Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Pogány Book out from Dover

As promised...
When I started posting these entries back in February, my first comments were on a book that I have the highest regards for, as a book design, and as a collection of illustration—Willy Pogany's edition of Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It was nearby because I was in the midst of a large project to pull together some of Pogány's best illustration work. This week the book was just made available on Dover Publishing's website, and within a few days, it will be available elsewhere.

If you are not familiar with Pogány, (1882-1955) you are not alone. (Jim Vadeboncoeur's Pogany bio at Bud Plant is a good start) His most revered works are nearly a century old, and I am not aware of any serious attempt to reprint them, largely do to the complex methods originally used to achieve a wide variety of full color and partial color images. The cost of printing with these methods today would be astronomical. As I said months ago, if you can find a copy (in that rare-and-out-of print-bookstore) , ask to take a look at it. You will not go away without a new appreciation for Pogány.

What makes Pogány remarkable, is that whatever creative path he went down in his life-long career, he made it work. When British publishing was looking for the best new talents in book illustration, enter Willy Pogány. When art-deco was the look the public craved, he had no trouble simplifying and streamlining. When Hollywood became the next big means of visual storytelling, Pogány was there. Some will argue that his work feels more dated than that of his contemporaries, I think his work is more period. It reflects the taste of the era it was done in. It was Pogány's ability to change with the times that kept his career healthy his whole life.

Pogány did book work throughout his whole career, producing an amazing list of titles, and a unique portfolio of images. With this new title from Dover, I hope to bring him a bit of the respect I think he is due, and bring his vision to a generation of illustration fans that would have previously found it very difficult to obtain.

Top to bottom-
The title page of Tannhauser, 1911. Scanned and printed in 4-color process today, it was printed in 6 colors on a dark gray stock back in the day.

They instantly changed into snow-white birds, The Fairies and the Christmas Child, 1912. Makes me want to read the story....

Siegfried captures Ludegast, Myths and Legends of the Middle Ages, 1909. DIAGONALS.

Cadmus followed the Brindled Cow, from A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, 1909. Great illustration of an ordinary thing...

On the hill-top stands one old Oak-tree.... The Tale of Lohengrin, 1913. What a tree!

Next week- another new release, over a year in the making....

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!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When the Hero is a Heroine

Let me pick up that train of thought, started in the last post. It has been said that the field of illustration had been a decent place for women to advance, "back in the day".
So then why is it when you think of, say, the top ten "Golden Age" illustrators, chances are still good that you'll think of 10 men first? Let me restate slightly—women could do well in illustration, while it was extremely difficult in other professional fields—odds were still stacked against them. But if you look at other high profile professions of the day, there are few that had as many women in the top ranks as illustration. Today it is more balanced than many fields, and there are many great women designers and illustrators.

While Elizabeth Shippen Green (last post)is on my list of favorites, this illustrator is a real rare find, and likely unknown to more of you. Maybe a decade ago, I came across a book of Russian Fairy Tales. Though I saw some really great work in it, it passed quickly through my hands, and I lost track of it—but found it again this past month. The author's name is R. Nisbet Bain, and the illustrator is listed as Noel L. Nisbet. (1887-1956) That "Nisbet" seems a strange coincidence, but I don't know if there is anything really to that—regardless—The book is from about 1916(?), it has 16 plates, 4 of them color. Wow. These pieces really knock me out. How could I not know this person? How come I can't find (more) info on them? Well, I looked, and dug, and I did find some info. Noel, is actually Laura Noel Nesbit. I was also able to find that she was an active Victorian painter, married to painter Harry Bush in 1910, and only spent a short time in the field of illustration, working on books from about 1910-1917, and then returning to larger works.

But what great stuff she put out. Rarely have I come across successful black and white work that exhibits this level of complexity (maybe only Bernie Wrightson in the last 50 years). The use of values achieved through line-work is stellar, each ink piece feeling like it was studied and prepped as a full blown painting. The color work has a very smooth and even pallete, warm, but not overdone. A small book she did in 1917, The Enchanted Lochan, has just 4 color plates, but feels as if it could easily have inspired a character like Conan. (Check out that last image with the Druid...)
I will be digging for more of her illustration work. Here's a larger than usual sampling, from Russian Fairy Tales, Cossack Fairy Tales, and The Enchanted Lochan. Again—Wow.