Monday, April 4, 2016

Dream Projects

-By Arnie Fenner

Lauren's post last week about the "Dream Covers" group show she curated for Krab Jab Gallery in Seattle got me thinking a little bit about artists with "dream projects."

James Gurney, of course, created the incredibly popular Dinotopia series, Brom has written and illustrated several novels (The Plucker, The Child ThiefKrampus the Yule Lord, etc.) with more on the way, Tom Kidd has been plugging away on his Gnemo book, if I recall correctly, since the 1980s, and visitors to MC know that Greg Manchess is hard at work on his Above the Timberline opus. But those are examples of artists working on their own creations, writing, designing, and illustrating, and what I was really thinking about was more along the lines of Lauren's show: artists illustrating their favorite books. Written by someone else, that is.

Roy G. Krenkel, besides nurturing younger artists like Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, and Jeff Jones, was a life-long fan of the fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. In 1973 Donald Grant agreed to publish one of his dream projects: illustrating a hardcover collection of Howard's short stories titled Sowers of the Thunder. Krenkel provided full page and spot drawings along with decorative devices and hand-lettered titles, all of which helped make the book extremely popular. It rapidly sold out its first edition, was reprinted, and eventually was reprinted again in paperback by another publisher (though with a different cover by Jones). Roy illustrated a second REH book for Grant, The Road to Azrael, and was just beginning to work on a deluxe Conan volume, The Scarlet Citadel (another of his dream projects), when he died from cancer in 1983.

Bernie Wrightson had been a huge fan of the Frankenstein story since watching the Karloff movies on TV as a kid; going through his body of work reveals a significant number of drawings, both serious and funny, of the monster, most showing the influence of the movies. The DC comic that he co-created with Len Wein, Swamp Thing, was inspired by Frankenstein so it was almost inevitable that he would eventually illustrate Mary Shelley's classic. Bernie has said, "I've always had a thing for Frankenstein, and it was a labor of love. It was not an assignment, it was not a job. I would do the drawings in between paying gigs, when I had enough to be caught up with bills and groceries and what-not. I would take three days here, a week there, to work on the Frankenstein volume. It took about seven years." Marvel published the book in 1983, Chuck Miller reprinted it in 1994, and Dark Horse released a 25th anniversary edition in 2008.

Another "labor of love" project was Michael Wm. Kaluta's illustrated edition of Metropolis by Thea Von Harbou (wife of the film adaptation's director Fritz Lang). Published by The Donning Company in 1988, Michael designed the book with a deliberate Art Nouveau-influence to reflect the time when the novel was written.

Though he's painted covers for The Hobbit and a Lord of the Rings omnibus for the SF Book Club, Donato has independently produced many works based directly on Tolkien's trilogy, a number of which were collected in his book Middle-Earth: Visions of a Modern Myth. But I think it is a safe bet that Dan would like to roll up his sleeves, take all of his existing paintings and drawings, create new ones, and design his own illustrated editions of the classics along with The Simarillion, Unfinished Tales, and, most likely, The Children of Húran for good measure. He says, "When I'm reading modern fantasy, it's always in comparison to what Tolkien did; the depth of creation, the depth of his characters and complexities, and the histories."

These are naturally just a very few examples of projects that reached fruition, either singularly or in some way collectively (thinking of Donato). I've talked through the years with Paul Bonner, Frank Cho, Mark Chiarello, Bruce Timm, and Kent Williams about books they'd either like to tackle or are actively planning to illustrate when their schedules permit. So this is a question for the artists out there reading this post:

What is the book—or story or poem—that you'd absolutely love to illustrate, start to finish, top to bottom? The Stars My Destination? The Left Hand of DarknessThe Shining? Something Wicked This Way Comes? A Wrinkle in Time? What?

We're all ears.


  1. My top-of-genre choices, without getting granular by sub-genre...
    Fantasy: The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip
    Classic: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
    Sci-Fi: Armor by John Steakley
    Horror: The Descent by Jeff Long
    YA: Shattered Sea books by Joe Abercrombie
    Anthology: Night Shift by Stephen King
    Ongoing Series: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

    1. If you made me choose only one though, it would be the omnibus edition of Riddle-Master, by McKillip.

  2. In my time, I'd like the opportunity to really tackle Peter and Wendy. It's so full of wonder and depth! I think that Barrie had a vision to his tale- much of which lies in undertone- that has yet to be captured, and I'd like the opportunity to tirelessly draw until I'm able to accomplish it.
    Brom has this drawing of Peter sitting crouched in the shadows of a tree that, to me, is the truest version of peter I've seen yet.

  3. R.L. Stevenson: "Treasure Island"
    Neil Gaiman: "Neverwhere" & "The Ocean at the End of the Lane"
    Robert E. Howard: Black Canaan (I know, a short story, but I'd still love to illustrate it.)
    Tim Powers: On Stranger Tides
    Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold

    1. I'll fight you for "Neverwhere", I wanted to illustrate practically every scene the whole time I was reading it... :P

    2. You , me, my good friend Brian Busch, and about a thousand others I know would love to illustrate Neverwhere. It was truly a wonderfully visual book and a great story. No reason you can't just do it for fun. I've done some character designs sketches for myself. Never quite got them where I wanted them, tho. And if you do, I'd love to see what you come up with.

  4. Great, everyone! Keep 'em coming.

  5. I could list a hundred, honestly... :P

    But some that inevitably make me itch to do illustrations are:

    Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (especially Looking Glass, it’s my favorite)
    All of Moorcock’s Elric series, Corum series, or “Dancers at the End of Time” series (and why are some of those apparently out of print?? They’re brilliant.)
    Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso"
    Spencer's "Faerie Queene"
    Tales of Hoffman
    All of Lord Dunsany’s short stories
    The Three Musketeers
    Mademoiselle do Maupin
    “The Princess and the Goblin” and “The Princess and Curdie”
    The Prydain Chronicles (which I read over and over as a kid and attempted to illustrate in 3rd Grade)
    The Ghormengast Trilogy
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (first three books)
    Basically everything by Terry Pratchett

    1. Oh wait I forgot "Neverwhere"!! (I see someone mentioned that) Definitely on my list too! All of these have me generating images in my head for practically every page...

    2. *Gormenghast (not awake yet...)

  6. Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" series.

  7. Angela Carter -- the short stories, "The Magical Toyshop", "Nights At The Circus"...
    "The Last Unicorn" and "The Folk Of The Air" by Peter S. Beagle.
    Gibson's Sprawl trilogy.

    [FWIW -- I'm doing the cover for "Neverwhere" (new Polish edition) as we speak.]

  8. Thanks for the post Arnie. My one dream job still has not been realized, that of illustrating the Tolkien Calendar. I picked up every year of that calendar when I was a young man, and gasped in amazement at John Howe, Ted Nasmith and Alan Lees interpretations... I am channeling all that passion into the new works I have been creating along the Middle-earth theme, but would love to see 12 images collected as a series to join that legacy. Someday maybe...

    1. Harper (who has the calendar-based-on-books license) seems to have gone in a different direction in recent years featuring more naive or primitive art, but everything goes in cycles. Fingers crossed you'll have the opportunity, sooner rather than later.

  9. Mists of Avalon has inspired me enough to try several illustrations, I'm just hoping I can do it justice.

  10. Hard to pick one but I would like a crack at these -

    People Of The Mist - H. Rider Haggard
    Book Of The Dun Cow - Walter Wangerin
    Foundation - Isaac Asimov
    The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket - E. Allan Poe
    Out Of The Silent Planet - C.S. Lewis
    Triplanetary - E.E. "Doc" Smith
    The Night Visitor - B. Traven

  11. The Razor's Edge - by Somerset Maugham
    Banshee - Short Story by Ray Bradbury
    Dagon - Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft as a one shot comic
    The Killer Inside Me - by Jim Thompson
    The Devil and Daniel Webster - Short Story by Stephen Vincent Benet
    Solomon Kane - By Robert E. Howard

    1. I always thought "The Devil and Daniel Webster" would make a great illustrated book. Likewise, I think giving "The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood a visual treatment would be pretty wonderful.

  12. I'm far from doing them the justice they deserve, but out of the books I've read, the two that inspire the most interesting visuals in my mind are the Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos and Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. The former because it has a sense of mystery and mythological wonder that I haven't seen in a lot of sci-fi (I'll happily take reading recommendations on that front!), and the latter because the world it describes takes standard fantasy tropes and twists them beautifully into something new with little pre-existing frame of reference. Plus it has very little in the way of existing, high quality art, whereas Hyperion has plenty.

  13. Dark Sun: Prism Pentad
    Dark Sun: Tribe of One Trilogy


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