Thursday, May 17, 2007

Before Alphabets, Beyond Words

Leaping Bison,
Altamira cave painting c. 13,000 B.C.
Rendered by John Hollis,
from a tracing by Abbe Henri Breuil.

Pictures were our first visible means of permanent communication, at writing, I suppose one could say.

Egyptian pictographics reflect this. Some languages still do.

Then, painting, sculpture, developed as separate disciplines, though often physically congruent with the written message.

In a sense, the separation is superficial. Art is also story.

A number of your have commented on your enjoyment of the pictures associated with the content on this blog.

A few decades ago, many novels regularly included a series of illustrations to amplify the text. Art became relegated to the frontis, then replaced the dull and factual covers - over which there is now much angst among authors.

Cost - whether in time or talent or materials - affects the technology of reproduction.

Graphic novels ( ie. "comics"), manga and anime claim increasing popularity, even respectability.

Do you think we might see a reintroduction of illustrations within the standard adult novel?

And how would you feel about it for your own?


Ric said...

I usually enjoy them. Stephen King and J.K Rowling use them to good effect.
For most novels, though, I don't want to know what the author's visual take is - as it usually conflicts with my own mental image.
But a sketch of the big haunted house is fun.

Carla said...

I don't think we'll see a general reappearance of illustrations in mass-market books because of the additional cost. If e-books become popular enough to replace mass-market paperbacks leaving the printed book to become a treasured object of beauty, illustrations might make a comeback. I do like Alan Lee's illustrations of Tolkien.

Erik Ivan James said...

I agree with what Ric said about the possibility of an illustration conflicting with the reader's mental image.

For me, I enjoy illustrations in historical, biographical and other such non-fiction works. Maps and drawings, etc. can be used effectively in certain/specific fiction works. Otherwise, in my opinion, be careful.

December Quinn said...

I'm torn. On the one hand, no. On the other cool it would be, just like some of the books I had as a child. I loved those plain line drawings at the chapter heads or scattered through the pages. It gave the book character, you know?

Bernita said...

Might lead to more input from the author, Ric, considering that they claim many illustrations do NOT comform to the author's take.
And I wonder if the illustrations form the reader's take. I have difficulty visualizing Alice in Wonderland any other way.

With new technology, Carla, I wonder if the actual costs of reproduction have actually gone down.
Interesting if POD, e-books, etc. result in by-subscription, limited edition versions of the Book of kells - books as illuminated manuscripts.

Anonymous said...

Clive Cussler usually has drawings and maps in his novels. I enjoy them. Add to the story...for me.

Bernita said...

Erik, I had that reaction with several of Mercedes Lackey's novels - felt the line drawings intruded on my private visualizations.

Maybe there's a conditioned expectation or acceptance in children's books, December. I know I loved them too.
Not sure the effect would translate in novel complexity.

Bernita said...

Maps often appear in fantasy, thrillers, and futuristics, Steve. Mysteries sometimes include floor plans.
I'm thinking more of character or scene representations. I should have made that clear.

kmfrontain said...

I would love to have illustrations in my novels. I'm a big lover of comics, but prefer the more aesthetic looking artwork.

LadyBronco said...

I was going to bring up Stephen King as well. His Dark Tower series had illustrations, and they fit in beautifully with those stories.

I think as long as the illustrations aren't overdone, they would be just fine within the standard adult novel.

Bernita said...

Your work would lend itself to some fabulous visualizations, Karen.

Would be quite fascinating, Lady B.

Robyn said...

Depictions of scenes, locations, family crests and such would interest me, but not so much the people involved. It's jarring to have imagined a character one way and see a totally different picture.

(Romance covers don't count- readers know going in that the couple on the cover never come close to the couple in the book!)

Charles Gramlich said...

I'd love to see illustrations in novels again, particularly for fantasy novels. I'm not a big reader of graphic novels where, it feels to me, the images overwhelm the text, but I loved the old illustrated books, like my copy of Treasure Island.

kmfrontain said...

Thank you, Bernita. :-)

Bernita said...

Especially since they seem physically stereotyped, Robyn. Yes, scenes would be nice.

Yes, Charles!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings could get away with having character illustrations, mainly because of the millions they make. But for the most part 80% of the novels produced never earn out their advances, so I can't see publishers dropping more cash down the endless rabbit hole.

seventh sister said...

I used to love illustrations is books, especially the once by Waterhouse, Parrish, etc. I think a wonderful art form has been lost since illustrations are not bing used. You don't even see them in magazine ads anymore. Texas Monthly and The New Yorker are the only ones I ever see much in the way of illustrations in and a lot of time that is just photoshopped collages.

raine said...

Also a little torn about this.

I also loved the old illustrated fantasy/adventure novels.
But in my more modern reading (and it may depend on the genre), I do find that the representations usually don't equate to the images I've formed in my own mind, so I'd rather not.

I don't even like TOO much description of my hero/heroine. Give me the basics, a little detail here and there, and let me fill in the rest. That way, they become what I imagine them to be (or even myself, if I choose).

Bernita said...

They would if they thought it would reduce your 80%, Bonnie.

On the other hand, Seventh, there are people who are truly artists with a camera.

You may be right, Raine, that it may depend on the genre as to whether we would be comfortable with such insertions.One could view them as limiting the imagination and as an assertive demand.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I wish we would see more art in novels, but economics seem to reign.

My daughter is a born storyteller. She draws ceaselessly, and every story has a picture. It's my belief she's not writing yet only because she doesn't know her letters, not for lack of anything to say. Having made a lot of art myself, I, too, think there's a fine line between drawing and writing.

At our ezine, finding art is one of the fun parts of the editor's job.

Rick said...

I'd love to see a return to illustrations in adult novels! Economics is probably against it, but changing printing technology might well reduce the overhead cost. They'd have to pay the artist, but I wouldn't be surprised if the reproduction/compositing costs are much lower than they used to be.

Yes, the artist would probably make my Catherine look different than I picture her - but that would be true of the cover art anyway (but please don't cut off her head!). So long as the artist is good, however, the difference wouldn't bother me. After all, the reader probably won't picture her as I do, either.

Bernita said...

Yes, SS, have seen that line blur in a child too, very complex stories at times.

Rick, I wonder if historicals and fantasy are a natural for such, and less restrictive than contemporaries, in that readers might not mind so much having their imagination given a boost.
The art used to be a selling point for some of the early novels, prominently blurbed on the title page.

Gabriele C. said...

I often wish I could illustrate my books, some of the images are so strong in my mind.

But it would need someone who can paint my vision for me to feel happy about illustrated versions of my books.

Bernita said...

Some magnificant visual inspiration there, Gabriele.

spyscribbler said...

I would love a return to illustrations!!! Most definitely! Why did they disappear?

Bernita said...

Probably a combination of cost and taste, Natasha.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who want to maintain their own mental image -- it's what made radio so much more challenging to the imagination than television -- but I too would be interested in the author's own pictorial vision as well.

By the way, Bernita, I have just discovered your weblog and find it both interesting and challenging. I still have more to read on your site, but you can be sure I will do so at my leisure.

Sid Leavitt

JLB said...

I know I'm late to the conversation, but I really enjoy the question Bernita. (And as you know, I like to blur the lines between different artistic media).

I absolutely embrace imagery in adult novels... I think that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince / The Little Prince is a good example of how even the simplest illustrations can add so much to the story. Of course, I still have my subjective take on it: imagery with too much detail (or if I just don't dig the artistry) can really interfere with my enjoyment of a piece (like an annoying actress in an otherwise excellent horror scene).

I do not like illustrations that get in the way of my own imagination... but a picture here or there to carry my mind further beyond the page is always welcome. If I have my druthers, I will definitely include a few illustrations in my books. :)

bunnygirl said...

I agree with the posters who expressed concern that illustrations would interfere with their mental images. I love to imagine for myself how things look. But if I know there are pictures, I'll often look at them before reading, so maybe it all works out.

One of the fun things about fiction blogging is getting to add illustrations. So for the author, text and pictures can be a good time, and if it's fun for the author, there's a better chance it will engage the reader.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sid. Hope you enjoy it.

If we are to take covers as a precedent - the illustrations may not be the "author's" visualization!

Never late, JLB, always welcome.
"a picture here or there to carry my mind further beyond the page is always welcome." - that, I think, is the charm of carefully chosen illustration.

I think it's a genuine concern, Bunny, that illustrations not dominate or over-rule the words and the "pictures" they engender.
I wonder if the length of a piece, ie. a short story or a blog post, affects the question. The condensed form is assisted, the longer form, maybe not - because the reader has had time to build a more complete personal picture.

Scott from Oregon said...

ghhBeing very visual, I don't want my pictures in my head dictated.

"I saw "One Flew..." before I read the book. I had to battle to read "red-headed" and then see Jack Nicholson in my mind...


I want words to do it all.

Bernita said...

Yes, Scott, some readers would react to illustrations as an intrusion and assertion - irregardless.
Compatible as the two forms of communication may be,it's an uneasy alliance.