book illustration going digital

As my kids have got older, I regret to say that I probably read more ‘teen fiction’ than they do.  (Though I thoroughly recommend the Hunger Games and Chaos Walking trilogies.)  I also regret that, despite my best intentions, I can’t get the same intensity of immersion from the graphic novels my son likes as I do from those text-only novels.  I miss the books they read when they were younger, too, books with illustrations in them that we sat down to read together.

The British Library had a wonderful exhibition of contemporary book illustrators some years ago – its website is here – and I would add a few more names to those that featured there, including Helen Oxenbury, Anthony Browne, Dave McKean and Satoshi Kitamura.

One of my many unwritten papers would be something about the mutual relation between images and writing in book illustration, and why that matters for understanding all sorts of images.  It’s hard to think of any image that isn’t accompanied by, and mediated by, some kind of written or spoken word.  Graphic novels, and children’s books, make that obvious and also show how words and images together inflect each other.

So I noticed with interest this piece on the Guardian website, by one of the most striking of contemporary book illustrators, Chris Riddell (who should also have been in that British Library exhibition), reflecting on what might happen to illustrations once all books are published for iPads and other tablets.

(And much as I love my kindle, I have to admit that he’s right about its graphics – three shades of grey max.)

remember: not all digital innovators are zuckerbergs or jobses

Today, Kodak finally gave up trying to catch up: the company filed for bankruptcy.  The Guardian newspaper reported it here.

I’ve been reading (on my Kindle, natch) John Naughton‘s lovely new book on the internet, called From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet.  It includes a very funny (in retrospect) account of how record companies did all they could to make money from cds without thinking at all about what the other consequences of digitised music might be.  A similar story might be told about Kodak, who invented the first digital camera but didn’t quite know what to do with it.

on not remembering the name of the novel you’re reading…

Ok, so I’ve confessed to reading George RR Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire books.  The thing is, I can never remember either his name, or the title of the book I’m reading (just started the third).  Why?

Is it because they’re not the sort of books I usually read?  It’s not only the genre – fantasy – but also the style of writing.  They spin a very compelling narrative thread, there are some amazing imagined places (I’ve not seen the HBO tv series but would love to see how it imagines the ice Wall) and some great characters – Tyrion makes me laugh out loud – but they’re certainly not great Literature; descriptions are repeated, phrasings are clunky, and there’s rather too many glistening manhoods for my taste.  So am I just too much of a snob to want to remember who wrote them or what they’re called?

No, I tell myself.  Actually, it’s because I’ve been reading them on an ebook device, a Kindle to be precise.  And with ebooks you just don’t get the front cover experience.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like my Kindle; it’s very easy to use, very portable, and I’ve read more books in the five months I’ve had it than in the previous three years, I reckon (for some reason downloading an ebook is easier than shelling out in a bookshop, maybe because the choice of what to read doesn’t feel so overwhelming).  But what I do miss with my Kindle is that front cover.  Where’s the author’s name every time you decide to read?  Where’s the title?  Where are the carefully chosen image and typeface, signalling genre so clearly?  The Kindle doesn’t show them every time you start to read a book; instead, it opens the book at the page you last looked at.  Very helpful for continuing to read; but not so good at letting you remember just what it is you’re reading…