I’ve been reading ‘The Electric Michelangelo’ by Sarah Hall, and really really enjoying it. Something about the way she evokes such a quintessential English seaside town and then makes the transition across the Atlantic to America without losing the same tone and feel. England and America so often feel like entirely different worlds, maybe because English perceptions of America are so frequently filtered through Hollywood, it all feels somewhat unreal and on a different scale, not really the same planet at all. But books seem better at bridging the gap and this one does it very well, there’s a sense of people just being people – mad, mad people – where ever in the world you are.
I drew a character from the story, a hotdog seller who only appears incidentally in a single scene but for some reason I was in a particularly strong drawing mood at that moment. There are other characters that would be fun to draw as well, and with more description and character to them, but somehow it was the hotdog seller who ended up on paper.
“For the past half hour Cy had been chatting with the hotdog vendor opposite his booth in the alley, smoking cigarettes, passing the time under the rattling, dripping awning of the meat stand. The grease-aproned man was stirring up his sauerkraut with a spoon and complaining half-heartedly about trade as if for something to do rather than with earnest concern.”
– The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall
The book is a grown-up book so I don’t know why I drew the picture as a cartoon. I guess you don’t tend to find pictures in grown up books so there’s nothing much to go on in terms of a precedent for style. But the characters and events of ‘The Electric Michelangelo’ are so weird and wonderful and colourful that this way of doing it seemed justified. It made me think though, about how absolutely illustrations are excluded from grown-up reading. Looking at this picture it feels so strongly the realm of children’s stories that using the style to illustrate something out of an adult book seems almost wrong. I guess the idea is that once we grow up we can imagine things for ourselves, and so pictures aren’t needed, and I can see the logic. Pictures in a book certainly make me think I’m reading something more child-oriented, and would seem plain out of place in a grown-up book. But I wonder whether that’s just the way culture shapes us – to equate illustrations in books with younger readers. Pictures and cartoons in popular culture more generally have always been presented first and foremost as the realm of children, and also of newspaper readers seeking an idle moment of diversion; fairly disposable I suppose, simplistic and certainly not the stuff of literature. Which is a shame because illustration can be so incredible and intricate and creative and technically brilliant. I don’t mean that it deserves a ‘better’ audience than children, but I think it would be nice if illustration was allowed to operate outside its current pigeonholed status as the remit of kids and popular culture.