-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 Thief, Krampus 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 Darkness? The Shining? Something Wicked This Way Comes? A Wrinkle in Time? What?
We're all ears.