Where have all the illustrators gone? A challenge
Recently there has been a lot of controversy over the supposed paucity of illustration talent in British publishing for adult books; Melanie McDonagh’s article in the Independent back in January discussed how illustration in books used to be the norm, using the example of Dickens, and that illustration in books aimed at adults was still common until fairly recently; now, though, it seems illustration in publishing here is restricted to children’s books (and, of course, comics), with a few notable exceptions.
What made the article controversial with many in the UK was the comments of one of the country’s leading literary editors and publishers, Dan Franklin of Cape, long a home to graphic novel publications and still using some illustration in prose works, who said that there seems to be few, if any good, illustrators around anymore. His argument seemed to centre on people having poorer drawing skills, especially when it comes to depicting the human figure, a contention that was backed up by several others. The article resurfaced this week through the magic of online discussion (as Richard noted here on the blog over the holiday weekend) and lead to comics creator and illustrator Sarah McIntyre posting a robust defence on her LiveJournal, noting that not only are there many fine illustrators working in the UK, even the barb about being able to draw the human figure didn’t always hold water as often an illustrator doesn’t feel that a naturalistic life drawing approach suits a particular scene.
Naturally, as readers who are exposed to a wide variety of illustration every day, we tend to Sarah’s side of the argument, that we do have excellent illustration talent here. And so we are putting our money where our mouth is – we thought we would run a little contest and let you put your best foot forward. If you are an illustrator or cartoonist, we want you to have a go at producing a cover for one of a couple of books. The books are Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. The first is a book most everyone knows, that will tackle your skills in thinking outside of the many covers and images used for this book in the past – this is your chance to bring something new to it. The second book is one some may be less familiar with, but is a tremendous book dealing with a changing world in a sympathetic and intriguing way. There is very little imagery associated with that book, so it gives you free reign to work out some sort of design with few influences – think on your own, outside the box. We’ve excluded kids books not because we have any problem with them – regular readers will be aware we’ve reviewed comics and illustrated books aimed at kids numerous times on here – but because there seems to be much less argument about the existence of a lot of talented children’s illustrators.
So how will this work? We need you to send in your cover art for one of the two books (email them to joe (dot) gordon (at) forbiddenplanet (dot) co (dot) uk. We will then post all the entries on the blog (subject to them appearing to us to be of a pro standard – myself, Richard and Joe will be looking through them). We know that a lot of people in the world of illustration and publishing read this blog. Your efforts will be seen and hopefully a clear answer given to where all the great illustrators have gone. As a small incentive we will give £150 to the winning entry. Once all the entries are up on the blog we will narrow them down to a shortlist of six – at this stage we have decided to go for the jury of your peers approach, so those artists who contributed work to the competition will also be eligible to vote for their favoured cover (naturally you can’t vote for your own, it is other people you need to impress with your design after all!) to select the final outright winning cover artwork. The only other rule is that you shouldn’t post the image you make online until we have done so first, so others will not be influenced by your entry. This contest has no commercial aspect and FPI will be doing nothing more with the entries than posting them to be seen by readers and publishers (as always we will include links to your own sites with the art), in the attempt to, we hope, prove a point. The work, of course, remains owned by those producing it. The contest entry date runs until the 31st of May; let’s show them that our illustrators are just as good as we all believe, send us those entries and then let’s show them off around the blogosphere and Twitterverse.