In-Flight Illustrators

Alison Morris -- November 16th, 2009

I didn’t expect to share my recent flight home from Nebraska with any book illustrators other than my husband, but by chance three of them were sharing the friendly skies with me — at least in a manner of speaking. As I slid the November 2009 issue of United’s Hemispheres magazine out of the seat pocket in front of me, I found myself looking at a clever, colorful illustration that could only be the work of the incredibly talented John Hendrix, whose illustrations for Deborah Hopkinson’s Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) helped land it on my list of last year’s most entertaining picture books. And Hendrix’s recent biography of the controversial John Brown, John Brown: His Fight for Freedom (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 2009) was recently named by PW as one of the best children’s books of 2009, with good reason. The bold colors, sweeping lines, and over-sized figures of his illustrations positively leap from the page, providing a vibrant and energetic landscape for a captivating story.

I love the vibrance and energy of Hendrix’s cover for this magazine too. (Click to view it larger.) A blurb inside explains, "Illustrator John Hendrix’s insightful rendition of paint-by-numbers depicted on this month’s cover conveys the dramatic vision of a rebuilt and reinvigorated New Orleans."

Absentmindedly turning Hemisphere‘s pages, I’m next brought up short by some ink and watercolor illustrations whose styling looks verrrrrry familiar. Glancing over my shoulder, Gareth’s brain proves a half-second faster than my eyes, which are scanning the page for a name. "That looks like Graham Roumieu," he says, and I immediately recall the many hours we’ve spent laughing over his outrageous memoirs of Bigfoot: In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot, Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir, and Bigfoot: I Not Dead. (No, these books are not appropriate for children. Mature teenagers, yes. Children, no.) Gareth and I had the pleasure of meeting Graham in person at New York Comicon last year and were honored to have him sign a copy of 101 Ways to Kill Your Boss for us. To quote a fellow blogger, "Graham Roumieu is pee-in-pants brilliant." Thankfully while I enjoyed his illustrations for "Dispatches," they did not provoke that particular reaction from me. See how you fare.

Another ten pages further, and I’m beginning to think someone contacted a large number of my favorite book illustrators and asked them to ALL contribute editorial art for this one issue, because who should appear next but (sigh…) Oliver Jeffers, whose books are (all of them) beyond wonderful. Included in that praise is the forthcoming The Heart and the Bottle (Philomel, February 2010) of which I recently bought many copies for our store, and (of course) Lost and Found. Remember last December when I confessed my jealousy of those living in the U.K. who’d have the chance to watch a short animated film based on this delightful picture book? Well, we’re even now, as I bought a copy of the DVD as soon as it became available. Though at the time I didn’t realize (ahem) that DVDs produced in the U.K. generally can’t be played on DVD players in the U.S. (Riiiiight… Stupid me.) Disaster was averted, though, when Gareth discovered that the media player on one of his computers was kind enough to "ignore" the DVD’s foreign formatting so that we could, at last, enjoy seeing Oliver’s book brought to life on the not-exactly-big-but-more-than-sufficient screen. I’m pleased to report it was WELL worth the effort. Very, definitely, absolutely worth the effort. Like Oliver Jeffer’s depiction of a whirlwind visit to Mexico City, it was muy, muy especial.

Also muy, muy especial was the chance to see the work of talented illustrators like these on printed pages outside the world of (thank goodness we still have them) BOOKS. Sightings of editorial art like these are fewer and fewer nowadays, when so many newspapers and magazines (what few remain) fill their visual blanks with photographs rather than illustrations. And think how much more frequently you now see photographs on the covers of books, too. (sigh…) Nice to see that at least I can still be satisfied with SOMETHING while flying the friendly skies. (Which would you rather have — peanuts or art?)

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