Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Words & Pictures: Hybrid Books

Last year at the 1 Fantastic Workshop there were a number of students who expressed interest in making a book of their artwork  that incorporated text––more illustrations than an illustrated novel, more words than a picture book...perhaps with some comic pages...but not all comic. It's a hard blend to achieve. And even when it's done well, (the examples I''ll show in this post are from my own bookshelves and some of the best hybridizations of words & pictures) some lean more towards picture books, or illustrated novels, or field guides, or comics.

I've provided links to every book on Amazon. It appears some are out of print or have new editions unlike what I have pictured.

Coyote Goes Walking &
Crow and Weasel
Both of these books are illustrated by Tom Pohrt––one is written by Barry Lopez and the other is written re-tellings of traditional Native American trickster stories. 

Visually Crow and Weasel and Coyote Goes Walking are more like picture books...but Crow and Weasel is more like a novella. It has full pages of text, but the illustrations are large, often full pages. There are a few spots where there are consecutive pages of text with no illustration but the ratio of text to art puts this book on my list. There's nothing that really integrates the text into the artwork (other than some historiated initials at the start of a paragraph or section.)

Coyote Goes Walking definitely leans towards being a picture book...but I selected it for this list because while there is an illustration roughly every-other-page, the text isn't reduced to a few sentences. Perhaps this book also made my list because it is the illustrations of the mice in that spread that I was looking at for reference when I first drew Saxon, Kenzie, and Rand of the Mouse Guard.

Bolivar Eats New York:Written and Illustrated by Sean Rubin

 Both of these books are by the same creator and featuring the same characters,
but format-wise are very different books:

Bolivar, at 224 pages, is more of a comic (panel by panel storytelling) with pages every so often that resemble a picture book. Sean leans into the hybrid idea with having full page illustrations opposite a page with just a few lines of text. He has several scenes that take place on multiple wordless two page spreads or sometimes with word balloons. And he illustrates chapter breaks as though they are cinematically art directed by Wes Anderson.

His follow-up Bolivar book (Bolivar is the dinosaur) called Bolivar Eats New York is much slimmer at 24pgs and a very different format. The first few pages are like the comic pages of the original book, but the majority of this volume are two page spreads that have character dialogue in word balloons, an info box about the eatery they are visiting, and then a search-and-find puzzle game to find the various ethnic foods in the larger illustration. The book then transitions back out for comic style pages for the ending.

by Michael Page & Robert Ingpen

I hesitantly put this book on the list––but ultimately included it because of the volume of illustrations and their balance to the volume of text is a great starting point to talk about Field Guide style illustrated books. The premise is to present a book as though it is a factual text earnestly describing something we the readers know as fiction. Each page is either a full page illustration, a large illustration balanced by text or a series of as many as 3-4 illustrations surrounded by text.
Because this is an 'Encyclopedia' the text is limited to descriptions only and any narrative is the most brief of summaries of folklore or legend. All of the text is typeset with very little in the way of design, which from a art-direction standpoint fits perfectly with the theme being an Encyclopedia.

by Alan Lee & Brian Froud

Faeries is a book probably every illustrator has owned since it's publication. It's a great example of the field guide style of books, with a great deal of handwritten text almost like notes taken on an outing. The text mostly serves as descriptions or excerpts of folklore...very little narrative here. And there's an interesting choice how how much of the book is spot illustration on the white page...making this feel very much like a shared naturalist's journal that Froud and Lee shared as they walked the countryside observing and sketching the goings-on of the fay-folk. 

by Wil Huygen & Rien Poortvliet

Continuing on with the field guide style books, and one of the best examples of that type of book is Gnomes. This book has it all, diagrams with arrows and measurements, labeled cutaways, scene illustrations, slice-of-life moments...a bit of everything to make the reader believe in a little cultured world of gnomes that we never took the time to notice. The words are blended in both with handwritten and typeset text. And that text not only provide descriptions and notes–– there are also several full narrative tale short stories that are heavily illustrated.

by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

This supplement to book to the Spiderwick Chronicles literally has Field Guide in the title. It's not only a wonderful blend of words and pictures, but the art direction of them––with full page illustrations (some as gatefold pages so the creature feels larger than the book can contain) spot illustrations, & sketches. The page layout with a parchment and worn paper look and font choices that go a long way to make this book feel in-world...like a real book from long ago documenting these beasts. It's amazingly complete feeling because of the design and cohesion. It offeres a wide range of 'study' but not like a sketchbook or traveling journal...more like a softer naturalist's D&D Monster Manual (minus the attack tables).

by James Gurney

The Dinotopia series is the best blend, the epitome of all of the field guide style books, but with a major backbone of narrative structuring the whole thing together. Gurney combines full page and two page illustrations with spot illustrations, story text, cutaway diagrams, exhibits of in-world findings––even a dinosaur alphabet and musical notation for songs. Dinotopia is the high benchmark for the hybrid words & pictures book, because it balances both so well...integrating them and becoming more than just a picture book or illustrated novel or field guide.

by Nick Bantock

The last entry I'll put on this list is Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine series. The premise is that we get to voyeuristically look through correspondence between the title characters. Many of those are removable letters to unfold and carefully replace back into the envelope adhered to the page––while others are non-removable postcards where you flip the page to read the back. Between the typography and the fact that every bit of the stationary, postcards, postage stamps, stickers, ink-stamps, and envelopes has been designed and illustrated by Bantock this series does a sneaky job of combining words and pictures because it's easy to take for granted that those items are all just found objects the author used.

I think it's a fascinating thing to break with convention of book formats and to play with the balance of how to blend together text and art in new ways. I think many creators like the idea at first blush because A) it seems easy––not having to write or draw too much, and/or B) because they want to do something like (fill in the blank of one of the author/illustrators above) did with their book. And those are valid points, but I think the ones that are the most successful of these are in many ways the hardest to achieve...because a hybrid project combining words and pictures needs to be more than what has come before it, or an excuse to fill pages with typography to get out of doing more illustrations or to cut down on word count by adding in illustrations. There needs to be a thematic conceit, an art-designed layout that cements that conceit, and the perfect balance of words and pictures that tell that story in a way where removing any bit of either would not tell the same tale.

Like I said, I pulled these examples from my own bookshelves. I'm sure there are many other great examples out there, and if you have any you'd like to share, please post in the comments section. 

2020 Appearances Coming Soon...


James Gurney said...

Wow, thanks for including my books in this amazing list. I'm glad you included Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen's Gnomes, and I'd add that ALL of Poortvliet's books are revelations in the form of the long-form book that explores a topic visually. I'd also add recent books by Simon Stalenhag, Terryl Whitlatch, and Shawn Tan.

Justoffscreen said...

I would further recommend Expedition by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD by Stewart Cowley, as well as The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island by Weta Workshop. All three are fantastic, but I second the adoration of Gurney's books founding an appreciation for field guide style books.

Bethany S said...

These are all neat! I will have to check out the ones I haven't heard about yet.

One crazy hybrid novel is John Hendrix's The Faithful Spy. It's a novel about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his role as a spy in Germany in WWII. Hendrix does some crazy stuff with combining visuals and text in it.

Bethany S said...

Also, I didn't know that Rien Poortvliet did a book on gnomes! I will definitely have to check it out!

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