Sunday, July 15, 2012

Illustration in Adult Fiction

I'm still working my way through "Titus Groan" but I'm always pleasantly surprised when I turn the page to find a sketch by Peake inserted into the book. You don't normally find art in books outside of children's books so I find it intriguing to see how

Peake also completed illustrations for "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and My Hyde" by Robert Lewis Stevenson and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Colerigde. All seem well suited to his style as his illustrations tend to have a touch of the creepy and otherworldly.

While Peake was writing the manuscript for "Titus Groan" he included sketches of his characters which is interesting considering how few authors are artists as well. One thing I have heard authors talk about before is how everyone has their own interpretation of characters' appearances. I think this is both good and bad. It gives you an idea of the author's interpretation of their own characters but it can also limit how you picture the characters. I think you should be able to imagine characters any way you wish. It's part of the fun of reading. There's nothing to tell you how to imagine a scene or setting.

Just look at how Peake's drawn Steerpike here. It looks as if he's up to no good, as if he's got some nefarious plan that he's just waiting to put into action. There's a slight smirk on his face which gives him a boyish look. This coupled with a slightly grimacing brow, gives him a malevolent look. He's our main character but is also the antagonist. An interesting take and reminiscent of "Psycho", where the audience is forced to identify with Norman Bates.

Fuchsia looks so melancholy. Here she seems like a lonely soul, not necessarily looking to talk to anyone but sad just the same. She also looks determined. A strong person with a stern temper. In the book she's a lonely child with no friends and no adult supervision. She goes where she wishes and is most at home when she's dreaming or pretending.

This is Gertrude. The set of her mouth makes me think she's a tough lady. Firm and perhaps not the jolliest person to be around. She cares little for anyone except her cats and birds. Her family, including her newborn son, come second in importance and that's when she pays them any attention at all.

Some of these interpretations are wrong in the context of the story but you see how much information you can gain just from looking at a person. Hopefully a character is far more complicated and nuanced than what you see at first glance but with an illustration you can picture them in your mind. I find this helps me when I'm reading a scene and trying to picture where everyone is and what they're doing.

This isn't very common in adult fiction though. My copy of "Alice in Wonderland" was illustrated and may very well have been done by Peake. The The Guardian has a piece on how fiction used to be illustrated. I want to say that a lot of stories also used to be serialized in newspapers, like Dickens for example, who felt that illustrations were important to his work. Today you rarely find that apart of literary magazines like 'The Fiddlehead', 'The Malahat Review' and 'Geist'. As well, more modern literature may not lend itself to illustration and may in fact be more internal than external, more about the mind than the physical world.

So what do you think? Does illustration in adult fiction contribute or detract from the story? Is it an unwanted interruption or an aspect that enhances your reading experience? Do you think we need more illustration in adult fiction or should illustration stick to graphic novels?

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