Talking to my artist friend LeMat the other day (now mainly reverting to the use of his real name Mark Pexton on his art, just to confuse everyone), I realised what a rough deal illustrators get. Whereas writers might (and do) sometimes complain about editors, low pay rates and a lack of appreciation, when was the last time you saw anyone mention the illustrations or cover art from a magazine? Mark’s had a full-page illustration in each of the last 3 copies of Interzone, and has apparently provided illustrations for the next 3 as well, but no-one seems to mention any of the illustrations in reviews, except to list the featured artists. He’s done a book cover, which adds a real atmosphere, but no-one mentions his name (except presumably in small print on the back cover). Even in magazines where the writers are paid, the artists often aren’t, not even with a contributor copy. To add insult to injury, illustrations are often classed as lower status than gallery art.
Cover illustrations, whether for books or magazines, are the first thing to catch the reader’s eye. Before I know what a novel’s about, I’ve got to notice it, pick it up and read the synopsis – what makes me do that? The cover (colours, image, lettering) have to convey some idea to me and look attractive enough to make me single that book out from all the surrounding ones. That takes some doing in the overloaded bookshelves of the modern world. So why aren’t the artists more prominent? Occasionally there’ll be a Quentin Blake, but mostly there are hundreds of Mark Pextons.
In a short story magazine, it’s easier and cheaper to leave the illustrations out, so there must be some reason why magazines like Interzone continue to include them. They can help to enhance the atmosphere, set the scene, and even to catch the reader’s eye in a way that the opening line of the story might not. I notice Mark’s illustrations because they’re usually familiar to me and I have a personal connection with them, but I confess I’m often guilty of overlooking illustrations. Or rather, I don’t mention them – they must filter through on some level because I’ll picture a character the way they’ve been drawn, or I’ll read the story waiting for a robot to appear and feel cheated when it doesn’t, because there was one in the main illustration.
Our reading lives would be less rich without illustrators, though we may not always realise that. I’d like to declare October 22nd International Illustrator Appreciation Day – phone an illustrator of your acquaintance, write a blog post, send an email or leave a comment on someone’s website (here, if you like), but somehow let those great artists know that they’re not being ignored.