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Picturing a World

Picturing a nightmare

An article, "This is a wake-up call': Booker winner Paul Lynch on his novel about a fascist Ireland, prompts me to write briefly about Lynch's deeply immersive novel, Prophet Song. What I have chosen for today's illustration, however, is The Great War, a wordless panorama by Joe Sacco. Why? Because, given the threats that loom over us today, I've been musing lately on how art can best capture the lived human experience of the nightmares we inflict on each other and ourselves.

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Freefall into 2024!

With a horrible political year ahead, let's go out of December 2023 in style. Happy New Year's EVE everybody!

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After the Plague: Medieval Cambridge

Website alert: For historical fiction writers, a new website called After the Plague provides a wealth of information on life, health, and death in Cambridge, England, in the period ca. A.D. 1000–1500. It takes findings derived from scientific investigations of a thousand skeletons of people who lived in and around Cambridge and uses them, not only to generalize, but to reconstruct individual lives. Sixteen essay-length profiles are included.

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Thanksgiving 1908

Holidays are repetitious. Repetitions make commercial work easier. Even writers who try to avoid doing so repeat themselves unconsciously. After all, humans (as well as AI) are pattern-seeking creatures. Well, may your holiday fall into whatever pattern you love—or carry you into novel ways of picturing your world. Happy Thanksgiving!
Image via a Norman Rockwell Museum post, Illustrations as easy as pie.

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Cincinnati witches

Well, I meant to post this image at Hallowe'en. Having no inspiration to start off Thanksgiving week, I'll toss it out for any giggle it might bring you. And who knows? Maybe it will prompt somebody to write a holiday story—something about party ideas in a turn-of-the-century American magazine? maybe a fantasy story about a fashionable coven in an alternative universe? What's your fancy?

Image via Tumbler. For the article in which the original appears, click here.

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Wyeth's soldier

Words could evoke the rural setting—the mythical America Americans like to believe in. They could make the dog running to greet his master recall Odysseus's homecoming. But the set of those shoulders? No. In a world where wars continue and continue, we need all the arts—visual, poetic, musical, and narrative—to remind us of what we have done and are doing, and who pays the greatest price. Armistice Day—if only. For a thoughtful essay on N.C. Wyeth's Homecoming, read Homer, Wyeth, Rockwell: Three Visions of Veterans.

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Color separation, 1905

Blog post alert: The archive of the now defunct blog for Firestone Library's Graphic Arts Collection at Princeton University has a post on Color separation for Scribner's Magazine 1905. Anyone seriously interested in the techniques used would have to search further, but its a good quick look at how colored illustrations were produced for magazines at the turn of the 20th C—including this shopper by Walter Jack Duncan for H. G. Dwight's article, "An Impressionist's New York," in Scribner's (November 1905). And by the way, doesn't she add panache to a gloomy November day?

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Tiny story formats

This engraved illustration to a page in Edward Young's Night Thoughts by William Blake from his own watercolor design demonstrates pictorial drama, while the thirty-line text shows approximately how long a one-page tiny story could be. Blake reacted to the poem. We, on the other hand, could ignore it and react to the imagery as inspiration for a story. As I said in my last post Kathleen Jennings has a good post on formats for tiny illustrated stories.

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Bear story

Serendipity + disparate connections = story possibility. Recently, my husband and I took a drive along a rural back road. In the side yard of a pretty 19th C farmhouse, a black bear was asleep. When we stopped, it roused and ambled away. On our return down the same road later, there it was again. When I e-mailed a niece about it, she replied, "The Napping Bear—it could be a pub or home goods store or anything." I thought of Barbara Firth's illustration for Martin Waddell's Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? and bingo! a children's bookstore. Now to figure out what happens there.

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Alan Lee's Green Dragon Inn

A few years ago, I borrowed a library copy of The Hobbit illustrated by Alan Lee. On the back of the jacket was an illustration of Bilbo joining the dwarves in front of the Green Dragon pub which was not included inside. Oh, well, I decided to spring for a second-hand copy just for the pictures and ordered on line what I thought was the right edition. When it arrived, lo and behold, its jacket was different. No Green Dragon. Phooey. To my amusement, when I searched for the illustration this summer, it turned up at a website with exactly my story of disappointment about the Green Dragon jacket illustration. That set me thinking about the difference between fan fiction and fan illustration.

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