This might not seem like the most relevant post for a children’s book review site, but many of the illustrators cited have worked both in children’s and adults’ literary arenas.
In a blog post for the Guardian from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, popular children’s illustrator Chris Riddell is getting excited about what he sees as ‘a new era for illustration’.
He opens the piece talking about the brilliant illustrator EH Shepard, who was as comfortable submitting cartoons for the satirical magazine Punch as he was drawing the unforgettable pictures in Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows.
A scene from The Wind in the Willows, with Ratty and Moley (Image courtesy of drawn.ca)
As adorable as always: Winnie and Piglet (Image courtesy of drawn.ca)
When EH Shepard was at the peak of his career, illustrations were commonplace in literature, and not just for little ones: older children to adults were catered for. However, as Riddell explains: ‘… in the latter half of the 20th century, illustration went into decline. Children’s books that in Shepard’s day would have been automatically illustrated were deemed no longer to require an illustrator’s input. A case in point are the defiantly un-illustrated Harry Potter books.’
It’s interesting to ponder why this might be so. Did a prejudice emerge against illustrations? Did pictures make a book seem less worthy – as though images were needed to add value to the written word? Some of the children I work with think that books containing illustrations are in some ways more ‘babyish’ than ones without any, while Holly doesn’t feel hard-done-by because of the lack of pictures in Harry Potter: ‘You can imagine things more without illustrations.’
It appears that a change in technology is behind the drop in commissioning illustrators, and presumably linked to this are cost implications. ‘In newspapers and periodicals, Photoshop and montage replaced illustrators and cartoonists,’ says Chris. ‘No mainstream publisher these days would dream of commissioning illustrations to a new edition of Pepys’ diaries. In fact, by the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, illustration had vanished from adult literature more or less entirely.’
Drawing a conclusion
Riddell feels that traditional print publishing is going to have to change thanks to what is going on in the digital world. Today’s smartphones and tablets and iPads and iPods present information in a visually stimulating way, combining text with stunning images. To keep up with readers’ expectations, he argues that ‘we need illustrators of the calibre of EH Shepard more than ever.’ It’s already happening too: ‘…look at Posy Simmonds’ wickedly perceptive novel Tamara Drewe, David Roberts’ brilliantly quirky illustrations to Mick Jackson’s Bears of England and Shaun Tan’s surreal and exquisite wordless story The Arrival. Like Shepard, these illustrators’ work reaches all ages.’
When I think about it, this has been happening for a long time in the cinema. Many of the films aimed at children in the last decade or so have been so technologically advanced in the way they have been filmed that adults have been lured in and are often as enthusiastic as children to see the latest Shrek or Ice Age.
I feel quite excited at the prospect of beautifully illustrated adult books. There is definitely a place in literature to combine the written word with images, and not just in a cartoon or graphic novel way (I can’t actually read these books because I find there’s too much competition on the page for the reader’s eyes). But, used effectively, images can complement words, as any fantastic children’s picture book will show you. Let’s hope they get it right for the adults if Riddell’s predicted movement happens.
What do you think? Do pictures have a place in older children’s, young adults’ and adults’ literature?