Media Studies' by Borin Van Loon
holding in my hand a modestly-sized volume and gazing at it in a
bewildered sort of way. It has a large eye on a monitor screen on
the cover and it's entitled Introducing Media Studies and it's my
new book. My rather dazed condition is due to the small thrill,
still present after over twenty years in the business, of looking
through the pages to see how my work looks in situ, tempered by
the unhappy memory of its completion and delivery.
is the tenth "Beginners" style documentary comic-book on which
I've worked (the eighth to be published by Cambridge based imprint
Icon Books Ð recently relaunched as the "Introducing..."
series) and I really should have known better. When my old friend
and editor, Richard Appignanesi, phoned with news of this new project
it all sounded great. The author was the same with whom I had worked
on the two previous titles, Cultural Studies and Mathematics; he
would deliver the manuscript/disk in March, 1999 and delivery of
the finished artwork was scheduled for January 5, 2000 (a uniquely
inconvenient deadline as we shall see).
taking on the media. We're all submerged in this stuff. It's easy
to become blasé and not realise what they're doing to us.
The Medium is the Massage. Hidden Persuaders. My author wanted us
to work together a bit more than usual. So, instead of his delivery
of a finished text for me to illustrate and design from page 3 to
page 176 (via the good offices of series editor and copy editor
at Icon) as is usual, I started to generate images with only a vague
idea of the content of the book. These I fed to the author to stimulate
his writerly juices. This could have been a mistake.
the interim I developed my website and added some 'proposed images'
for the Media Studies book. In a way I was publishing it before
the publisher; a concept which appealed to me in a perverse kind
months down the line I was still waiting for the text and beginning
to sweat about the approaching deadline. Conundrum: how can you
continue to make illustrations with the risk that they won't fit.
To give an insight into the creation of these books: the illustrator
designs and illustrates each page or spread to finished artwork/digital
file with a virtually free hand. Bliss. At its best this form draws
power from text, illustration and the ways in which they interact
(speech and thought balloons, textual manipulation and integration
on the page). But 173 pages in three months is too damn much, even
when you've got a few readymades in hand (which turn out not to
fit into the final text, cos the author was so blown away by your
drawings, that he restructured the text!). So nothing can be wasted,
everything is used and there is little time available for corrections
and certainly little room for rewrites (but, being an author myself,
I know the tricks they can play once they see the finished text
managed to achieve a long-held ambition with this series: to create
a book illustrated purely by collage – in fact I pulled it
off with the two titles, Sociology and Mathematics – I'd hoped
to do this one purely in dip-pen and brush illustration. Some hope.
compound matters the text was apparently judged by my editors to
have a number of corrections / problems (I didn't find out how many
til later) during the process of my illustrating the first hundred
pages or so from raw copy. Planning out your time and aiming for
target numbers of pages by a particular date tends to go out of
the window in this situation. Basically, it's
full-tilt and hope for the best. The only encouraging thing was
the growing pile of artwork boards next to my lightbox.
I still do paste-ups by hand, because (a) I enjoy the hands-on process
and (b) it seems to suit this particular series and my approach
to it. Perhaps it recalls the Dada and Surrealist pamphlets and
magazines from the thirties and forties: there's definitely a flavour
of the didactic and 'political' in my approach. Some could call
it a craft-skill. I encourage myself that not everybody is stuck
in front of a monitor screen all their lives. Hello to all those
lino-cutters, wood-engravers, oil-painters and collagists out there.
As Darrel Rees pointed out in his recent article on the future of
illustration (AoI Newsletter 3/00), most 'conventional' illustration
can be scanned in and become 'digital' quite easily. We don't all
need to create work on-screen. Apart from that, I haven't found
a space in my busy schedule to buy and learn PageMaker software
yet; but this may come! I certainly use the computer for all the
things it's good at: formatting text, capturing/distorting images,
graphic effects etc. But I put it all together by hand.
the perceptive among you will notice that my deadline fell just
after Christmas and New Year. Leaving aside the telephone call from
my author to discuss the book at lunchtime on Boxing Day (well,
he is a Muslim and doesn't celebrate Christmas) when I had seven
at table waiting for desert, the crunch came when the copy editor
came to spend the day on January 5, 2000 for the customary final
check-through. It soon became clear from his initial checks that
there had been, in the words of Robert Plant, a communication breakdown
and I hadn't incorporated a shed-load of rewrites and corrections.
Without boring you with the technical reasons, there then followed
one of the most stressful eleven hours of my life (and there have
been a few) as we rushed from studio to dining-room with paper and
boards and mark-ups flying everywhere. Fingers flew across the keyboard,
the printer constantly hummed to life, spraymount filled the air,
fingers bled and sweat ran in rivulets. The children returned from
school and were banished from our part of the house, something they
respected, rather surprisingly.
I say, at this stage nothing should surprise me about the illustration
game in general or these books in particular. But life still manages
to jump up and bit your bum. As I leaf through my copy containing
my usual eclectic mix of collage, comic-strip and illustration I'm
quite proud of the oblique references to Mr Swindley and Ena Sharples
in the Snug of The Rovers Return, Marilyn Monroe's face unravelling
from a whirlwind in flicker-book form (another ambition achieved!),
stupid Carling Black Label and L'oriel adverts, horror comix, Leonardo,
Magritte (he's in every book and, in a way, in everything I do),
Murdoch, the Web, distortions of the female form, Bollywood and
Charles Addams. If ever I was asked by the Newsletter Editor for
my "Best Job", this would have to rank pretty high in
tandem for the award for "Worst Job".
the intervening weeks since delivery of the book, I've been trying
to draw breath and catch up with all the things I put on hold since
the autumn. Suddenly, unbidden, this drawing came out of my pen.
I wonder what it's