Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.
With the release of the new illustrated versions of the Harry Potter series due to be launched only a few months from now, it seemed fitting that Ms Parfitt and I discuss what books we wish were illustrated. As an artist, myself, I often enjoy sketching scenes from the books I have read, and some publications are so full of rich imagery and imagination that it seems almost a crime that they do not contain a single illustration.
So here are the books that get my fingers itching to illustrate:
The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King
I had to list this first, as I just finished the final installment last week and am still adjusting to life without another Dark Tower book to read! Seven books make up the epic tale of Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to find the point where all worlds meet- The Dark Tower. During his journey, he remembers friends of old and meets new friends from other worlds, including our own. The tale stretches across so many different landscapes that beg to be painted. We walk by Roland’s side, watching him encounter creatures like flesh eating Lobstrosities and the evil half-baby half-spider Mordred. Oy is one of my favourite characters, and the one I could sketch for hours. He is a billy-bumbler, described as a cross between a badger, a racoon and a dog. With his “intelligent, gold-ringed eyes” and “surprisingly graceful neck” I can’t help but liken him to my border collie, Simm.
The series has a number of spin-off comics attached to it, thanks to Marvel and King working together, and there has been talk for around eight years now of producing several films and a television series based on the books, but personally I’m a stickler for the original text. If I could spend the next ten years illustrating The Dark Tower series and nothing else, I’d be a very happy bumbler.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Set in a fictional little town in France, ‘Chocolat’ begins as the town’s inhabitants are taking down carnival decorations that marked the beginning of Lent. A mysterious woman and her daughter move into the old bakery opposite the church, and anticipation grows as rumours of her opening a chocolate shop spread.
‘Chocolat’ is a beautiful book, full of delightfully real characters, quaint french settings and, of course, the magical art of the chocolatier. What better way to capture all this than with illustration? The descriptions of Vianne’s edible creations, flamboyant window displays and the sensuous aromas of melted chocolate and spices floating down the street would make fantastic images. Even some portraits or character studies dotted throughout the text would be interesting- accentuating the rivalry between Vianne’s unorthodox ways and the parish curé’s disapproval. I wonder if perhaps the addition of illustrations would bring this much-loved book to a willing younger audience too. Because who doesn’t love chocolate!?
Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin
I don’t often read books based on historical conjecture, but ‘Will and Tom’ captivated me within the first chapter and I had to continue. The story covers a week in 1797, West Yorkshire, when budding but rather introverted artist Will Turner (J.M.W. Turner, to us) is commissioned to sketch Harewood House. There, he unexpectedly comes face to face with his charismatic childhood friend and rival artist, Tom Girtin. In the next week, their complicated relationship in exacerbated by their aristocratic surrounding, of which Tom fits into seamlessly, while Will is constantly mocked and ridiculed.
Woven throughout all of the drama are passages describing the acts of putting pencil to paper, the colours Will imagines he would use to paint the night sky or a passing scene which captures his imagination. The artist in me desperately wants to see these sketches within the pages as I read. As a point of reference as well as a fictional aid to make the story more real. It is only a possibility that Turner and Girtin really met at Harewood House, though it is true they were taking similar tours of the north at that time, so their paths may well have crossed. What is interesting, however, is the art that is referred to. The sketches Will took of the house and the surrounding estate are very real. So why aren’t they printed with the text!? No doubt its something to do with complicated permissions and copyright procedures, but this book positively yearns for a few Turner sketches in the least, not to mention some images from Girtin’s “Eidometropolis”, his 18ft by 108ft 360 degrees panorama of London which he exhibited in 1802, only a few months before his early death.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
In a similar vein to ‘Will and Tom’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is threaded with beautiful imagery of Clare’s art, from her therapeutic paper making, to the intriguing sculptures she creates. Niffenegger herself is an artist and paper maker. Her understanding of the processes really gives life to her descriptions. Perhaps, if she illustrated the book herself, she could release it as a deluxe edition.
Though, of course, this book is a complete work of fiction, the artwork described feels real. Interestingly, the far-fetched idea of a man plagued with a time-traveling-related genetic disorder is also made fantastically realistic. We watch from Clare’s perspective as she meets the love of her life when he appears out of thin air in the gardens of her family home when she is just a child. At this point, he is from the future. Later, she meets him in the present when their ages are the same. This is the first meeting for Henry, who is still yet to time travel into Clare’s past. Its confusing to explain, but fantastically easy to read and comprehend in the book. Throughout, Clare’s artwork is a metaphor for her relationship with Henry- she creates birds and wings and things that feel insubstantial or fleeting, as hard to capture as Henry’s illness. Niffenegger‘s vivid imagery paints each scene with all the clarity she uses to convey Clare’s artistic process. The whole book is like a grown-up fairytale. And what fairytale doesn’t suit illustration?
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Last but not least is the book that started this two-parter blog between myself and Georgina Parfitt. We were discussing the possibility of writing a review of the new television adaption of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ but the talk quickly moved to imagery and illustration. Arguably, I shouldn’t be mentioning this book, as it is already illustrated- a fact of which I was not aware until writing this blog, as I listened to the audiobook version and have never seen the physical publication. I’m thrilled to hear one of the books on my list is actually illustrated! And no book is more suited to it than this.
Clarke’s beast of a novel is set in 19th Century England, during the Napoleonic Wars. Magic, which once thrived in England, is returning in the arms of two magicians- the stuffy and reclusive Gilbert Norrell, and the imaginative and charismatic Jonathan Strange.
As with ‘The Dark Tower’ I think this kind of other-worldly magic cries out to be drawn. The realms of fairy, the castle of Lost Hope, the gentleman with the thistledown hair. Clarke’s writing is Dickens-like, each scene creating a wonderfully clear tableau in the mind of the reader. Her characters, of which there are many, are all fantastic individuals, each with their own secrets and motives. The gothic settings in Yorkshire almost feel as remote and mysterious as the fairy world Jonathan Strange discovers he can travel to through mirrors, and the Raven King would be a marvellous subject for a wood engraving, surrounded by thorns and celtic knots.
The artist lucky enough to have been given the task of illustrating Clarke’s novel is Portia Rosenberg. And she doesn’t disappoint. Rosenberg, who has also illustrated Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Black Tulip’, has captured ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ in 28 wonderful yet understated drawings that have the quality of old fashioned woodcarvings or etchings akin to those plates in Dickens novels. Faced with so many details and descriptions, instead of being overwhelmed and trying to fit everything in, Rosenberg hasn’t fallen into that trap, instead leaving her illustrations uncluttered, but with enough life in them to inspire the reader to create more complex images in their imaginations. The only thing I can fault is that 28 drawings is not nearly enough to capture all of the incredible imagery in the book! But maybe I’m just being greedy.
I could go on with this list of books that should be illustrated for at least another two parts. My note book page for this article is covered in titles that I’ve not yet mentioned! Other tales of magic like Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, epic classics like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas and the dystopian worlds of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ and James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’. But I’ve share my opinion, and we here at Towerbabel want to know what yours is. What do you think about illustrated books? Which books do you think would be improved with some images? Tell us what you think on Twitter and here on the Forums page.
Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite illustrated books- and they’re not just for kids. See you then.