time. However, for some reason, Twitter did it’s magical resuscitation thing on the story and it started being passed around once more.

(Sarah McIntyre – Morris The Mankiest Monster)

At which point Sarah McIntyre got involved, quite brilliantly, and mounts a passionate defense on her Livejournal, not just of illustration, but of the entire artistic scene in the UK, from high end illustration to the small press scene. And she says everything I wanted to say. Here’s a few pull quotes, but do go and have a look for the full text.

“Intriguingly, in the same article, Quentin Blake points out that perhaps drawings of human figures aren’t always what’s needed to illustrate today’s novels, that there’s room for doing other interesting things. And I’d agree, I think that stating British illustrators have failed because they can’t all draw the human figure well is too narrow a viewpoint. If people are trying to make pictures that look realistic, and doing it badly, that’s one thing. Everyone’s seen arms that stick out at unpleasant angles or thighs that don’t have properly drawn muscle structure. But what if that’s not what you’re trying to do?”

“Of course, there are LOADS of brilliant illustrators in Britain. I’ve discovered so many, just in the comics and small press scene, and that’s only some of them. The problem is that there are so many illustrators out there that it’s tricky for art directors and editors to sift through them all and find the best ones. So they tend to rely on a fairly small pool of ones they’ve worked with before.”

“…. there’s something wonderful about having a group of people all pressing to get it done by the same deadline, and getting the chance to look at each other’s work and get feedback. I think it makes work happen that wouldn’t exist otherwise. That’s what I love about the indie comics scene; lots of people getting off their backsides and actually producing stuff, and figuring out how to sell it, not just trying to get editors to look at websites full of art they did ages ago, back at college. People need to be constantly making things, and deadlines and community spirit totally help with that.”

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

2 Responses to Where have all the book illustrators gone? Open your bloody eyes…

  1. Every week we get new picture books in with great illustration. Any comic fan with kids should use ’em as an excuse to go down their local library and have their eyes opened by the wealth of talent in that field.

  2. Kenny says:

    You should run a contest on the blog. Where have all the illustrators gone. Take a book we are all familiar with and perhaps one we aren’t so readily. Get illustrators to send you their attempts at it and then post them all on the blog. Then you can send links to Franklin and McDonagh. I nominate Catcher in the Rye and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I love this book but it has terrible covers in both the UK and US). I’m steering it away from kids lit to allow people to jacket the kind of works the people criticising will be more interested in thinking they can’t find illustrators for. We’ll give a £150 prize to the winner.