In Defense of Book Illustrators

Sarah McIntyre, artist and illustrator of such children's books as Cakes in Space, A Shark in the Bath, You Can't Scare a Princess, and Ink + Paper, vents her frustrations at how she and her profession are commonly overlooked for author's credits, in favor of the writers:

In articles about their books and media mentions, illustrators regularly get left out. You might ask, 'Does it even matter, as long as kids are able to find and read the book?' If I insist on credit for my picture books, am I just being A BIG ATTENTION-SEEKER?

...First, I need to say a few things about the idea of 'recognition' for an illustrator

1. Illustrators do NOT just want recognition because we are insecure and need pats on the back to tell us we're doing a good job.

2. Illustrations do NOT usually care much about being recognised in the street. Very often we are quiet people and would rather go unnoticed while we sketch.

3. Illustrators do NOT usually count trophy cups and television appearances as the pinnacle of our careers. We're much happier when we get a freshly printed copy of our book, open it, and feel proud of what we've done. We're happy when its intended audience gets to read it. We're happy when we get paid enough money to live on.

4. Illustrators are discovering more and more that it's not enough to sit at a desk and turn out beautiful illustrations. In a media world driven by celebrity culture, it's the people who appear on television and national radio who sell the most books. (David Walliams, for example, has a massive head-start on us.) If no one knows who we are, we'll have an awfully hard time making a living. If there's any way we can get a mention on telly or national radio, it really helps sales.

5. Illustrators (sometimes grudgingly) tear ourselves away from the work we most love to take trains and buses around the country to tell people about our work, to 'make a name for ourselves'. We're not doing it to get popular and 'recognised', we just hope enough people will buy our books to let us keep doing this job for a living. We end up working several full-time jobs at once - illustrator, publicist, book-keeper, event organiser - and we get incredibly tired.

6. Most illustrators aren't so-called 'media whores'. But my publicists and I noticed that when I read two minutes of Oliver and the Seawigs on Radio 4 Woman's Hour, our book sales had an absolutely enormous spike. So anyone with business sense will look out for opportunities like that.

7. When illustrators read articles by people in our own book industry - often even people in the children's book industry - who leave our names out of publicity about our picture books and focus solely on the writer, we feel like we're fighting a losing battle if even our own people won't support us.

8. Many illustrators are scared. We don't have pensions so we basically need to do this job until we die, unless we have a mega-hit like The Gruffalo (which almost no one will). But we already get stretched to the limits of our energy and worry we won't be able to keep up when we start approaching the age of Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr or Quentin Blake. And by then, it won't be easy to switch careers.

McIntyre also cites journalist Charlotte Eyre who wrote an article for The Bookseller, detailing the frustrations of many illustrators whose work remains uncredited or ignored:

The media is also culpable, according to Axel Scheffler, a frequent collaborator of Julia Donaldson, who was the UK's most valuable author in 2014. "The press often doesn't pay tribute to the illustrators, when and if a book happens to get on the bestseller lists, for example. I think one should always mention author and illustrator if it is a picture book. Text and images are of equal importance, yet in most cases only the author gets mentioned.

Sarah McIntyre, who last year highlighted the fact that illustrators are not mentioned in the nominations for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, says writers often forget to credit the illustrator they work with. "Writers will call an illustrated book, 'my book,' or newspapers will talk about 'Julia Donaldson's picture book'," she said. "If you call a writer up on it, they will get flustered and say, 'of course, my illustrator, yes, I have huge respect for them!' But they will just forget to mention it."

McIntyre said the word "author" should not be limited to the writer of a text. "To refer to writers and illustrators as 'authors and illustrators' is not comparing like for like," she said. "Both are 'authors' of the creative work-one author writes and another author illustrates."


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