Sunday, 23 November 2008

Now we are ten

I watched the last in the BBC4 Picture Book series. This last programme was about illustrated books for older children and it was probably the weakest of the three. It did not seem to know whether it was a programme about children's literature or illustration - as if a programme about illustrators would not quite be enough.

Ardizzone was in there again, this time for Stig of the Dump (see my earlier posting). Tom's Midnight Garden was also featured and Martin Salisbury gave a thoughtful and justifiably glowing assessment of Susan Einzig's lovely illustrations.

Philip Pullman's little illustrations at the beginning of the chapters in Northern Lights are superb I think. Author's illustrations are always fascinating, but often the skill level is fairly low. Pullman's pictures are very accomplished and sophisticated - more designs than illustrations perhaps, but incredibly evocative.

Neil Gaiman's collaborator, Dave McKean was featured too, but this time for a book with David Almond - The Savage. I like Dave McKean best when you can see the drawing, as you can in this book. It was good to see Shirley Hughes singing its praises.

Mervyn Peake cropped up as illustrator of Treasure Island and it must be said that his illustrations are superb. I was a little dubious about the amount of contributors who claimed to have a Peake illustrated copy of Treasure Island as children though. Was his version really that popular? But you can have your very own beautifully bound, hardback copy as an Everyman Classic.

Treasure Island - like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner that he likewise illustrated - is one of those books that each generation of illustrators has a stab at. Because it was a programme about British illustration, it didn't mention N C Wyeth's famous version, but it could have mentioned Rowland Hilder's or John Minton's. Instead we got Ralph Steadman, whose Treasure Island I always feel is the illustration equivalent of over-acting. Peake is the man to beat. No contest.

But seriously - no Charles Keeping? In programme about British illustrated literature for older children? No Victor Ambrus? Shame on you!

And shame too for getting Chris Riddell to appear in the series but not acknowledge his contribution as an illustrator. I cannot think of anyone else on that programme who did not get a chance to talk about their own work at some point. What a missed opportunity.

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