Friday, March 26, 2010

Drawing Down the Moon


I am, for self-evident reasons, a big fan of Charles Vess.  Just consider the picture he drew for my own Hope-in-the-Mist, an examination of the life and work of the great fantasist Hope Mirrlees published by Popular Culture.  Coming to it cold, it looks fantastic -- in both senses of the word.  But it gets better.  The more you know about its subject, the more you're impressed by the craft that went into it.  Nice line, too.

I've just this week come into possession of Drawing Down the Moon:  The Art of Charles Vess (Dark Horse Books), and it's a model for this kind of illustrative-art book:  beautifully made, perfect bound, and vividly printed, a pleasure to read and look at, a volume that flows from start to finish.

There are really two books here, cunningly folded into one.

The first is an autobiographical presentation of Vess's career, from art-school days to present, documenting (among much else) his brief relationship with Heavy Metal (his work wasn't busty-and-bloody enough for them), his stint with Marvel Comics, professional relationships with writers like Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, and Jane Yolen, and, most recently, three years spent working on an A Midsummer Night's Dream fountain for a theater in Virginia.   For those who are interested, you can see the influence of Maxfield Parrish, Aubrey Beardsley, Richard Dadd, Hal Foster, pretty much all the classic fairy-tale illustrators, and many other artists upon his work.  Among many others.  As a working illustrator and occasional collaborator, Vess has often had to work in another artist's style, and that too is fascinating to see.  There's the raw stuff of dissertations here, and a great deal of food for thought.

The second is a book of immersive fantasy, perfect for daydreaming, easy to get lost in.  Here's how Dark Horse describes its appeal:
Verdant fairy forests. Whispering mountains. The fallen towers of ancient kings. Spirit-filled lakes. The distant strains of elven bards. 
Which is exactly the kind of stuff I thought I'd gotten weary of decades ago.  But, no, as it turns out, I had not.  I'd grown sick and tired of derivative, third-hand imitations of fantasy churned out by fifth-rate hacks.  And of the art that illustrates it too.

Vess's work reminds me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place.

Exactly how good is Drawing Down the Moon?  I've had it for three days and been through it many times already, but I haven't yet read the foreword by Susanna Clarke.  As a fantasist, I'm intensely interested in what the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell might have to say.  But every time I open the book, there are images to look at, and my hand turns the page, and I drift deeper into the book.  It's that good.

I only wish I had the time to review it properly.

And I am not dead but only . . .

 I'm on the road again, this time to I-con.  If you're there and not entirely focused on the media guests, say hello.

On the contest front . . .

Meanwhile, the contest to name the Darger & Surplus novel continues.

Trust me, my silence on the suggestions to date does not mean that none of them will win.  It only means that I want the absolute best title possible possible for the novel.  If somebody offers a perfect title one day and somebody else comes up with an even more perfect title the next . . . well, you know that I'm going to choose the pluperfect.

 I was an English major, after all.



Charles Vess said...


Thanks so much. Glad you're enjoying the book. I'm sure you'll enjoy Susanna's introduction too when you get a chance to read it. The most surprising (for me) thing that she writes about is that her splendid character 'the man with the thistledown hair' from JS&MN is, at least in part, based on a drawing of mine. I was floored to say the least.


Matthew Adams said...

I've been a fan of Mr Vess since his "Book of ballads". His black and white work is fantastic.