Illustrator Crushes

30 Apr

I love children’s books. And though I hate to admit it, my love does not come from a place as a parent where life lessons are passed down to my children through books, it is because they are pretty. Sure there are stories that are great and sweet and charming. Sure there are children’s book authors out there who work hard at creating a story that draws young readers in, but for me it is all about the pictures. They are not just a complement to a story, but bring the story to life for children who cannot read. Once they grow up into readers it is all about the author, but until then the illustrator is king/queen.

Illustrators hold a special place in my heart. They add danger and darkness (ala Edward Gorey) or lightness and humor (Laura Cornell) to what would otherwise be scribbles on a page (we are still talking about non-reading children, so don’t jump down my throat). Some of my favorite illustrators are authors themselves: Shirley Hughes, Mercer Mayer, David Shannon.

Astrix and Obliex Comics

Astrix and Obliex Comics

My bookshelves are lined with children’s books, that I am ashamed to say my children will not and do not touch. They are off-limits, collector’s items, all based around the pictures that are held within. If the story is good enough to share, most of the time I end up buying them their own copy so that my childhood and adult memories are kept safe from grubby little hands.

Recently my father dug into his collection, because of course this crazy behavior of keeping “special” books from your children had to have been passed down from somewhere, and pulled out a copy of Astrix and Obliex and handed it to my daughter. I was so happy about seeing the comic that I nearly snatched it out of her hand.

These comics, and other odd ball illustrations my dad would let me take a peek at, were the beginnings of my love affair with illustrators. On second thought, some of those “illustrations” were not kid-friendly, but that’s just a side note and tells you my parents also passed down poor judgment on to me. It takes time and great talent to draw the same thing over and over and make it look interesting. The slightest placement of an or eyebrow could change the whole course of the story. Now looking back on it I can’t recall even if these comics were funny or even interesting (I have a funny feeling they might have been racist even, well I went on to marry a black man so they didn’t do their job in instilling hate) beyond the illustrations.

And that’s just it, and maybe I am flawed since I am a writer and should pay attention to stuff like this, in the end it is not the words that stood out with me as a child but it was the pictures. It is that in which my tastes in aesthetics have been formed. Through reading hundreds of children’s books as child, my tastes in art and how the world should appear to me was formed by the picture books that I was drawn to. I will forever be thankful for illustrators to adding a bit of color and odd humor (and maybe a splash of sexism and racism for perspective, we all need that right?) to my life.


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