Of art and editors

As already mentioned, some readers might be interested in a brief account of personal experiences in the 'less innocent than would be expected' world of children's book publishing.

At the time of the Ambrosius project, quite a few years ago now, the first text and sketches of Ambrosius were showed to the merged HarperCollins in London. They liked the idea and asked the artist, already internationally known, to develop it, which he did. He refused to develop the illustrations however, as he had a feeling that the publishers might finally let him down, which they did.

Due to all the book publishing house mergers, book publishing overheads were already enormous, even then. This, in turn, led to their having to merger the actual printing and production of their books, mostly confided to China, and so many at a time that it was no longer possible to effectively control the printing quality of any individual book.

Originally for the USA, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, for another example, was auctioned off at the Bologna Book Fair between two American publishers- say 'D' and 'P'. 'P' were finally preferred, more out of sentiment than reason. Because the agreement stipulated that they had to take on more books than they could possibly handle, they really should have declined the offer, thus allowing the larger, more capable publisher- 'D', to take the book on. This sad and short-sighted situation led to 'P' being obliged to prematurely remainder (sell books at a reduced price) their stock in order to sell it off as soon as possible. Remaindering always means the end of a book's life wherever it's published.
Alice nevertheless continued for some years in the UK, but the book, of which the first edition was printed to a high standard (originally with the artist's assistance and approval) by Butler and Tanner in Somerset, England, and was to become a best-seller in the UK, ended up by also being printed, with God knows how many other books at the same time, in China. The initial quality was therefore sacrificed and the book, no longer defended, lost a great deal of its original quality, charm and magic.

One of the artist's most treasured and touching 'reviews' (with that of the Lewis Carroll Society) was a greetings card sent from an old lady. She had taken the time to write how much she appreciated Alice, which in her view was one of the best illustrated versions she had ever seen. She only wished that it had been available when she was a little girl..

The next book the artist willingly took on was virtually sabotaged, due to other discords, but mainly over his retelling of the text, which he believed in, defended (as a parody which apparently was never grasped) and refused to change. But it already seemed that such children's book publishers in the UK were suffering from the first throes of their own decline. In choosing not to defend their artists and what they believed in, and in continuing to prefer to write and illustrate down to children, finally bestowing them with mediocre produced results, the UK publishers then seemed willing to sell their souls. This instead of continuing, despite the circumstances, to try give their very best, (which is what the Edwardian artists and writers always insisted on in the golden age of children's books, with illustrators such as Rackham, Dulac and Robertson, Milne, etc., and writers such as Carroll, Grahame, Kipling, Lang, Tolkein, Potter, etc., and why these books are still alive today, and still so treasured and appreciated).

Even editors who had risen from nothing to lofty heights of power, (which they were sometimes prone to abuse) and had become too ungainly for their Cinderella shoes, were finally given the push, as the importance of Internet also increased.

What often seems to be ignored, is that natural, human sensitivity is not something that develops with education or time. It's either innate or not. From a certain age, a child, just as much as an adult, either has or hasn't the capacity to discern and appreciate the poetry of written and visual art. In the latter case it's not necessarily a fault, it's simply another example of the nature and reality of things. In the former case it's also why many children never forget certain books they were given when they were young, and why they keep them, and treasure them all their lives.
It's therefore inane and counter productive to try to please the majority with ephemeral mediocrity. If one is willing to create something, it goes without saying that in principle one should always try to give one's very best- whether the results are considered 'financially feasible', (with or without reason) and fully appreciated- or not.

All this might be considered as unimportant, naive idealism, but if artists try to please others, instead of trying to create to the very best of their ability, what they believe in, they would have no right to consider themselves artists.
By extension, if editors try to control, pigeonhole or restrict artists from giving their very best and from developing their own individual potential, they not only betray the artists, their betray themselves, their own profession and they abuse their position.

Text and image © Mirino. May, 2011

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