Maurice Sendak, 1928–2012

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From Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (1966) by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

All the obituaries of the late Maurice Sendak have focused inevitably on Where the Wild Things Are. That gives me a chance to draw attention to some less familiar Sendak drawings whose finer crosshatching naturally appeals to an inveterate crosshatcher such as myself. The combination of bold characterisation and dense shading makes these pieces look remarkably similar to Mervyn Peake’s illustrations of the 1940s. Sendak spoke to Nick Meglin about some of the influences on his drawing in The Art of Humorous Illustration (1973). Given what he says here it’s evident that he and Peake (who also admired Cruikshank and Rowlandson) shared antecedents:

Many of the artists who influenced me were illustrators I accidentally came upon. I knew the Grimm’s Fairy Tales illustrated by George Cruikshank. I just went after everything I could put my hands on illustrated by Cruikshank and copied his style. It was quite as simple as that. I wanted to crosshatch the way he did. Then I found Wilhelm Busch and I was off again. But happily Wilhelm Busch also crosshatched so the Cruikshank crosshatching wasn’t entirely wasted. And so an artist grows. I leaned very heavily on these people. I developed taste from these illustrators.

The 1860’s, the great years of the English illustrators from whom so much of my work is derived, are familiarly known as “the sixties” to admirers of Victorian book illustration. The influence of Victorian artists such as George Pinwell and Arthur Hughes, to name just two, is evident in the pictures I created for Higglety Pigglety Pop! (Harper and Row, 1967), Zlateh the Goat (Harper and Row, 1966), and A Kiss for Little Bear (Harper and Row, 1968). And I’ve learned from other English artists as well. Randolph Caldecott gave me my first demonstration of the subtle use of rhythm and structure in a picture book. Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water (Harper and Row, 1965) is an intentionally contrived homage to this beloved teacher.

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From Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (1966) by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

For other fine points in picture book making, I’ve studied the works of Beatrix Potter and William Nicholson. Nicholson’s The Pirate Twins certainly influenced Where the Wild Things Are (Harper and Row, 1963).

A retrospective of my English passion can be found in Lullabies and Night Songs (Harper and Row, 1965). The illustrations for this book, which skip from Rowlandson to Cruikshank to Caldecott and even to Blake, are a noisy pastiche of styles, though I believe they still resonate with my own particular sound. Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (Harper and Row, 1962) is as far as I am aware the only book I’ve done that reveals my admiration for Winslow Homer.

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Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life (1967).

About two-and-a-half years after the publication of Where the Wild Things Are, I finally became conscious of my reviving interest in the art I’ve experienced and loved as a child. The trigger was an exhibit (at The Metropolitan Museum) of pages from Little Nemo in Slumberland, Winsor McCay’s famous newspaper comic strip of the years 1905 to 1911. Before the exhibit I was ignorant of this popular American artist’s pure genius for graphic fantasy. It now sent me scooting back with new eyes to the popular art of my own childhood.

This recognition of personal roots is in no way meant as a triumphant revelation or as reverse snobbism, a put-down of my earlier, more ‘refined’ influences. What I’ve learned from English as well as French and German artists will, if I have my wish, become more absorbed into my creative psyche, blending and living peaceably with my own slice of the past. But of course all this happens on its own or it doesn’t happen at all.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Krazy Kat animations

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Krazy Kat – Bugologist (1916).

Among the films at the Library of Congress YouTube channel are a number of shorts from the early days of animation including several of the first Krazy Kat films. George Herriman apparently had nothing to do with these, they were Hearst corporation spin-offs, which perhaps explains their lack of Herriman’s eccentricities. They’re necessarily crude, of course; cartoon animation had barely begun in 1916 and Walt Disney was yet to make a film. It’s curious watching a cartoon which transcribes the comic strip conventions so literally, with speech balloons growing from the characters mouths. Also at the LoC channel is one of the later Gertie the Dinosaur films and the very strange The Centaurs, both by Winsor McCay and son.

Exposition Universelle catalogue

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Regular visitors here will know that the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 is never far away, and this is another addition to the surfeit of information about that event. Following last week’s delve into University of Heidelberg’s digital archives—which I really ought to have properly investigated when I first looked at them last year—I’ve been going deeper into their collection which isn’t always easy when many parts of the site are German-only. One section is devoted to books from 19th century expositions with a sub-section of works concerned with the Exposition Universelle.

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The Palace of Electricity.

Among various publications they have the lavish three-volume exposition catalogue which is a real treat to see, not least for its quality. Much of the content is familiar from other books but new views of these remarkable Winsor McCay-like structures are always welcome.

The three volumes are here, here and here.

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Main entrance gate.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Exposition Universelle publications
Exposition cornucopia
Return to the Exposition Universelle
The Palais Lumineux
Louis Bonnier’s exposition dreams
Exposition Universelle, 1900
The Palais du Trocadéro
The Evanescent City

Further tales from the Obscure World

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L’enfant penchée.

We’re at the penultimate post in this week-long tribute to the Cités Obscures series of François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, and there isn’t enough space left to cover some of the more recent volumes in detail. What follows is a quick skate through three more major works.

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L’enfant penchée.

L’enfant penchée (1996), or The Leaning Child, is an expanded version of a 1995 children’s story by Schuiten and Peeters, Mary la penchée. Mary is the young daughter of wealthy industrialists from Mylos struck down one day by some cosmic calamity which shifts her centre of gravity, causing her to permanently lean at an apparently impossible angle. When she’s bullied at school she runs away and joins a circus. A meeting with scientists and astronomers leads to a resolving of her affliction, and the repairing of her ruined life. This is a fascinating story for a number of reasons, not least the existence of a parallel narrative taking place in our world which is conveyed using photographs, and which unveils some of the metaphysical aspects of the Obscure World. The story of Mary is also flawlessly drawn. Schuiten uses a black-and-white style modelled on the work of old magazine illustrators like Franklin Booth, and there are further references to Winsor McCay and Jules Verne.

Continue reading “Further tales from the Obscure World”

La route d’Armilia by Schuiten & Peeters

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Ferdinand and Hella look down on the skyscrapers of Brüsel.

La route d’Armilia (1988) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters is the next substantial story in the Cités Obscures series after La Tour; there was also a book about transportation in the Obscure World, L’Encyclopédie des transports présents et à venir, published the same year. La route d’Armilia is the book where Schuiten and Peeters’ Jules Verne influence comes to the fore, with the story of a young boy whose name is derived from Verne characters, Ferdinand Robur Hatteras, undertaking an airship journey to Armilia at the Obscure World’s northern pole. As with the earlier L’archivist, this is mainly an excuse for Schuiten to demonstrate his prodigious architectural invention and draughtsmanship, although the story this time is more of a piece. The journey takes us from the city of Mylos—a dismal place of factories, chimneys and smoke, like one of the polluted cities of the early Industrial Revolution—over the cities of Porrentruy, Mukha, Brüsel, Bayreuth, Calvani, Genova and København. Each city is substantially different from the last, and one of the pleasures is seeing what the next stop along the way will be like.

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left: the airship passes through the canyon streets of Porrentruy; right: in Brüsel a woman hangs perilously from a ledge. Acrobatics or accident, we never discover which.

Continue reading “La route d’Armilia by Schuiten & Peeters”