This month’s theme is quite writer-specific, so I’ve wandered off topic to a certain degree.
At the risk of opening a scientifically fictional can of worms, I was thinking about my younger self, and whether he would approve of my pictures. Memories of what I particularly liked pre-ten years old are a bit hazy, but I definitely loved cartoons. I remember copying the illustrations accompanying a collection of Pam Ayres poems – it’s the only book I still have from this period, which has helped keep the memory fresh. Unfortunately the artist is uncredited, so I can’t pass on my thanks for that early dose of inspiration. I feel I have slightly let this earlier incarnation of me down, as I have never drawn cartoons professionally, but hopefully he would like some of the monsters I have painted (I also loved books with scary things in).
From ten onwards, I was particularly fond of comics, and I feel this manifestation of my former self would have been pleased to know I received my first professional commission from great British institution 2000AD in the form of a Tharg’s Future Shock, scripted by a then unknown writer called Neil Gaiman. However, I was very keen on the more outlandish styles of art (Kevin O’Neil for example) and I wonder if I would have liked my slightly more conservative style ( oh dear – I’m already getting into a grammatical muddle describing the different versions of me). The artists that I loved seemed to fill their pages with boundless imagination and obsessive peripheral details, rather like deranged manuscript illuminators. I swore I would travel down a similar path, but often the realities of publishing have diluted this pre-pubescent manifesto.
Anyway, I imagine my previous self would be heartened to know I still love comics, and soon I will be returning to the medium courtesy of the marvellous Phoenix. It’s been 25 years since my last job so I’d better get some practice in. As a ten year old, I was a surprisingly harsh critic (although I had excellent taste, I had no idea how difficult producing good art can be) and I don’t want to be on the receiving end of my own youthful scorn.
Here is a scan of my first ever job from 1986. Who knew speech bubbles fade with age?
I wanted to follow up Richard’s post on the semiology of depicting tragedy.
After a search through my archives, it turned out I’d been reasonably successful in avoiding the issue, but a couple of illustrations materialised that might be useful examples.
The first one is Peter Pan, from Geraldine McCaughrean’s Peter Pan in Scarlet. I would say it probably conveys isolation more than tragedy, but I suppose tragedy comes in many guises. At this point, everyone has left Peter (even the Starfish are legging it). His deflated body posture helps to suggest vulnerability and general fed-upness; the lack of background helps with a feeling of loneliness and just to hammer the idea home, I have him perched on a rock as though his entire world has shrunk down to an island of misery.
The second example is a small illustration from Malorie Blackman’s chapter in Centuries of Stories, simply called ‘North’. In apposition to the Peter Pan illustration, I’ve used the landscape to trap the characters; the trees are suggestive of prison bars and the high skyline puts them in a dark hole. Even without the mother’s worried expression, you know these characters are in trouble…
Lastly, I couldn’t resist this histrionic portrayal of tragedy, featuring Myrtle from Philip Reeve’s Starcross. In the story she is flippantly compared to Mariana of the Moated Grange, Tennyson’s tragic character from the eponymous poem.
As I have yet to publish my second novel, I have little to say on the topic.
My first novel remains unpublished. It received a rejection letter (or ‘soul-destroying dagger of scorn’ as they are more accurately called) from an eminent publisher and one of those is enough, thank you.
Instead, I looked through my records and discovered my second ever book cover was commissioned by David Fickling when he was a fresh-faced youth and head of Scholastic in 1991. Unfortunately I have no recollection of my feelings on gleaning this assignment, but I suspect it was the same as it is now; extreme gratitude followed by a sense of anxiety.
The original artwork has spent it’s life in various lofts, and it is indeed a dusty relic of the past as I abandoned real painting (for covers) many years ago. The title lettering was made from the archaic rub-down transfer system the ancients knew as ‘Letraset’; it makes me wince to think of the time I would have spent getting that right. As this was a dust jacket, the dimensions had to be measured carefully; no easily fixed adjustments to the spine when, a day before the deadline, it turned out there were twenty extra pages…
And then the thing had to posted. This required scavenging vast amounts of cardboard and fashioning a Postman-proof cocoon (I later discovered this is scientifically impossible), before staggering into the Post Office and parting with a substantial amount of cash to send it on it’s way. There followed the inevitable day of worrying if the parcel had arrived, whether I’d made some terrible error or if the cover was simply pants. Praise be to Photoshop and the Internet!
Still, those were the days…
There was a time when I skipped merrily under ladders, lay in wait for black cats to cross my path and deliberately destroyed mirrors to show my complete disdain for all things superstitious.
Then the magpie came.
I’d recently moved into a remote cottage; it was of medieval origin with an enormous granite cross in the front garden. It could quite comfortably be described as ‘a bit spooky’ if, unlike me, you were supernaturally sensitive. One summer’s morning I was woken by a strange tapping at the bedroom window. I pulled the flimsy curtain back and in the insipid, peachy light of dawn found myself face-to-beak with a magpie. It looked me up and down in a rather indifferent manner, then flapped off.
Apart from the mild irritation of being woken up at such a ludicrous hour, I didn’t give much more thought to the incident, especially when the phone rang later that day and I was informed of the death of my grandfather. I had to make immediate preparations to leave for London to attend the funeral.
While I was away, some burglars broke into the the cottage and helped themselves to most of the things contained within, apparently making two trips when they realized I was not returning for a couple of days.
I arrived back late in the evening to discover the crime, and spent an uncomfortable night feeling very insecure; quite literally, as the front door and one window had been wrecked in the robbery. My mind drifted back to the magpie visitation, and has subsequently forever been linked to this double trauma, cemented no doubt by the folklore that surrounds the bird. I wonder if it would have been the same if it was a squirrel or a pigeon that was tapping at my window that morning? Would I have to doff my hat to them as I am now cursed to do every time I see a magpie?
Rather like Neill (see his post) I find boats more interesting when they are taken out of their natural habitat. It must be an illustrator thing.
One of the very first films I saw was Pinnochio, and my favourite scene was Geppetto’s boat being consumed by a massive whale. The puppet maker seemed to live quite happily in the stomach of the beast, which resembled an enormous damp cathedral. Another film that impressed my youthful mind was Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, featuring a giant that wore a pirate ship as a hat. Gilliam confesses in the director’s commentary that he borrowed the idea from a Brian Froud illustration, which I have since discovered in the book Master Snickup’s Cloak.
Also in the early Eighties, I was very keen on the work of comic book artist Mike McMahon; at the time he was illustrating a story called Slaine, set in the world of Celtic mythology. One adventure featured the Cloud Curragh, an ancient ship that sailed through the sky, powered by Ogham stones and the occasional human sacrifice.
I find boats fun to draw, but I prefer it if they are sailing through space or recycled as a tree house, etc. I think it’s because I find them visually unbalanced when they are bobbing about in the water. The bottom half is hidden, which is a shame as there’s a very satisfying relationship between the curve of a sail and the rounded, sculptural quality of a nice hull.
Recently, a news story concerning the unearthing of a witch’s cottage caught my eye.
According to reports, it was clearly a witch’s cottage because it had a mummified cat bricked up in the walls, and was found in Pendle, the scene of a notorious outbreak of maleficence in the early 17th century. Ten people were hanged as witches due to a tragic tangle of religious intolerance, familial rivalry and superstition.
Whether or not this particular dwelling played host to all manner of frightful witchery will be doubtless be pondered upon by historians and people (like me) with over-active imaginations. I’ve always loved old buildings – they act as a focal point for history and legends; they are like batteries generating stories, some down-to-earth and some fanciful. Read the rest of this entry »
I have had so many embarrassing incidents to deal with they have become unremarkable. As a part-time musician, every week seems to offer an interesting new way of making an idiot of oneself in public; the trick is to carry on regardless, pretend nothing horrendous has occurred and save the squirming and self-loathing for later.
Consequently, I am going ‘off-brief’ to talk about Trolls.
I recently had the pleasure of illustrating the cover of Conrad Mason’s The Demon’s Watch, which features a pair of identical Troll twins. To get me in the mood I did some research and looked through some of my favourite Troll artists (if this article becomes tedious, skip to the end and click on some of the links for some visual treats).
In Norse mythology, Trolls began life as the offspring of Ymir, the Frost Giant. They were said to be of huge size, varied in appearance and temperament; generally more like gods than the bridge-bothering creatures of folklore we recognise today.
Gradually they settled into the mythic landscape as a race of beings representative of the elements; sometimes benevolent, sometimes mischievous, sometimes downright vicious. They lived in societies of their own, in hollow hills, forests and wild mountainous regions. Read the rest of this entry »