Tuesday, 1 May 2012

On Sci-Fi Art Work

Guest post by Dr. George H. Elder, author of Child of Destiny.

Usually, sci-fi books are not illustrated, although one can easily claim that many graphic novels are indeed sci-fi in nature. Alas, I can’t help but be attracted by drawn images, and I decided early on that Genesis would be illustrated. I believe drawings work with prose to better share what an author envisions than either mode of communication can do alone. My doctoral work at Penn State examined this area, with numerous studies indicating that simultaneously enlisting semantic and visuospatial resources greatly enhances attention acquisition and memory formation.


However, it should be understood that there are marked differences between the writing requirements of a graphic novel and novels of more conventional natures. The plot and character development of both require explication, but a graphic novel does not need quite as much by way of written descriptions. Yes, a picture can say thousands of words, so I decided to give illustrations a try in Genesis.

The issue shifted to cost versus available talent, a practical dilemma. Moreover, all costs were out of pocket, and few of us are rich. I was blessed in having access to the Center for Cartoon Studies, which is located in White River Junction, Vermont. I saw CCS’s student artwork online and was impressed. Good artists can also be found online at Deviant Art, which is an excellent venue for anyone considering hiring an artist.

I opted to employ a competition with CCS’s students and described the Genesis project along with contract terms on the school’s posting board. Five artists submitted artwork. My friends in the art world, after much debate, decided that Randal Drew should be awarded the contract. A price of $25 per ink was offered, with an award for up to 125 drawings being made. The price was acceptable, although be advised, very experienced graphic artists can be much more expensive.

Since the number of drawings would be limited, I had to select key points wherein the drawings would dovetail with the descriptions, plotlines and action sequences in such a way as to maximize impact. This was far more difficult than I imagined. I must leave it up to the reader to decide if the purpose was achieved. Clearly, the artwork had to address the characters, time/space capsule, pivotal action scenes, and important plotline shifts.

Some of this was achieved, and seeing a character like Anita in a drawing allows the reader to better grasp her size and power, for she most assuredly does not have a typical female form. Seeing the capsule was also illuminating, as were some of the action scenes. My main regret soon became not having more drawings done for each Chapter, but my resources were limited and the artist was hard-pressed due to time-constraints. Book 1 alone consumed 58 drawings spread over fifteen chapters and many more could have been used.


In many ways, this was an experiment, and if readers of the hard-copy text like them we will extend the drawings to Books 2, 3 and 4. There are still a number of technical problems to overcome. At 300-370 pages, each text is already the size of an average sci-fi novel, and adding sixty more pages for the drawings presents a financial barrier to publishers. However, my publisher felt the project was technically and financially feasible for hard copies. Kindle is still grappling with incorporating drawings and other graphics. I imagine time will resolve these issues.

Ultimately, sales will dictate content, which is a harsh reality that any author must confront. Genesis was designed to be visual in nature, and parts of the story would benefit greatly from drawings and artwork—such as the gigantic battles in Book 2 and the surrealistic events that transpire in Book 3 (e.g. the crew’s experiences with the Seekers).

On the other hand, some might find the art superfluous, and this is a point I must consider. We write for audiences and not just for ourselves. We are judged accordingly, but I do not believe it wise to allow our need to follow a given genre form to stifle creativity. Sci-fi is all about reaching out in new directions, and thus we ought to consider the role of graphics in our novels.

There is always the bogyman of cost waiting around every corner, but I’ve no regrets about laying out what I could on a hope and a prayer. Experimentation is the very heart of sci-fi! Our shared passion is a conjunction of imagination, knowledge, and dreams that pushes the envelope of what could be to its limits. We are only here for a second or two, so we must do all we can while we can to try something new!

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2 comments:

  1. Great post. I love it when books surprise you with illustrations. For me it makes the book even more special.

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  2. I love this post! I agree with karen - illustrations in books you don't expect them to be in are like a nice surprise - makes the experience that much more special!

    Thanks for postin!

    ~Mare Borthwick, Novel Publicity

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