Can a graphic novel ever achieve the status of a work of art?

The following essay was written in 2011 during the first year of my degree course. At this time I was aspiring to be an illustrator, therefore, of all the discourse lectures, the topic of graphic novels interested me the most. It was, perhaps, the most difficult question to choose, but I gave it my best shot. Although it was a challenge to find relevant theory to write about, I decided I would rather focus on something I was interested in, than pick an easier theme that bored me.

This essay will look at what a work of art is and whether or not a comic book or graphic novel could ever achieve this status. The word art can be broken down into different categories such as fine art and applied art. This essay will consider what art category graphic novels could come under or whether they are something else, for example literature or purely entertainment.

Art is a very difficult word to define, as there are so many different ideas about what it means. Even the definitions of the word can raise more questions. One perspective is that art is “commonly used to describe something of beauty, or a skill which produces an aesthetic result” Visual Art Cork (2011) [online]. However this in turn raises the question what is beauty and what counts as aesthetic? Another view is that art is produced because of thought and a creative impulse; yet again this definition can be questioned. Art, however, can be broken down into different categories such as: fine art, applied art, decorative art, design, and so forth.

Fine art is just as broad a topic as art in general. Usually people associate fine art with activities such as drawing and painting but over time other things have been included in this category for example sculpture, printmaking and illustration. “Art produced or intended primarily for beauty rather than utility.” Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia, (2011) [online]. Therefore it could be suggested that fine art is produced to look good, create a mood or evoke a feeling rather than for having a particular function. Nevertheless, as when defining art it is just as difficult to establish a clear definition for fine art as the media and strategies employed by Fine artists are constantly evolving and changing.

There is, on the other hand, a difference between fine art and applied art. Whereas fine art is principally aesthetically driven, applied art is focused on applying this beauty to functional objects. Chilvers (2004, page 29) refers to applied art as a “Term describing the design or decoration of functional objects so as to make them aesthetically pleasing.”

Therefore although there are similarities with fine art, the art is then being applied to everyday objects such as cups, magazines and other items that could have a greater impact on the everyday lives of people. There are also sub-categories for applied art such as interior design, graphic design and fashion design. The Bauhaus is an example of a school associated with greater cultural status being attributed to applied art.

Another type of art is sequential narrative art. “Art that contains a narrative communicated to the audience by a sequence of images (2 or more)…” Spiltink, (2011) [online]. So if there are two or more images that when put together tell a story this is sequential art. In a museum curators may hang paintings next to each other to create a connection or narrative however sometimes this relies on the audience to make the connection. William Hogarth (1697-1764) is a fine artist famous for his sequential art The Rake’s Progress 1734, Tate Britain (2011) [online]. These are eight oil paintings which gradually tell a story of the rise and fall of the character who inherits a fortune in his teens and dies penniless in Bedlam.

It is thought that sequential art dates as far back as the cave men and early cave paintings. Egyptian hieroglyphs are also a form of sequential narrative art. Comic strips and comic books use this idea of sequential art. One of the earliest forms of comic books was produced by Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846) during the 1800s through his histories en images or picture stories. Lambiek, (2011) [online]. He created a total of six titles including Les Amours de M. Vieuxbois (1839) which has been translated as Obadiah Oldbuck and was the first ever comic book to be published.

Comic books usually tell a story in a cartoon style drawn format. Despite being called comics they are not all funny. There are many different genres of the comic book form such as drama, adventure, politics or romance. Some of the most well known comics contain superheroes. Marvel is very well known for their comics relating to various superheroes including Iron Man, Spider-man, the Hulk and Wolverine. Marvel, (2011) [online]. A graphic novel on the other hand uses the same storytelling format as comic books but often deals with more mature themes and extensive storylines. Sometimes graphic novels are referred to as long comic books because they usually cover a story from start to finish.

A very famous graphic novel is Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986). In this book Spiegelman recounts his father’s experience during the Second World War in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. Spiegelman originally created a comic strip based on events that his father and mother had told him about when he was a child. This in turn led him to interview his father several times to find out the rest of the story. In order for people to understand this historical story Spiegelman has filled it with metaphors.

“The central device of Maus, which gives it a lot of its riveting force, is Spiegelman’s trick of drawing Jews with mouse heads and tails and Nazis with cat heads. (Poles are pigs, the French are frogs, and anyone trying to be anything else wears the appropriate mask.)”          (Wolk, 2007, Page 343)

When Spiegelman depicts his father trying to get home he draws him as a mouse with a pig mask so that he is not recognised as a Jew by anybody. It is possible to see how considered Spiegelman’s work is through the way he uses animal faces to represent the different people instead of simply drawing people. (See figure 1)

“The book’s characters aren’t drawn as “realistic” animals, though; they’re cartoon animals, the mice’s faces stripped down to a simple outline, a pair of dots for eyes, and maybe if they are lucky some eyebrows.”   (Wolk, 2007, Page 343)

Spiegelman mixes the factual subject matter of the holocaust with cartoon characters. Even the cat and mouse idea is a traditional format of children’s cartoons. Despite the cartoon feel to the novel the story is about a horrible past reality. As Wolk (2007, page 343) says animal cartoons are usually smoothly drawn however Maus was mostly drawn with a felt tip pen in an untidy way therefore using the least resources as possible. This connects with the fact that the drawings portray characters that had to make do with what they could find. This style of drawing helps to recount the horrors of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and the pain the survivors experienced.

In 1992 Maus won the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

“The Pulitzer is considered to be one of the highest honours in writing, and for a comic book to be recognised alongside the year’s best work in literature and journalism was previously unthinkable.”            (Duncan & Smith, 2009, Page 1)

The result of a graphic novel achieving this prize can immediately make people presume that graphic novels and comic books are a form of literature rather than a form of art. Will Eisner, who Wolk (2007, Page 14) called “the late grandmaster of American comics” liked to describe comics as a “literary form”. They strongly resemble works of literature as they use words and have a narrative content as well as being printed in books. The word ‘novel’ in the term graphic novel is very misleading because to most people it means a work of fiction in a written form. This then could also make people believe that graphic novels are actually a work of literature.

On the other hand, comic books and graphic novels can fit in with some of the definitions of a work of art. Some of the activities included under then term “art”, Visual Art Cork, (2011) [online], are illustration, drawing and cartoons. The visual aspect of graphic novels are usually drawn rather than any other kind of imagery and also of a cartoon format therefore this description of art is also a description of comics and graphic novels.

Graphic novels do have a narrative content but this does not necessarily mean that they are literature. Duncan and Smith (2009, page 14) quote Steranko in relation to narratives: “The art of the pictorial narrative is, in fact, the original art form. Painting, sculpture and their analogous crafts are all offspring of the narrative work. Today narratives are called comics”. Here Steranko is saying that comics, and therefore graphic novels, are a form of art.

In contrast, Duncan and Smith (2009, page 48) claim that “As with other forms of expression, such as music, film or literature, the more commercial a medium becomes, the less artistic merit it seems to hold for its critics.” Graphic novels are produced to be sold and are therefore a very commercial medium. However as well as the commercial mainstream comics, there were underground versions, which contained subjects that had been banned from other comics. “Underground comics were more like art and less like comics” Ezinearticles, (2011) [online]

Roger Sabin (1996, page 8) claims that comics have been relegated to the status of “trash icons” and the creators of comics have supposedly never been respected as “artists”. “…not uncommonly, they remain anonymous while the characters they have created go on to become household names (everybody knows who Superman is, but how many people can name his creators?).” This is not always the case. Art Spiegelman has reached a degree of fame on a wider cultural level.

Before Maus was published in book form, Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly launched the magazine RAW in 1980. Within this magazine they published many avant-garde cartoons and most importantly the serialised version on Maus.

            “RAW didn’t try to demonstrate that comics could be art; it just assumed that was a given. Effectively, it was an art magazine whose contributors were all mighty interested in comics.” (Wolk, 2007, page 341)

Based on RAW’s opinion, comics are a form of art, and Spiegelman’s Maus appeared in the magazine, therefore could be perceived as art.

As a work of art is difficult to define it must be just as hard to work out what can or cannot be classed as art. As Sabin (1996, page 8). rightly asks, “exactly who decides which mediums qualify and which do not?” Sabin (1996, page 8) also suggests “The essential idea implicit in the history told in these pages is that comics may or may not be ‘art’, but they are indisputably an artform.”

As art is a difficult term to define it is not easy to answer the question: Can a graphic novel ever achieve that status of a work of art? After looking at different definitions of art it appears that graphic novels are not necessarily fine art because they are not created just for beauty however they are produced using some of the same methods that a fine artist may use. Art Spiegelman drew out his entire graphic novel by hand and drawing is one of the methods used by artists. Graphic novels are closer to applied art in definition rather than fine art because the imagery has been created with a purpose in mind. There are arguments that graphic novels are a form of literature especially as Maus won the Pulitzer Prize and they have a narrative content. Another reason that they might not be considered a work of art is because they are a commercial medium, which causes many people to not even think to regard them as artwork.

Being a commercial medium, graphic novels are so much cheaper than a work of art such as a painting by Monet. A painting is more expensive because there is only one original copy of it. Somberville and Hanna state that “This is why, when an artist dies, their work is suddenly worth so much more: because they can’t make anymore originals.” Ezinearticles, (2010) [online]. So a graphic novel would not become expensive like these kinds of works of art because they can easily be reproduced meaning that many people can own a copy.

Despite being regarded as literature, the narrative content of a graphic novel is visual and is told through a sequence of drawings. This can be considered as a type of art form: sequential art.

Overall certain aspects of a graphic novel can be considered art but because of its similarity to literature and its commerciality it might not receive as much artistic merit as an example piece of fine art.

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Figure 1 (Random House, 2011 [Online])

Bows, F. (2011) All about Underground Comix [Online]. Available from: http://ezinearticles.com/?All-About-Underground-Comix&id=5989603 [Accessed 7 April 11].

Chilvers, I. (ed) (2004) The Oxford Dictionary of Art 3rd Edition. New York: Oxford Unitversity Press Inc

Douglas, M, (2011) Sequential Narrative Art: A definition of what I do.. [ONLINE] Available from: http://spiltink.dreamhost.com/salgood/words/naritiveartpt1.html. [Accessed 19 March 2011].

Duncan, R./ Smith M J, (2009) The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York, Continuum Press

Ellis-Christensen, T. (2011) What are Graphic Novels? [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-graphic-novels.htm. [Accessed 21 March 11].

Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. (2011) Fine art – definition of fine art by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fine+art. [Accessed 19 March 2011]

ipL2 (2011) Graphic Novels. [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.ipl.org/div/graphicnovels/gnsHistBasics.html. [Accessed 21 March 11].

Lambiek (2011) Comic creator: Rodolphe Töpffer. [ONLINE] Available from: http://lambiek.net/artists/t/topffer.htm. [Accessed 19 March 2011].

Marvel (2011) Marvel.com: The Official Site | Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Wolverine and the heroes of the Marvel Universe.Comics, News, Movies and Video Games | Marvel.com. [ONLINE] Available from: http://marvel.com/. [Accessed 21 March 2011].

Monsen, L. (2009) Graphic Novels: An Evolving Art Form Tackles New Themes. [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2009/May/20090508194958GLnesnoM0.3358576.html. [Accessed 21 March 11].

Random House, (2011), Maus I by Art Spiegelman (Figure 1) [ONLINE]. Available from: http://www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/maus1_5.html [Accessed 21 March 11].

Sabin, R. (1996) Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art London, Phaidon Press

Saraceni, M. (2003) The Language of Comics. London: Routledge.

Smith, G (1987) From Mickey to Maus: Recalling the Genocide through Cartoon in e.d. Witek, J. (ed) (2007). Art Spiegelman: Conversations (Conversations With Comic Artists). Mississippi, University Press.

Somberville, D./ Hanna, M (2010) Why are Paitinings so Expensive? [Online] Available from: http://ezinearticles.com/?Why-Are-Paintings-So-Expensive?&id=4366454 [Accessed 7th April 11].

Spartacus (2011) William Hogarth. [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRhogarth.htm. [Accessed 19 March 2011]

Tate Britain (2011) Tate Britain| Past Exhibitions | Hogarth – Hogarth’s Modern Moral Series: The Rake’s Progress. [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/hogarth/modernmorals/rakesprogress.shtm. [Accessed 19 March 2011]

The Free Dictionary (2011) Applied art – encyclopedia article about Applied art. [ONLINE] Available from: http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Applied+art. [Accessed 19 March 2011].

Visual Art Cork (2011) Art Definition, Meaning: How to Define “Fine Arts”, “Visual Arts”, Aesthetics, Crafts: Classification Questions, History of Definitions. [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/art-definition.htm. [Accessed 19 March 2011]

Visual Art Cork (2011) Fine Art, Definition, Meaning, History: Academies of Fine Arts, Periods/Movements: Painting, Sculpture, Printmaking. [ONLINE] Available from: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/definitions/fine-art.htm. [Accessed 19 March 2011]

Wolk, D. (2007). Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge Mass, Da Capo Press.

Other images of artwork relevant to or mentioned in the essay:

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Eastward Ho!

Not long ago, I visited the Museum of London with a friend because … why not? Whilst we were discovering the history of London (from prehistoric eras to the present day), we were both drawn to a particular painting hanging on the wall in the Expanding Cities – 1670s-1850s gallery. Neither of us were familiar with the artwork, nor the artist, but the bright colours were powerful and enticed me to have a closer look.

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Eastward Ho!

The painting, I learnt, was called Eastward Ho! by a man named Henry Nelson O’Neil, and was completed in c.1857/8. A minuscule notecard was situated to the left of the frame, providing an inadequate explanation and description of the artwork:

Soldiers are shown boarding a ship at Gravesend, leaving to fight in the ‘Indian Mutiny’ – the first Indian war of Independence. They are saying their final farewells to their loved ones. This immensely colourful and vibrant painting was Henry Nelson O’Neil’s most popular work.

The basic scenario has been explained, but who was Henry Nelson O’Neil? Why did he choose to paint this particular situation? How comes, if this work was so popular, I have never heard of it, nor him?  Let’s find out. Henry Nelson O’Neil, who are you?

Henry Nelson O’Neil

Henry Nelson O’Neil was born in Russia on 7th January 1817, however he spent the majority of his life in England, where he moved with his parents in 1823. Despite his origin of birth, his parents were British nationals, therefore his brief Russian beginnings had very little impact upon his future. Nothing is known about the O’Neil family, nor his childhood, until he entered the art scene in 1836 after enrolling at the Royal Academy.

The year 1838 saw O’Neil’s first exhibited artwork on display at the academy. Simply titled The Student, this picture – sadly unknown today – sparked off his career, resulting in almost 100 of his paintings adorning the academy’s walls during his life time. O’Neil produced a new painting almost yearly, experimenting with a range of subject matter. Art historians can assume the artist was an educated and cultured individual on account of his interest in painting scenes from literature and the Bible, as well as historical incidents.

O’Neil opted for striking colours, however his compositions were often criticised as faulty. It appeared that O’Neil was averse to demonstrating negative emotion in his artwork, resulting in unrealistic contexts. A particular example is titled The Parting Cheer (1861) which showed the emigration of British and European families at a time when this would have caused heartbreak, worry and despair. However, as the title suggests, O’Neil painted a cheerful atmosphere, implying that emigration was a cause for celebration rather than a time of uncertainty.

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The Last Moments of Mozart

More popular were O’Neil’s romantic scenes, particularly ones portraying the deaths of Mozart and Raphael. The Last Moments of Mozart (1849) shows the composer, moments from death, listening to a performance of his Requiem.

O’Neil also had a go at writing, publishing Lectures on Painting delivered at the Royal Academy containing a selection of talks he gave to students at the academy. Moving away from art, O’Neil also attempted a few pieces of literature, however he supposably was not all that successful in this venture. He also had a passion for music and enjoyed playing the violin. It may be assumed that O’Neil continued working until his death on 13th March 1880. His body is interred in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Compared with other artists of the era, O’Neil does not stand out amongst the greats, and today remains virtually unknown. The most significant endeavour during his lifetime is arguably his connection to the group of artists known as The Clique.

The Clique

Formed by Richard Dadd in the late 1830s, The Clique was a group made up of an assemblage of British artists, Henry Nelson O’Neil being amongst them. Not much evidence remains of The Clique‘s existence, however it is supposed that the group met up to sketch and receive opinions on their artwork.

The Clique apparently rejected academic high art in favour of genre painting – a term associated with the celebrated William Hogarth, who was probably a great influence to the group. They believed, like Hogarth, that art should be judged by the public, not by preexisting academic ideals.

Hopefully the Museum of London will continue to display Eastward Ho! as part of the exhibition, not only because it represents a particular event in London, but because it is one of the only remaining evidences of O’Neil’s existence. Although he may not have made himself known to the world, it would be a great shame to lose all recognition in the future.

The (Road) Signs of Typography

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From the moment we learn to read, typography has a significant impact on our lives. Without intending to, we absorb thousands of words a day, sometimes even beginning before we get out of bed. Posters dominate the walls of our towns, shops have unique lettering adorning their fronts, and even clothes often come decorated with typographic slogans.

Typography for many people evokes images of decorative lettering, expressive catchphrases, logos and artistic alphabets – such designs that have obviously been thought out and painstakingly developed. What tends to be forgotten is that every written word is a form of typography. Typefaces, including what you are reading now, have been designed; yet, apart from designers, fonts and such like are often dismissed or taken for granted.

One particular typographic design that we see everyday is displayed on road signs throughout the country. How many people look at a sign on the side of a busy motorway and admire the typeface, the layout, kerning, leading etc? No one does. We think, “Thank goodness that sign was there otherwise I would have missed my turning,” or “I’m glad that sign was there, otherwise this roundabout would be very confusing.”

So, who is the genius behind the helpful and effective road signs around Britain? In fact, it was a project by two designers executed at the turn of the 1960s. Jock Kinneir (1917-1994) and Margaret Calvert (1936) are the people who took on the ambitious project to create an easily deciphered signage system that, not only modernised British roads, influenced the rest of the world.

Since tomorrow, 11th February 2017, would have been Kinneir’s 100th birthday, I thought it worth learning about the designer(s) of a system that we now take for granted. Using carefully placed letters, numbers, symbols and colours, Kinneir and his assistant took on the most ambitious information design project to date, and made our roads, and the ever increasing motorways, a much safer thoroughfare to navigate.

When Jock Kinneir took on this project in 1957, he was already a proficient and admired graphic designer. Born in Hampshire, he developed the taste for art and design, resulting in enrolling onto an engraving course at the Chelsea School of Art. Due to the war, his career did not take off straightaway, however he eventually gained a position in the Central Office of Information as an exhibition designer. By 1956, Kinneir had opened his own studio and was teaching at the same school he attended on a part time basis.

Kinneir’s first major project was developing the signage system at Gatwick Airport, which was only just opening for public use. It is at this stage that Kinneir began his partnership with Margaret Calvert. Studying for a National Diploma in Design, Kinnier recognised her illustration skills and employed her to help him produce artworks and drawings for this notable project.

It was through the results of the Gatwick project that Kinneir and Calvert landed themselves with the road sign commission. At this period of time, motorways were only just being introduced to the UK, meaning that the existing signs were virtually illegible and un-thought-out having been erected many years after the roads were originally paved. Kinneir and Calvert’s job was to work alongside the development of the new roads, developing a coherent system that would be easy to read and understand when driving at high speeds.

It was agreed that a combination of upper and lower case was more legible than the standard block capitals that previous sign-makers had utilised. This meant that an appropriate typeface had to be designed or procured. By adapting the preexisting typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk, a sans serif font originally released in Germany, the pair generated a softer, friendlier version, now known as Transport. The signs themselves sported a blue background with white type, which was easy for drivers to spot against the backdrop of the British countryside as well as the stretch of tarmac ahead of them – both during the daytime and at night.

The motorway signage system was such a success that Kinneir and Calvert were asked to design the other, now familiar, signs on the rest of Britain’s roads. These include the simple triangle signs dotted about our roads, as well as the large green boards on the sides of primary roads, and the white versions on the others.

Calvert was responsible for the pictograms that many of our signs display. It was felt that, on occasion, it was easier to show a command using a symbol, rather than a lengthy instruction that drivers would not have time to read. Now, whenever a driver spots a silhouette of a boy holding hands with a little girl, they know to be extra vigilant of children running around in the area.

Kinneir and Calvert later went on to work with British Rail, hospitals and the army, designing signage systems that were so successful that they are still in place today. Imagine the perplexity of navigating around the country without any clear guidance!

John Kinneir died in 1994, but his legacy remains. Of course, his (and Calvert’s) design has altered slightly, the more developed towns, roads and cities become – unfortunately making some areas rather confusing – however, Kinneir is mostly forgotten, as the public take road signs for granted.

“It is sad but true to say that most of us take our surroundings for granted. Direction signs and street names, for instance, are as vital as a drop of oil in an engine, without which the moving parts would seize up; one can picture the effect of the removal of this category of information on drivers in a busy city or on pedestrians trying to find their way in a large building complex. It is a need which has bred a sub-division of graphic design with more influence on the appearance of our surroundings than any other.” – Kinneir, 1965

Next time you are on the streets, whether driving or walking, take a look at the signs you pass. Appreciate their simple design, the use of colour, the clarity of the typeface. These signs did not just appear there, they have been carefully thought out for your benefit. Try not to take them for granted, and make an effort to remember both Kinneir and Calvert’s names – you never know, they may come up in a pub quiz one day!

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Dahl, the Champion of the World

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2016 marked 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl – the world’s number one storyteller.

Roald Dahl is one of the most popular children’s authors to have graced the earth in the 20th century. Originally from Norway, Dahl did not start off as an author, enlisting in the Royal Air Force at the beginning of the Second World War, aged only 23. He suffered severe injuries in a crash-landing, ending his fighting career, and beginning a journey as a spy for MI6. Despite these heroic experiences, Dahl’s early years are rarely talked about. A complete career change at the beginning of the 1960s brought Dahl’s name into the limelight.

From 1961 onwards, Roald Dahl produced works of literature virtually nonstop, right up until his death in 1990. His first book James and the Giant Peach, shortly followed by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, have remained his most popular to date. As well as writing 48 books, Dahl put his talent to use in the film industry, penning the screenplays for You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Since then, many of his children’s books have also been converted for the big screen, and, more recently, the stage.

But Dahl’s rise to fame was not only beneficial for himself, it resulted in the success of another famous name…

Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. – Roald Dahl, Matilda

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Recently exhibited at the British Library in honour of Dahl’s 100th birthday, Quentin Blake has become synonymous with the literary great. With a recognisable style, Blake provided illustrations for all Dahl’s children novels. Of the 300 illustrated books he has worked on, 89 of them belong to the esteemed author. So, it is no surprise that a Quentin Blake’s artwork instantly evokes fond memories of books from our childhoods.

Born in 1932, Quentin Blake cannot remember a time when he was not drawing. His illustration career began at age 16 when his drawings were published in an issue of Punch – a British weekly magazine of humour and satire. From here, Blake began to submit illustrations for many magazines, eventually receiving commissions to provide the imagery for a considerable number of authors.

Roald Dahl, as mentioned, was evidently the most famous of the authors Blake collaborated with, and was probably the highlight of his artistic career. Other well known names Blake has been associated with are: Joan Aiken, Michael Rosen and John Yeoman. However, being an illustrator was not the only career Blake had.

For over twenty years, Blake was a teacher – eight of which were spent as the Head of Illustration at the Royal College of Art. Balancing teaching and illustration must have been a challenge, but Blake undoubtedly rose to it, resulting in his success and fame. Since the death of the beloved Dahl – Blake’s biggest source of work – he changed direction yet again, becoming an exhibition curator for museums such as The National Gallery, Musée du Petit Palais, and, of course, the British Library.

Blake’s current exhibition at the British Library is titled The Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits, comprising ten never-seen-before portraits of famous characters from Dahl’s most famous stories. Each artwork remains true to form, remaining in the distinctive style that is inextricably linked with the all-time favourite author.

The Roald Dahl Centenary Project asks you to imagine that a number of Dahl’s characters have been invited to come and sit for their portrait … I hope you will be happy to see this group of well-known characters treated as though they are real people – which, of course, to many of us they are. – Quentin Blake

Quentin Blake has won numerous awards throughout his lifetime, including the Whitbread Award and the Kate Greenaway Medal. However Blake’s most prestigious award is his knighthood for ‘services to illustration’ in the New Year’s Honours for 2013 – so, that is SIR Blake to you!

Although we hope he will be around for many more years to come, Quentin Blake has definitely left us a legacy, not just with his illustrations, but his compassionate personality, which has lead to the development and support of many charities. Information about the charities he supports can be found in the following links: House of Illustration, The Campaign for Drawing, The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, The Nightingale Project, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, The Book Bus, Farms for City Children and Survival International.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. – Roald Dahl, The Minpins