Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Books That Are Impossible To Illustrate

Some books must be impossible to illustrate. Imagine, for instance, being responsible for the illustrations in a book titled 'An Illustrated History of Nearly EVERYTHING.' You wouldn't know where to start.
Often, however, it is not the general nature of a title that would defeat you; it is the exact opposite. Imagine being asked to provide graphics for a book with so stiflingly dull a title as, say, 'The Income Tax Returns of 1989'. It would be like slow suicide. Elsewhere, MrLefty has noted the difficulties associated with illustrating the 'Law Institute Journal'.

The LIJ editor rings you with your assignment for this month. Joey Jo Jo, here's your assignment: I need a snappy illustration for the exciting May 2006 lead story. That story? "Targeting civil remedies - effect of consent judgments on third party contribution claims."

"Targeting civil re--"?! How the hell do you draw that? (There's a reason "effect of consent judgments on third party contribution claims" is not on a card in Pictionary.)
But it would be interesting to see other works of literature illustrated. A classic like Apuleius's The Golden Ass would be one thing, while the Greek fable Pandora's Box would be another thing altogether. The medieval carol I Have a Gentil Cock will probably never be published on its own, but there must have been several books published with the title Gay Paris. And how about being the cover artist charged with the task of illustrating Philip Roth's Kafka parody, The Breast:
Professor of comparative literature David Kepesh wakes up one day to discover himself in the hospital, having been transformed into a 155-pound female breast. The ensuing 89 pages depict his rationalization for such a sudden and drastic change, his trying to convince himself and others - his girlfriend, his father, his doctor, and a university mentor - that he has only gone insane, and his quest to satiate an ever-present, raging libido.
On the one hand, obscenity lies; on the other, obscurity: how to navigate your way between this artistic Scylla and Charybydis?
Still, consider what it would like to be asked to illustrate 'Lose Weight Through Great Sex with Celebrities the Elvis Way.' Any illustration of that would offend puritans, celebrities, and bulimics - a kind of unholy trinity. As a task, it would be marginally less easy than being asked to be the cover artist for 'The Best Fake Book Ever'. How do you illustrate a paradox? Either way, you'd end up looking like a liar.

2 Comments:

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Great post. It's always amusing when the illustrater, out of laziness or lack of imagination or having not actually read the book, plumps for an extremely literal image. I have an old paperback of Isherwood's Mr Norris Changes Trains, the cover of which depicts, well, Mr Norris changing trains! Which is fair enough I suppose, but not exactly an arresting image.

 
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