Sunday, September 19, 2010

Raise a glass, you scurvy dog.

You probably didn't know that today (OK, yesterday...)is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. It is, look it up, I'll wait.
OK, I'll use this occasion to do two things. First, to herald the start of Pirate Season, which runs (in my house) from Talk-Like-a-Pirate day until Halloween. Second, let's take a look at the pirate in Golden Age illustration. (Cue groans from FIT MA alums). Though I've managed to shy away from the topic in almost all my previous VIEW blog posts, it is well-known here in the NY area, that I have a strong interest in the imagery of the Pirate, and that in fact, it was the topic of my Master's Thesis.
OK, so it's ITLAPD, no reason to hold back—
Five of my favorite Golden Age Pirate illustrators, and why-

5. Frank Schoonover (1877-1972), If N. C. Wyeth was Pyle's "best" student, Schoonover was a close second, and probably closer to Pyle. Schoonover kicked out some very respectable, gutsy pirate pieces, including a great story on Jean Lefitte, a figure rarely visited in the genre. This (top image) is my favorite image of Blackbeard.
4. Dean Cornwell 1892-1960. Had a real interesting feel for the subject, with an uncanny sense of outdoor light on deck. Cornwell was a student of Harvey Dunn, Brandywine alum, making him a second generation Pyle student.
3. N. C. Wyeth 1882-1945. Pyle's prize student, he created masterworks for Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Though he did do a handful of other pirate pieces in his career, I don't see the subject as one that interested him more than any others; he was good at them all.
2. Norman Price 1877-1951. After Pyle's passing, and with Wyeth in incredible demand, the job of top pirate illustrator might have been split between Schoonover and Norman Price. Though almost any Brandywine student was capable of pulling off a good pirate piece, Price (who was not a Brandywine alum) came repeatedly to the subject, including many illustrated editions of Robert Chambers' pirate tales throughout the 20's, and did a nice Treasure Island as well.
1. Howard Pyle 1856-1911. Set the bar. It wasn't only his style of work, but it was the research that Pyle did into the subject. in 1889 Pyle traveled to Jamaica, which helped him create a colorful, but believable image, that shaped the way the world has thought of Caribbean pirates ever since.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A little gem of a book, without a place on the shelf

A few years ago, at a point when Dover started to look at what I brought in with some real interest, I began acquiring more books to impress upon them. At a local convention I found what appeared to me a solid hit: from 1902, it was well old enough to be in the public domain (always makes it easier...) a neat little tome with some well executed illustrations. A plus for me—it was called Viking Tales. After pirates, Vikings might be my next big weakness in subject matter....

These weren't run-of-the-mill 1902 book illustrations—they have a distinct design quality about them, I think that the artist, Victor Lambdin, was letting Art Nouveau work of the period influence his style of illustration, (look at that branch work in the chapter head, "Harald's Battle") here in this little book of Viking Tales. I'm guessing it didn't go over real big at the time, because I can find almost no other books that Lambdin worked on other than Viking Tales. His name does turn up in a few magazines during the first few years of the 20th century, but it doesn't look like he made a deep career of illustration.

Dover's considered this book on two separate occasions, (under two different regimes) but nobody seems to feel it has enough draw to print it. (it's the story that seems to be the hard sell, not the art...) While the art has a slightly juvenile quality, I like the sparse, clean ink work, and the pattern-like motifs used to fill distinct areas. If this interests you enough, it can be had as a download from—and there are plenty of print-on-demand vendors who can get you a hard-copy, if you can't turn over an early edition from abe, or alibris.