This may seem like a ridiculous question. But calm down everyone… clearly, the words in a novel should paint a far more vivid picture than any illustration ever could. That’s exactly the point-of-view that I’d normally argue: it’s sacrilege to even consider putting pictures in novels! Novels harness the power of words, they’re not picture books… yadda yadda…
But… would the right sort of illustration enhance some novels?
Of course, illustrators can be great artists – we can all recognise that. But we’re only allowed to appreciate illustrations if they’re in childrens’ books or in comics.
The closest we tend to come to an illustrated novel nowadays is in books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which illustration is used intelligently to help us gain insight in to the mind of the protagonist/narrator: a map of a street, a hypnotic pattern from some fabric, a scrawled doodle. Maybe this is the furthest that an author can push illustration without the risk of producing something that’s seen as more of a novelty than a serious novel.
Both of those books were critically acclaimed and hugely popular – I love them – it can work when done well. And they aren’t alone: The Giro Playboy by Michael Smith was called “A British beat classic for the 21st century” by Esquire, and The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall created images out of the words themselves. What I’m interested in is whether a more ‘straight’ form of illustration can still be effective – or is it just completely unnecessary in a novel?
Is there a middle ground for the right book? Perhaps a hybrid of a traditional novel and a graphic novel? Whaddya think?
Any suggestions of books that have actually done this successfully?
The brilliant illustrations at the head of this post are from:
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Takes From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller