Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Beginnings of Modern Fantasy: H. J. Ford

This entry comes as a bit of a preview. Come next February, I have a title slated to release on Ford—Maidens, Monsters, and Heroes, The Fantasy Art of H. J. Ford.
I've given his work a look or two in relation to a given subject, (There is a nice color plate on mermaids, from a few weeks ago) but I haven't really focused in on him yet, so now is the time. What I cannot understand about Henry Justice Ford's (1860-1941) work, is how much it is overlooked. There is a ton of it out there, much of it still in print today. While Ford did some beautiful watercolor work, I find his best moments are rendered in ink. He had an understanding of contrast and placement that seems to nearly vanish from his color work. Ford's career didn't really spark until 1890, when he first collaborated with Andrew Lang on The Blue Fairy Book. This was the first in a set of fairy tale collections that he worked on with
Lang; originally with other artists as well, but once they got it down, Ford and Lang became a powerful tandem with successes that few artist/writer teams enjoy. There were 12 Fairy books, and all sorts of other anthology collections as well. Hundreds and hundreds of illustrations.

One thing I have really taken note of as I've leafed through many of the Ford editions, is that he really had a handle on the idea of a dragon—especially for the time. I cannot recall seeing other images of dragons as early as 1905, that still have the characteristics we place on them today. If Ford were working today, he would definitely be in the fantasy market—Ford's dragons hold up remarkably well, design-wise. I can't help but think that factors like wing design, head shape, and claws all still carry some of the look that Ford was using a century ago, and I imagine that most writers of Fantasy in the last hundred years, were influenced in some way by the Fairy books put out by Lang and Ford. I thought I'd share a bit of what I mean by that with these images, from the score of years that Ford was most active, from 1900-1920.

Top to Bottom-
St. George. Who takes on drawing a dragon from the back? I have to imagine he spent some time looking at some sort of lizard in a zoo, and that was the angle he got.

Beowulf. Holy cow. What a crazy wonderful piece.

A Danish Raid in Britain. In 1916 Ford took on a series of "historical" works for a school book. He must have had some luxury of time, or maybe he took the subject more seriously—these pieces are far more developed than his earlier color works, and full of details that usually only survive in his ink work.

The Giants shadow. One of my very favorite Ford inks. There is a whole story going on here, if you just take the time to look. The Giant(s) shadow, with his hand on the far left. Low in the composition is the fair damsel, standing in the rocks...and is that a prince hiding under the horse? Nice storytelling. I love the way the shape of the piece makes your eyes travel to read it.

___Next week, I'll have some images from my new title on Willy Pogány, hitting the stores any day now!

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