- Once Upon A Time: Some Contemporary Illustrators of Fantasy, and: Fantasy: The Golden Age of Fantastic Illustration
In recent years there has surfaced a new regard for, and a revived critical interest in, the once lightly viewed genre of fantasy, and today the illustrators' contributions appear to be commanding at least as much critical attention as the fictional creations they illuminate. John Tenniel, Arthur Hughes, E. H. Shepard and others have all taken their places in literary history side by side the authors for which they created their immortal scenes. In fact more and more people are finally taking a serious look at the illustrator apart from the text, approaching him as an artist, analyzing training, technique, concept, expertise, and the product of these, the artistic creations, as works of art viewed as art. Buoyed by this resurgence, editors David Larkin and Brigid Peppin have each presented the public with a collection of fantasy illustration.
One may tell readily from their respective titles the special focus of each book. David Larkin, a veteran editor of books on artists and their works, has here in Once Upon A Time: Some Contemporary Illustrators of Fantasy assembled a collection of the better known fantasy illustrators working in Great Britain today. In Larkin's all too brief introductory remarks he states that "the most significant point of this volume is that it shows the artist emerging as a true author in tales of fantasy where every picture tells a story." In fact, some of these pictures tell their stories without benefit of text, suggesting a loose sense of the term "illustration." After six pages of biographical sketches on the artists represented, the remainder of the book is devoted to page after page of titled, color reproductions. Beginning with Pauline Ellison's joined painting of the three-cover illustration for the Earthsea trilogy, we explore a generous sampling of Nicola Bayley (including her work on Kipling's Just So Stories, and Richard Adams' Tyger Voyage), and Brian Froud (seven of his works appear herein), while feasting on tidbits from artists possibly lesser known to American audiences. Chris McEwan, whose "Daffy Daggles" prints exhibit a quite developed sense of humorous characterization mixed with highly sophisticated artistic technique, Wayne Anderson, a master of the grotesque whose Ratsmagic may be familiar to some, and Alan Lee, with a fine sense of color and mood reminiscent of Dulac and N. C. Wyeth, have caught my eye particularly.
The reader more interested in an historical overview of the development and variety of fantasy illustration, particularly that period spanning the later years of Victoria's reign and the early twentieth century—"The Golden Age" as it were—when artists like Beardsley, Dore, Crane, Dulac and Rackham were at their artistic best, will have a feast exploring page after page of editor Brigid Peppin's Fantasy: The Golden Age of Fantastic Illustration from the New American Library (originally put out as a hardbound by Watson-Guptill in 1975). Though essentially also a book of great illustrations, Peppin has added a limited, but quite enlightening introduction, informing the interested reader of the specific historical background within which these artists worked, "methods of reproduction," "precursors"a section on the advent of "fairy illustration," and a short but adequate bibliography of books about specific artists, processes and periods mentioned. After perusing this the reader is then treated to the works of the greatest illustrators of Victorian and Edwardian England, in black and white and in color plates. Forty-six illustrators are herein exhibited, presenting the avid art critic the unique opportunity to compare artistic styles side by side, and to view many of these pieces for the first time devoid of their usually overshadowing manuscripts.
If the reader is by now in a quandry as to which of these two art books to purchase, may I suggest you do as I did, save your pennies and buy them both, for together they create a broad...