Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Therein Illustrated & The Honour Of It

"House" frontispiece by Edward Gorey
We came across this article about the decline in artwork used in children's books. For an example the author cites John's novels and the differences in artwork between those published in the 1970s and those released during the 80s. We thought we'd re-publish it here to gain some more insights:

Subject: Re: Illustrated Books
Newsgroups: rec.arts.books
Date: 1991-07-09 22:47:59 PST

Francis Muir laments the death of the illustrated novel; Jan Yarnot points out that some illustrations persist in children's books. I miss illustrations, too. The reason they've disappeared is simple: expense. Why pay extra for an illustrator and a skilled printer who can produce plates or engravings when you can get away with simple typesetting?

The dates that follow are approximate; I would welcome corrections from people who have more accurate memories.

I believe that interior illustrations in American adult novels died out around World War II or so, perhaps because of the paper shortage. I have cheap novels from the '20s and '30s that have some line illustrations. Glossy plates seem to have disappeared a little earlier -- perhaps at the beginning of the Great Depression?

Jan says that children's books are still illustrated. Alas, this is true only of "picture books" and "first chapter books." New books aimed at the experienced reader are apt to have no more than a frontispiece, if that.

You can trace the decline over time by examining the works of the late John Bellairs. The early books, written in the '70s, have interior illustrations by Mercer Mayer and, later, Edward Gorey; the late-'80s books have covers and frontispieces only. (Yes, Gorey is a more expensive artist now than he was in the mid-70s. But Bellairs' books aren't unique in losing their illustrations.)

A couple of years ago, at the Keene State College Conference on Children's Literature, I asked the panel of editors whether they expected interior illustrations ever to return to children's novels. The panelists sighed, but said that the expense was so great that only exceptional cases and special projects (e.g. Very Famous Author/Illustrator branches out) could be illustrated nowadays. Sniff.

"And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
John's first five novels - The Face in the Frost (1969); The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973); The Figure in the Shadows (1975); The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976); and The Treasure Alpheus Winterborn (1978) - are illustrated throughout. All have frontispieces by their respective illustrator, most have at least one full-page illustration in each chapter, and some even have small spot pieces for chapter headings or elsewhere alongside the text.

Interior artwork beginning in his next novel - The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983) - was regulated strictly to frontispieces, though an occasional spot piece or map did appear. After Gorey’s death in 2000 the next book - The Tower at the End of the World (2001) - was the last to feature a full-page frontispiece. In The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost (2003), a cropped scene from the dust-jacket appeared on the title page.

We were lucky to have been visually stimulated as long as were, it seems.

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