My bedtime reading this week is Peter Dickinson's lively YA historical novel, The Dancing Bear. I first read it as a library book and then was lucky enough to come across a secondhand copy with its dust jacket by David Smee intact. I read it every few years, and this time around it seems as good as ever.
For the first time, though, I got to wondering about David Smee. I can't find much about him on the internet, although a Summary Bibliography of his works has images of many dust jackets and interior illustrations, including the jackets he created for Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books. I can see how those covers would seem definitive to the readers who were introduced to Earthsea by them.
I came to Earthsea late, as an adult, and have been deeply satisfied by the recent Charles Vess illustrations. I don't always imagine the characters and the action the way Vess does, but his pictures certainly have influenced my mental imagery. What interests me as I reread Bear is how much I like Smee's Persian-influenced illustrations without their influencing how I visualize the action. Art and story are complementary, and the pictures' stylization, moreover, gives them a timelessness that holds up well.
Should the artwork support and interpret fiction, or should it stand on its own? There is no answer, just gratitude when both work well.