Saturday, May 16, 2015

Words and Pictures: reviving the illustrated novel

Once upon a time—long  before the term “graphic novel” was coined—novels written for adults and young adults came with pictures. It began with Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (1836), whose illustrations did much to popularize the book. Thereafter, all of Dickens’ novels were illustrated, as were those of Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson,  H. Rider Haggard, Victor Hugo, and Jules Verne, just to name a few. A novel—at least, an adventure novel—without pictures was something incomplete. Artists used engraving, etching, lithography, mezzotint, and a variety of other processes to create illustrations that complemented the text.

This golden age lasted for about a hundred years. Toward the end of it, two great American illustrators dominated the field: Howard Pyle (d. 1911), who illustrated  The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Men of Iron, and his student, N. C. Wyeth (d. 1945), whose illustrations for Treasure Island must still be impressed on every boy’s imagination.

 What put an end to this grand tradition? Possibly competition from the movies, or the invention of the modern comic book; certainly, the economics of the publishing industry.

Time, we say, to bring it back! “We” being me, and my illustrator, Anthony Macbain, and our very enlightened publisher, Kristina Blank Makansi of Blank Slate Press. Odin’s Child has five full-page illustrations, and we are planning for more of them in The Ice Queen and The Guardsman.

We hope readers will approve. And—who knows?—we may be helping to bring back an old and honored custom.

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