Go hug an illustrator, tell them I sent you

It’s the second annual International Illustrator Appreciation Day – I know this because I made it up a year ago. The aim was to draw some attention (no pun intended, I swear) to the illustrators who interpret and enhance stories (or novels, with cover art) and enrich the reading experience. It’s probably more relevant if you read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy but I’d like to encourage you to take this opportunity to highlight an artist you’ve enjoyed in a recent magazine, or leave a comment on someone’s blog. You might think they won’t care, but even apparently successful artists may well appreciate some confirmation that someone’s noticed what they do.

To that end, I’ll point you at Darren Winter, stand-out artist in the last Interzone I read, and of course Mark Pexton who hasn’t been in Interzone for a while but we’ll forgive him because he’s been working on our stunning graphic novel (I’m allowed to refer to the art as stunning, I didn’t do it).

International Illustrator Appreciation Day: October 22nd

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.

Interzone excitement

I may have mentioned before (just once or twice) that my artist friend Mark/LeMat is going from strength to strength these days. Excitement overload last week as I bought issue 222 of Interzone, the first to feature his artwork, though apparently not the last, as he’s already busy on his next illustration for them. In my view (and I don’t think I’m alone here) if you make it into the pages of Interzone, then you know you’ve arrived (or you’re walking up the path to the front door, anyway). If we assume this applies as much to artists as it does to writers then we could consider Mark to have broken through some kind of threshold now, from small-press comics to the Great Beyond.

In typical self-deprecating fashion (typical if you know him, obviously, and unless you’re my friend D, if you’re reading this I’m guessing you probably don’t), Mark refuses to declare his triumphs in public in case anyone thinks he’s bragging. So while he’ll mention in a picture description on his deviantArt page that the painting was done for a book cover or for Interzone, he won’t list his successes anywhere as a whole. As a poor attempt at crowing from the web-based rooftops on his behalf, his artwork (including comic strips he wrote rather than illustrated for someone) has appeared in: 2000AD fanzines Dogbreath and Zarjaz, Violent! and the Girly Comic (including the latest Violent! cover), Shroud magazine (and the cover for a forthcoming Shroud book), Morpheus Tales, and is in the next issue of fantasy art magazine Imagine FX (which as he keeps pointing out, is even available in Tesco). A band have asked if they can use his art on their stage backdrop, someone wants to get a tattoo from one of his pictures, and more homes than mine and OneMonkey’s now house LeMat prints. I know I’ve forgotten a few things from the list, and there are probably some I don’t even know about, but you get the general idea.

I have an ulterior motive in all this I guess: the storyboard of his graphic novelisation of my Boys Don’t Cry is all but complete, with luck and a good supply of chocolate biscuits we’ll be ready to print by Christmas. You heard it here first.