Sunday, November 23, 2008

An editor speaks of illustrators

Rod McKie has touched off a discussion of publishers who republish classic texts with illustrations that don't seem connected to the stories they have been commissioned to illustrate.

"It’s not that I’m against book illustrators per say, or for that matter the people publishers now tell us are “graphic novelists”, but I am against the needless illustration of texts, especially when those illustrations run counter to the author’s intentions or even instructions, and serve only to place limits and boundaries on the reader’s imagination. Far from helping to illuminate the text, which was once free-floating and open to an infinite amount of interpretations, the possible meaning of the text is now fenced in by, not the author’s vision, which we have been encouraged to ignore, but the illustrator’s vision. And often, by the illustrator’s lack of knowledge about not just the text, but the witting and unwitting testimony of the text, what the text does not say because of the rules and institutions at the time of production, and of the illustrator’s lack of knowledge of the signs and symbols at work.

There's much more there and I would encourage you to read it, but what it sparked in me was a respect for a certain core of children's illustrators who appear to have worked with the authors whose stories they illustrated. Garth Williams, for instance, wanted to work for the New Yorker, and, for that reason, I have to believe that he talked to E.B. White about Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. I have less specific reason to believe that he also consulted with Laura Ingalls Wilder as he illustrated the Little House books, except that they were so well done that I suspect he did work with her, rather than simply working from a synopsis, with an editor.

My response to Rod, on one of the boards where he had initiated discussion, was that I don't know why modern publishers feel they need to find new illustrators (who will then ignore the intentions of the author) when there are wonderful illustrations that were published with the original material, and which I suspect were the result of collaboration between author and illustrator. As someone who has published both original and classic children's literature in the newspapers, I've been delighted to use the original illustrations -- and not simply for the ease and cost of dealing with artists whose work is the public domain. (I happen to work rather well with the living artists I've used, too.) But these classic artists did, indeed, try to connect with the stories they were illustrating.

One example is the work of folklorist Andrew Lang, who produced a series of classic fairy tale collections from around the world, each illustrated by HJ Ford. The picture at the top is a favorite of mine, part of Hans Christian Andersen's "Blockhead Hans" in which Andersen vented some spleen at the press. Which makes me laugh the harder at the story, and Ford's delightful pics.

But Ford was wonderfully adaptable, and produced this picture for a Japanese Cinderella story, in which a young woman disguises herself and works in the fields until, of course, her virtue is rewarded by the local young nobleman.

Lang was not all that specific about the provence of "The Green Monkey," but Ford comes up with a completely different style, yet one which is clearly his and which gives young readers a wonderful image with which to imagine the rest of the story as they read.

And this is a favorite, one of several he did for a Romanian story about a girl carried off as an infant as eagles, but then raised in their nest. I used this as the logo for my own stories for many years.

But I've also used this as a logo, an illustration for "Beauty and the Beast," one of the stories retold by Katharine Lee Bates in a 1923 book that was one of my mother's favorites as a child. The illustrator is Margaret Evans Price, who later was the artistic director for Fisher-Price Toys. I ran some of these stories in the paper, along with Price's illustrations, and heard from a reader who, like my mother, had marveled over the stories as a child and was delighted to see them being brought to a brand-new generation of young readers.

This is Price's illustration for a story in which a proud young woman is taught a lesson in humility when her exasperated father marries her off to a beggar who, of course, turns out to be a handsome prince and in on the lesson. It's a more charming variation of the story than "The Taming of the Shrew" but what I find particularly interesting in this illustration is the detail on the princess's dress.

But this is a favorite -- another Evans illustration for "Beauty and the Beast," and the texture here is wonderful, especially in the context of the 1920s when the furniture and fabrics and fashions in the Beast's palace were quite current!

Another classic illustrator was Charles Robinson, whose breakthrough book was Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses." I don't know if they collaborated, but I see little reason to reproduce the one without the other. He also did a classic collection of nursery rhymes, and I'm pretty sure he didn't confer with Mother Goose, but he seems to have captured the themes rather well.

PS -- In the comments, I spoke of how Dylan Meconis had done an illustration for the story of Actaeon and Diana that was part of a collection of myths I put together. Here's that illustration. It's not grotesque or "scary" but I think she did a nice job of catching a moment of transformation and apprehension, and it sticks in the mind, which is the point, after all. In the myth, Actaeon doesn't quite understand what the goddess has done to him until it's too late and he is about to be torn to pieces by his prized hunting dogs. It has touched off debates for a couple of thousand years about proportionality, and Dylan's picture suggests a young man who has really, really messed up and is only on the verge of realizing it. There are also some small touches like the shape of his head and placement of his eyes that lift this above the usual. She's quite a talent and I was lucky to come across her when I could still afford her!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's not just the newspaper industry

This morning, NPR had a good feature on this song. Here's the song itself, for all the real Joe the Plumbers who may find themselves asking the same questions before too long.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I leave you guys alone for two years ...

I swear, I can't turn my back on these people for a minute. When I left Lee Enterprises back in January of 2007, their stock was worth $30 a share. Now, according to this story in Editor & Publisher, it's down to $1.58 and they're in danger of being de-listed by NYSE.

Somehow, my departure was not listed as a cause. Dunno how they missed that.

It would be easier to laugh if the idiotic decisions being made in the boardrooms of major newspaper chains didn't trickle down to those of us who are actually trying to do things right -- in the form of things like lower advertiser confidence in the medium and higher paper costs.

But it's easy enough to laugh, when you've escaped from people who keep issuing chirpy reports about how well the company is doing while they are cutting your resources, laying off people, freezing pensions and benefits, degrading the quality of the product and generally trying to sneak into the lifeboats before the passengers and crew notice.

And it's especially easy to laugh when you cashed out all your stock before you left, at the aforementioned $30 a share. I know people who are likely still holding a large wad of the stuff, purchased at a discount that now seems laughable ... as long as you're out of the path of the landslide.

We're all in for tough times in the next couple of years, and I don't know many companies where there isn't a careful watch being kept on expenses right now. That pressure intensifies when others in your sector are failing.

Still, when stupidity and greed are prime ingredients in the mix, the schadenfreude of watching a former, unloved employer sink is sweet indeed.





(We now return to a more civilized take on the world.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

You never quite get over your first glove

Sherwood Harrington unleashes some memories, including the fellow whose name was on my first baseball glove.

Unlike Sherwood's family, mine took annual trips that often included a major league game, in Connie Mack Stadium, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium. But, also unlike Sherwood's family, we didn't take many pictures once there, even before or after games, though I've got a few other souvenirs.

Once we happened to be in town at a time when my Tigers were visiting either the Yankees or the Red Sox. I honestly don't remember which, but we could "only" get outfield seats. I emphasize "only" because it meant I spent half the game with Al Kaline right there in front of me. I probably didn't see much else that day, like whether there was a big green wall or not.

But, while we didn't take a lot of pictures, my little brother Tony was a fan who could pull stats out of his hat on the spot and knew everyone in the game. When we went to a game, he would not only keep the scorecard but would then keep the program. He didn't leave much of a physical estate, but he left a real legacy in memories.

I certainly remember this game, not for the game itself but for how excited Tony was about getting to see a brand-new major league team in the historic setting of the Polo Grounds. I liked baseball well enough, but about three-quarters of the pleasure of going to these games was being with him.

Below, the scorecard. Longtime fans will want to click on the image so they can read some familiar names. Tony would have been nine at the time. I can see my father's handwriting on the first couple of Mets names, but I think the rest is Tony's work. He knew his stuff and, boy, was he serious about The Game.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The quiet realization of prolonged expectation
from "Two Years Before the Mast," Richard Henry Dana (1840)

The captain went up to town in the boat with Mr. H-----, and left us to pass another night on board ship, and to come up with the morning's tide under command of the pilot.

So much did we feel ourselves to be already at home, in anticipation, that our plain supper of hard bread and salt beef was barely touched; and many on board, to whom this was the first voyage, could scarcely sleep. As for myself, by one of those anomalous changes of feeling of which we are all the subjects, I found that I was in a state of indifference, for which I could by no means account.

A year before, while carrying hides on the coast, the assurance that in a twelvemonth we should see Boston, made me half wild; but now that I was actually there, and in sight of home, the emotions which I had so long anticipated feeling, I did not find, and in their place was a state of very nearly entire apathy.

Something of the same experience was related to me by a sailor whose first voyage was one of five years upon the North-west Coast. He had left home, a lad, and after several years of very hard and trying experience, found himself homeward bound; and such was the excitement of his feelings that, during the whole passage, he could talk and think of nothing else but his arrival, and how and when he should jump from the vessel and take his way directly home.

Yet when the vessel was made fast to the wharf and the crew dismissed, he seemed suddenly to lose all feeling about the matter. He told me that he went below and changed his dress; took some water from the scuttle-butt and washed himself leisurely; overhauled his chest, and put his clothes all in order; took his pipe from its place, filled it, and sitting down upon his chest, smoked it slowly for the last time. Here he looked round upon the forecastle in which he had spent so many years, and being alone and his shipmates scattered, he began to feel actually unhappy.

Home became almost a dream; and it was not until his brother (who had heard of the ship's arrival) came down into the forecastle and told him of things at home, and who were waiting there to see him, that he could realize where he was, and feel interest enough to put him in motion toward that place for which he had longed, and of which he had dreamed, for years.

There is probably so much of excitement in prolonged expectation, that the quiet realizing of it produces a momentary stagnation of feeling as well as of effort. It was a good deal so with me. The activity of preparation, the rapid progress of the ship, the first making land, the coming up the harbor, and old scenes breaking upon the view, produced a mental as well as bodily activity, from which the change to a perfect stillness, when both expectation and the necessity of labor failed, left a calmness, almost of indifference, from which I must be roused by some new excitement.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Who cares what you thought, Gloria?
From the Boston Globe:

Gloria (Deagle) Doherty of Newton, a bank teller who survived Boston's Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, never let anyone around her blame a teenage busboy named Stanley Tomaszewski for sparking the blaze.

"She always said, for as long as I can remember, it wasn't his fault. She remembered leaning against the wall that night and the wall was so hot," said her daughter Maura Simmons of Medfield.

Mrs. Doherty, 86, died Saturday at the Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Natick from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

On the night of the worst nightclub fire in US history, in which 492 people died, Mrs. Doherty was 20 years old. She and best friend Eula Place of Waltham were waiting in the crowded, stifling basement area called Melody Lounge for their dates at the crowded club on Piedmont Street. Mrs. Doherty, known as Glo to her friends, was heading up the stairs for fresh air when the flames erupted, she told her family.

"She got pushed up the stairs, trampled, and pushed under a table," said her son Thomas of North Reading. "She was adamant that this story about the busboy causing it was wrong."

Early accounts speculated Tomaszewski was to blame for lighting a match while he replaced a light bulb. He died in 1994 at age 68, insisting he did not cause the fire.

The exact source of the blaze was never determined. ...

But we're still blaming that little rat Stanley, so here's his name in the paper yet again!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

'Grover the Good'

This memoir is taken from "Random Reminiscences of an Old Political Reporter" (1911) by William C. Hudson of the Brooklyn Eagle. At the time, Cleveland was governor of New York and Daniel Lamont his secretary. Lamont would go on to be Secretary of War in Cleveland's administration. Hudson, a reporter for the Eagle in those days of the partisan press, was on a sort of detached service to work on Cleveland's campaign. Cleveland was running against James G. Blaine and the "Halpin scandal" alluded to is the famous scandal of the illegitimate child which Cleveland disarmed by simply admitting it (and having behaved honorably when it occurred.) It's offered here as the current election cycle winds down as an antidote of sorts.

The mail of Grover Cleveland, immediately after his nomination for President, at Chicago, on July 11, 1884, swelled into enormous proportions. It came pouring in literally by the bushel.

In order that he might look over this mail free from undue interruption, as the Private Secretary of the Governor, Colonel Lamont seized on a desk in the last room of the gubernatorial suite to which visitors, even if they were intimate friends of the Governor, rarely if ever, penetrated.

While engaged in the preparation of the "Open Record of an Honest Man" document, on the title page of which appeared the words "Public Office Is a Public Trust," as previously described, I was given a desk in the same room, adjoining that occupied by Colonel Lamont.

One morning in the third week of July, on entering to my work, I saw Lamont at his desk with a frown of perplexity on his face, evidently much disturbed. He was studying a letter and some accompanying documents and was so much absorbed that he was hardly conscious of my entrance.

But in a moment or two, looking up, he saw me. There was an eager tone in his voice as he said: "I'm glad you've come. I want to talk to you about a perplexing matter."

He went to the door and turned the key. Coming back, he stood for some time looking down on the papers that had absorbed his attention, and then said:

"I don't know what to do with these papers. If I show them to the Governor I fear he will put his foot on them. If I conceal them from him and turn them over to the managers of the campaign and he comes to know of it, he'll be angry. If I do show them to the Governor and he does put his foot on them and they are concealed from the managers, they will be angry, as they would have a right to be, since they are entitled to have all the weapons we can put in their hands for use in this campaign."

Knowing Lamont as well as I did, I neither asked him the nature of the papers that troubled him nor made remark. Lamont did not give his confidences easily. Any attempt to draw him out excited his suspicions and usually resulted in an extreme case of reticence. If he intended to give me his confidence in this matter I knew that it would be given without the asking. So I waited. It was at a time when what subsequently became known to history as the Halpin affair was having its first swing and I supposed the papers in Lamont's hands related to that.

Such, however, was not the case, as was plain so soon as Lamont began to talk of the matter vexing him. It appeared that a correspondent residing in Kentucky, I think, whose name I have now forgotten, had written to Governor Cleveland relating what he alleged to be certain incidents in the private life of James G. Blaine, the opposing candidate.

These he offered as more than an offset to the Halpin affair. He asserted his ability to furnish conclusive documentary proof of his allegations and had forwarded copies of certain documents as indicating the nature of the proof.

Although the matter in great part found its way to publication, I shall not attempt to indicate here the nature of the allegations because, first, I never read the proof or what purported to be the proof of them; second, because I have every reason to believe that there is not to-day in existence any proof or the possibility of it, and, third, that all the parties to the story are under the sod, unable to make a defense, while those left in the guardianship of their fame can meet the allegation made at this late day only by a denial.

In this third week in July, 1884, the allegations as they appeared in the mail of Governor Cleveland seemed to be very real and the writer offered, if his communication was deemed to be of value, to travel to Albany and personally submit his proof and himself to examination.

Having informed me of the contents of the communication and his own thought on the matter, Lamont asked me what I would do were I placed in a similar position.

"Turn them over to the Governor, Dan," I said, "and let him deal with them."

"You know the Governor," said Lamont, "and what he is capable of doing—tossing them into the waste basket."

"Possibly," I replied; "but in view of the relations of the Governor and yourself I cannot see that you can do anything else."

"That is my inclination—indeed, was my first impulse, but afterward I thought of the use that might be made of it to fight this other devilish thing," replied Lamont. After a moment he added: "It is a question of how I can best serve him." After another moment of thought he continued: "Well, I'll lay the matter before the Governor now, before anyone else can hear of it. I'll ask him to come into this room to read these papers."

He went out and almost immediately returned with Cleveland, directing the latter's attention to the papers without comment.

Cleveland sat down in Lamont's chair and read the papers very deliberately, giving no sign of the impression they made on him. Finishing his reading of them he leaned his elbow on the desk and looked out of the window to the park in front of the Capitol for a long time, the while we waited, ostensibly busy with our work, but covertly watching the presidential candidate.

Finally he turned to the desk and, gathering up the papers, folded them neatly, after his habit, and, rising, said: "I'll take these. Say nothing about them to anyone. I say this to both of you. Dan, send for this man to bring his proof as soon as he can. Promise to pay his expenses."

He went out, leaving Lamont and myself to stare at each other. Apparently he was about to do what each of us thought he would not do. An instant later he was back again in the door.

"Dan," he said, "when that man does come bring him directly to me. I will deal with him."

He went away, leaving us to look at each other again.

"I'll be hanged!" I exclaimed. "He's going to use them after all."

"I don't know," replied Lamont, doubtfully. "Though he hasn't taken it as I thought he would."

Days passed and nothing was heard from Cleveland on the subject. Lamont had carried out his instruction and had sent for the correspondent. On entering the apartment early one morning five days after the scene described I found Lamont awaiting my coming.

"That man is here with the proofs," he said. "I have been waiting for you to come so that you could be present and be a witness that on receiving the package from him I did not open it."

He called the man to him and, receiving the package, said: "I will take this to the Governor at once. Come with me."

At the same time he gestured to me to follow. The three of us went into the executive chamber, where Cleveland sat alone at his big desk. Lamont went to him, saying in a voice loud enough to be heard by all: "The man is here with those proofs. Here they are."

He handed the package to Cleveland as he had received it. The Governor took it in his hand, asking at the same time: "Is the man here?"

"Yes," replied Lamont, "in this room."

"Bring him to me," said Cleveland, calmly, as he tore the wrapping from the package.

Lamont brought the man to the Governor, who asked him to be seated. Then, holding the documents in his hand, the Governor asked: "Are your proofs all here?"

"Yes, sir, all of them," replied the man.

"Do you substantiate by these papers or proofs all of the promises of your letter?"

"I am sure that you will say so if you will look the papers over," returned the man. "They are mostly certified copies of public records which, taken in their place, with one affidavit and three private letters, complete the whole story."

"Everything is here, then, and you are holding nothing in reserve?" persisted Cleveland.

"Nothing," replied the man, "and you will see that by running over the indorsements of the papers."

Cleveland did so and then he turned to Lamont and said: "Arrange with this man a proper sum for his expenses, the time he has lost and his good will in the matter, and pay him."

Apparently it was not a difficult negotiation, for the man soon departed with Lamont's check, apparently more than well satisfied. In the meantime, Cleveland again ran over the indorsements of the papers but without opening any of them.

When the man was gone from the room Cleveland laid the papers on the desk before him and, taking from the private drawer of his desk some others, handed them to Lamont, saying: "These are the ones you gave me the other day, are they not?"

Lamont said they were, giving them back to Cleveland, who held out his hand for them. Then, drawing a waste paper basket to him the Governor began to tear them into small bits, to the unbounded astonishment of Lamont and myself. When he had finished that lot he took up the proofs brought that morning and destroyed them in the same manner.

No words were spoken by any one until the Governor called a porter and directed him to burn in the fireplace the scraps of paper, standing over him to watch the process. When all were consumed he came back to where Lamont and I were standing, and said to Lamont: "The other side can have a monopoly of all the dirt in this campaign."

Then he talked about something else and so far as I am informed never referred to the matter again. Years after the event Colonel Lamont told me that Cleveland had never afterward alluded to the matter.

Some weeks after the man in question, preceiving that no use had been made of the matter which he had taken to Albany, through a mutual acquaintance, reached Senator A. P. Gorman, who was the chairman of the executive committee of the National Democratic Committee — that is to say, the campaign manager — to tell him of the communication to Mr. Cleveland. Senator Gorman knew nothing of it. He asked me if I had heard anything of the story.

Under the seal of confidence everything relating to the matter was told the Maryland Senator. He listened with intense interest to the conclusion of the tale. When it was finished he rose from his desk and, going to the mantelpiece, leaned on it in thought for a few moments.

Then he said: "The destruction of that proof was very noble and high minded in Mr. Cleveland. I don't know whether, in a similar position, attacked with slander as he has been, I could have reached the same elevated plane. Oh, but what a missed opportunity it was! In my hands, without publication or public exploitation of them, I could have used those papers diplomatically, to have made the other side eager to suppress the Halpin scandal, which has vexed us so and which will vex us to the end of the campaign."