Illustration - Summer 2016 - Issue 48

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It’s said that a picture can speak 1,000 words and it’s certainly true that illustration is often a serious business, with important messages, even when these are cloaked in fun or intended for children. This issue we see many examples of the powerful way in which illustrations can communicate not just sense, but also emotion, atmosphere and complexities that would often lose something when rendered into straight words. This is perhaps most obvious in the case of the winners of this year’s V&A awards – contemporary illustration reflecting difficult and turbulent times. Bill Bragg’s haunting and menacing illustration “But today I’m afraid” for an article published in the Guardian after last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris is a striking example, but David McConochie’s literally “haunting” cover for a book of ghost stories and Kate Milner’s presentation of a child’s view of refugee life also suggest deeper and more complex currents under the surface.
However, the other articles in this issue immediately demonstrate that wrapping up serious messages in an illustration is nothing new. Blair Hughes-Stanton conveyed multiple layers of meanings and nuances in his sensitive, graphic wood-engravings and, although very different to look at, the iconic illustrations in the children’s books of Dr Seuss have far greater depths than they are often credited with – tackling everything from the ecological disasters caused by industrialisation to the travails of growing up and the importance of toleration. John Burningham in his long, illustrious career has also not shied away from conveying difficult aspects of life in his exquisite picture books – from the adventures of ugly duckling Borka to the “refugee” animals in Oi! Get Off Our Train. At its best a picture can get hard messages through where words often fail – the art of the illustrator is to create the sugar pill that makes them palatable.