Peter spoke to Jeremy Briggs about the publication, how it came about and his plans for future issues.
downthetubes: Where did the initial idea for illustrators come from?
Peter Richardson: Geoff West, the Svengali-like genius behind Book Palace Books, was the man that initially mooted the idea. I had produced a hefty volume for Book Palace Books devoted to Ron Embleton’s Wulf the Briton and was also working on a book devoted to the art of Denis McLoughlin and I think that Geoff began to get excited at the thought of producing a quarterly journal devoted to the best of UK and European illustration over the last 150 years.
The rationale was that there was an evident yawning gap in the market, which in a way was underlined by Dan Zimmer’s Illustration quarterly, which is largely confined to great American illustrators. We wanted to produce a journal with equally stunning content, sharing the great UK and European illustrators with an international readership.
DTT: What is your background and how did you get involved with illustrators?
Peter: I have been working as a freelance illustrator all my adult life and have worked in a wide variety of media. I’ve taught illustration and generally been able to immerse myself totally in a job I find immensely rewarding. I got involved with illustrators because I’ve known Geoff for many years. I had started buying books and comics from him in the late 1970s but we got to know each other in the early 1990s when we would meet for lunch in some trendy London eatery and compare notes on various aspects of trash culture. These meetings reached their nadir when, on one occasion, the waitress had to ask us if we wouldn’t mind moving our Swoppets off the table so that she could serve our food.
So we have known each other a long time and when I started blogging a few years ago I think that also acted as a catalyst for my publishing activities with Book Palace Books. illustrators itself has been in development for well over a year. There has been a phenomenal amount of work involved in getting this publication to a point where we felt confident enough to go to press!
DTT: What is the format of the journal and what sort of subjects will it be covering?
Peter: The format of the publication is crucial and we’ve devoted a lot of time into getting it right. This involved a certain amount of trial and error and running page layouts past a variety of people, several of whom included designers, typographers and art directors, including our associate editor Bryn Havord, who was a visionary and influential Fleet Street art director, in order to get the thing just as we wanted. The most important thing to bear in mind with a production like this is that less is more. If as a reader you are overly aware of the design of each spread then you are not getting the full impact of the artwork. Our style is simple and clean with dynamic layouts and easy to read typography, providing an enjoyable and stimulating experience for the reader.
The subject matter is as it says on the tin, illustrators. The fact that our remit is so definite, and the material we can focus on so infinite, allows us to be very creative in terms of what we present. In issue 1 we feature the art of Denis McLoughlin with a beautifully written and compelling profile by his friend and biographer, David Ashford. It features some superb reproductions of McLoughlin’s hard-boiled fiction covers, as well as a lot of his western themed work, much of it scanned from the original boards. In addition we have an interview with Ian Kennedy, who will need no introduction to your readers. He relates some fascinating experiences of working as one of the UK’s premier comic strip and fantasy artists with both IPC and DC Thomson (with whom he continues to work as Commando cover artist extraordinaire). In addition we have a terrific feature by David Roach on the work of Angel Badia Camps, a Spanish illustrator who did much to revolutionise the romance pulp fiction artwork of the ’60s and ’70s. Mick Brownfield takes us through the process of creating a Christmas cover for Radio Times and the issue rounds off with a look at the work of Cheri Herouard, again penned by David Roach, who presents us with some of this Parisian artist’s best ‘good girl’ art of the 1910s and 1920s.
Moving on to issue 2 we have a really superb feature on David Wright, covering his life and art and featuring some stunning examples of his pin up art for the Daily Sketch, as well as the story behind his creation of Carol Day, which is often cited as one of the greatest newspaper strips you have never seen! It really was a work of genius and we are able, with the help of collectors and enthusiasts such as Roger Clark, to present the very best examples of Wright’s art many scanned from the original boards. We also have features on the fabulous adventure and wildlife art of Raymond Sheppard and there’s a fascinating look at the life and work of historical and boy’s adventure illustrator, Cecil Doughty, whose work really blossomed on the back of the post war revival in children’s book and periodical publishing. There’s a look at the work of Renato Fratini who created some truly jaw dropping artwork during the 1960s and early 1970s for covers and film posters, including From Russia With Love.
Issue 3 will include the work of one of the most remarkable illustrators ever in terms of sheer draughtsmanship, vision and powerful storytelling. I am referring to the work of Fortunino Matania who started his professional career at the age of 14 and went on to become one of the greatest historical artists the world has ever seen. In addition, he was also one of the greatest reportage artists, sharing trenches with soldiers on the Western Front during the 1914-1918 War as well as covering events such as the Coronation of King Edward VIII – which he had to draw to a tight deadline from memory as not only were cameras not allowed within the confines of Westminster Abbey for such occasions but neither were pencils and sketch books!
Issue 4 will feature the work of Michael Johnson who was one of the premier UK illustrators of the 1960s and has been honing and refining his craft ever since. He was part of that incredibly exciting era when it was still possible for illustrators to earn a small fortune working with visionary art directors. Our associate editor Bryn Havord, who was one of those art directors, will be penning this piece. On top of that we have a long and fascinating interview with Mick Brownfield, who has to be one of the standout talents as well as one of the most consistently high profile UK illustrators for at least the last forty years.
DTT: Who will be writing for it and will the use of original artwork continue in future issues?
Peter: We are very lucky as we have a really great roster of writers who we are adding to as illustrators gathers momentum. I have mentioned the two Davids; Ashford and Roach, both of whom have written some excellent features for us, and Bryn Havord, who was an award-winning Fleet Street art director who commissioned many of the movers and shakers who will be appearing over the coming years in this publication. We have Luci Gosling of the Mary Evans Picture Library who is going to be working with us as well as Brian Sibley, Rian Hughes and several other writers who we are currently sounding out, as well as your good self Jeremy.
Our editorial directive is that the writers should reveal their own personal passions for the artist’s work and try to bring their subject to life. This, of course, requires research, sometimes interviews with the artist if possible and with other interested parties, but we are keen to present to the reader not simply a dry and ultimately dull list of publications with attendant dates but writing that attempts to bring life and vitality to the artists and their work.
The use of original artwork and/or top quality tear sheets is an essential for a publication of this magnitude. In addition to sourcing the optimum best artwork, there is a certain amount of non-intrusive restoration involved in cleaning up old and degraded printed samples so that in each and every case we can present the artist’s work at its very best. No effort is spared and the use, where possible, of original artwork is an essential part of our editorial directive. At which juncture I must mention the incredible amount of friendly and unstinting assistance we have had from collectors and galleries all of whom have provided superb scans of artwork, which will now, thanks to illustrators, be reaching a far wider audience.
DTT: In addition to illustrators, what other titles are available from Book Palace Books?
Peter: There are a whole host of really rather tasty titles which you can check out on their website at: http://www.bookpalacebooks.com/
The most recent books include the already mentioned The Art of Denis McLoughlin, which was a real labour of love. During the course of assembling all the material for this book we managed to access material that had been rescued from an old garden shed by a member of the family, shortly after the artist’s death. These included many of his working drawings for the murals he produced for the Woolwich Barracks, which was subsequently destroyed by a V1 rocket in 1944. These artworks have never had a public airing before. Aside from that we have literally hundreds of covers from his hard-boiled fiction work for TV Boardman, including for the first time ever complete indexes of his covers and all the hard-boiled paperback covers, many of which are scanned from printer’s proofs. There are also reproductions of his Buffalo Bill Annual artworks, many of which have been scanned from the surviving boards, plus superb scans of his Boardman comic work from publisher’s proofs given to David Ashford by the artist. This book is something that we are all exceptionally proud of, our only regret being that Denis himself won’t be around to see it. He was a really lovely guy and it would have been so rewarding for everyone concerned if he could have had a copy of this defining retrospective of his work.
We are also working full tilt on a major project which has the working title of Frank Bellamy’s Complete Heros the Spartan, it’s a companion volume to the already published Ron Embleton’s Complete Wulf the Briton and like Wulf will come in a regular as well as limited collector’s edition. As with Wulf, we are putting a lot of time and effort into the restorations as well as sourcing some fabulous examples of original artwork in order to add that really necessary degree of contextualisation to this long overdue publishing project.
DTT: The high quality format of illustrators means a high cover price. How would you go about selling it to someone who is not yet convinced about buying it?
Peter: Well, it is a lot of money if you compare it to a copy of a certain weekly celeb magazine which retails for £3.95. But here’s where what we are producing begins to define itself as something more than ephemera. A yearly subscription to such a publication is around £75.00, whereas illustrators is only £55.00 in the UK. With the former it has a finite shelf life, something that you will be wrapping the household rubbish in after a couple of weeks. illustrators on the other hand is not ephemeral. It’s a reference tool and in many cases will be the only defining source of information on a given artist’s life and work. With 96 pages, square back binding, and state of the art printing, each issue of illustrators is more of a book than a magazine. It will build into a reference work dedicated to some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen. If you then compare it to some high end art journals you will then see that we are actually less expensive than most of our contemporaries.
It’s also worth mentioning that illustrators will not be drowning in a sea of advertising! The advertising we do carry is aimed very specifically at our readership, stuff that we find exciting and of interest and we feel sure that our readers will too. Whilst on the subject – and this is where it gets even more exciting for people involved with the world of illustration – illustrators offers people (be they artists, galleries, agents, art colleges, image libraries, you name it) the chance to promote their services for an incredibly low price via our directory listings page and the QR code on the front of each issue, which enables readers to access each advertiser’s website via their smart phone.
Individual issues of illustrators are available at £15 plus postage and four issue subscriptions are available for £55 post free.
An e-preview copy of illustrators issue 1 is available here.
There are more details of illustrators journal and how to purchase copies on the illustrators website which includes links to various artists and comics websites, original artwork sales sites and art supplies sites.
News, reviews, interviews and features for print and on-line: Spaceship Away (since October 2005), Bear Alley (since February 2007), downthetubes (since June 2007), and Eagle Times (since October 2008). Plus DC Thomson’s The Art Of Ian Kennedy, Titan’s Dan Dare and Johnny Red reprints, Ilex’s War Comics: A Graphic History and 500 Essential Graphic Novels, and Print Media’s The Iron Moon and Strip magazine.