Awards ceremonies are taking a lot of flak right now for not crediting illustrators properly, but it's what makes them so important, and why we owe them a debt of gratitude. Most people never notice the small-fry stuff when illustrators get overlooked. Often even the illustrators themselves don't see when they're not credited for tweeted images or listed in bookselling metadata. But awards are right there in your face, people pay attention and there's public debate. The people who stage the awards are almost always fervent book lovers, and they want to get it right; their positive responses can set off a tidal wave of change in the industry.
Today the Irish Times published some great comment pieces by many of the biggest names in children's books; writers Patricia Forde, Sarah Webb and Siobhán Parkinson, publisher Deirdre McDermott, agent Conor Hackett, Illustrators Ireland, and writer-illustrators/illustrators Oliver Jeffers, Niamh Sharkey, PJ Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Chris Judge, Chris Haughton, Conor Hackett, Oisín McGann, Sheena Dempsey, Shane Hegarty and me.
I think a lot of illustrators will be able to relate to something Sheena Dempsey wrote:
Read all the articles here in today's Irish Times.
Another name you should note is artist Declan Shalvey, he's been working hard on the similar #ArtCred campaign in the comics industry.
I'll post my article here, but be sure to read the others on the Irish Times, they're excellent. And I've put links to the articles on the bottom update section of the Pictures Mean Business webpage.
Pictures Mean Business (by Sarah McIntyre)
People think of children’s book illustration as something jolly or magical. But when I started up the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, I was finding myself more and more upset watching illustrator friends around me having near-breakdowns.
Working to short deadlines, they’d sometimes spend up to 17 hours a day creating lavish pictures for a book, only to find that when the book was published, their name wasn’t on the front cover. They’d be shocked to find no mention of their on the publisher website, on bookselling websites, and reviewers would write about the book as though the pictures didn’t exist, or as though the writer had created them. Sometimes the book wins a prestigious award, only for the writer to get all the credit and appear alone in the media photos, as happened recently with the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. This is particularly galling with picture books (the clue is in the word ‘picture’), where the illustrator’s pictures tell as much of the story as the text, sometimes more, and sometimes a slightly different story to what the words are saying.
This isn’t about illustrator ego, it’s about survival. At the best of times, illustration is a frighteningly difficult business. Even if we have the talent, to get more work we still have to build fans and a readership, just as writers do. We need people to know our name, so readers can seek out our books, publishing art directors will think to commission us, and schools will invite us to speak to their children. (These paid events can be a life line.) In terms of publicity, if we illustrate a book for a famous writer but our name isn’t on the front cover of the books, we’ll have to start from scratch when we move on to work with a different writer.
Unlike most people in the publishing process, there’s one thing writers and illustrators usually have in common: we’re freelance, we don’t earn a salary, we have no pensions set up for us and we’re totally dependent on building our name as our brand to get more work. To pay our rent, feed our kids, upgrade our software, etc, we need all the publicity we can get. For all the help it can give an illustrator, it’s not asking a lot to give us credit for our work.
But there’s a very positive side to this, too! I’ve found that often children will connect with pictures in a way they won’t love a solid page of text. And if they can be invited to love stories by drawing pictures, a named illustrator can be a huge source of inspiration to them. If we let kids know there’s a real person who creates these pictures (maybe even get the chance to meet them at school), they won’t vaguely assume the pictures were automatically churned by some sort of computer. They’ll think, I can do this!
Not all writers and illustrator work together the same way. When I make books with Philip Reeve (who has also worked as an illustrator), we both come up with the ideas together, then he puts the ideas into words and I put them into pictures; we’re very much co-authors. Sometimes when I make picture books, I only talk with the editor and art director and don’t talk with the writer until the book is published. But even though I didn’t contribute to the initial idea of the story, my pictures build a whole world, much of which isn’t even mentioned in the story.
Sometimes illustrators are brought in to add small illustrations to a longer book (often for older children or adults) and the pictures play a slightly smaller role in the storytelling. But I’d argue that if a book has at least one big picture per chapter, the publisher ought to put the illustrator’s name legibly somewhere on the front cover. These pictures still influence our reading of the story and put unique images into our heads that the words wouldn’t have created by themselves.
Illustrators are amazing, and Ireland should be proud to boast some of the world’s finest.