Emboldened by a series of unexpectedly positive encounters with publishers from both Britain and further afield (well, Western Europe) – and, admittedly, a glass of the ol’ fermented grape juice at lunchtime on Wednesday (can of Coca Cola: 4 euros; glass of wine: 2.5 euros… It was an exercise in basic economics…) – I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of the Fair and really began to feel as though I had finally negotiated my way through awkwardness, timidity and self-doubt to arrive ‘in my element’. I’m not certain whether it was the special, heightened sensory stimulation of encountering such remarkable and diverse creativity in one place, or being buoyed up by a sense of camaraderie with the throng of other illustrators striving for recognition and affirmation in this curious-but-frequently-wonderful profession, but it felt quite thrilling to be in the midst of it all. I feel very privileged to have made connections with such a fantastically talented host of ‘creatives’ and, aside from the crushing shame of my inability to communicate in anything but the most halting pidgin Italian, found the company of my adoptive Italian illustrator family both comfortable and illuminating. It’s something not to be underestimated, the view of a profession from the inside, particularly a slightly different facet of that to which one might be accustomed/find familiar – I learnt a few chestnuts about how the Italian publishing industry operates (or doesn’t…), in comparison to the British or American model, and something of the contrast between (what seems to be the accepted) industry approach to illustrators of non-fiction and fiction works (with, perhaps, the exception of such illustrator giants as Franco Tempesta, unparalleled talent in the rendering of dinosaurs for National Geographic – I urge you to take a look [utterly incredible, if a little – er- samey…] http://www.francotempesta.eu/).
As I say, among the most valuable aspects of this entire excursion was the opportunity to spend time with a stylistically diverse assortment of other illustrators, our most animated discussions being those conducted in the cosy, mouth-wateringly-perfumed atmosphere of the local restaurant we patronised on all but one of our nights in Bologna. This was a great forum in which to learn something more about each other’s working methods and history, and to vent a few frustrations about experiences of our collective chosen career – the application of delicious food to proceedings also ensured that everyone, at some stage, got a chance to chip in between mouthfuls of tagliatelle, and also confounded (and corrected) my life-long perception of what a bolognese sauce actually consists of – no carrots, bacon snippets or Lea & Perrins here!
*More to come – my blogging efforts were stymied by a particularly unpleasant episode in my long-running (Italian) flu yesterday evening – but, in the interim, you may have a leisurely peruse, if you so wish, of the rest of my photos from the Fair (and cheeky skive-day) at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=646539&id=648040376&l=80866d4dbd
16/04/11 – The promised ‘more’:
To continue, then, although the vastness (both physical and, in prospect, conceptual) of the Bologna Fair threatened to render me mute and ineffectual when I first unfolded the bedsheet-sized Fair map, and prodded my weeping right eye to try and encourage the troublesome contact lens therein to co-operate in the orientation process, I think the trauma of arrival day and the welcoming atmosphere among other visitors and the exhibitors steered me towards an altogether more rewarding (and, ultimately, productive, I hope) path. Confounded by the online appointment-booking system, I resorted to, well, cruising, I suppose, around first the British and English-speaking exhibitors’ stands – all constructed in a sort of street-grid formation, like a mini town centre comprised exclusively of (a selection of) the people I would most wish to speak to, both from an illustrator’s perspective and as one mesmerised by the innovations blossoming around this industry – and then, as I gained a bit of confidence (and waited for the queue beside the gelato-cart to diminish…), the European, Baltic, Canadian, Australian and Korean stands. There were some really stunning new titles on display, and a discernible penchant for the dark and slightly unhinged-looking among, memorably (for me), some of the French houses (a trend that was reflected in many of the calling cards and promotional posters that drew my attention on the Wailing Wall, and certainly engaging and affecting as objets d’art – many demonstrating a quite intimidating level of draughtsmanship and originality). However, aside from the brilliant Lithuanian showcase in the main ‘reception’ building, it was the Taiwanese gallery-esque stand that I enjoyed most (and not just because it was carpeted with something akin to butchers’ ‘grass’ for a jubilantly artificial ‘bringing-the-outdoors-indoors’ aesthetic:
There was a rather impressive selection of comics (sorry, graphic novels…) on display there, too, but I have to confess to sort of sidelining these, being somewhat bored by the glut of Manga imagery that seemed to dominate similar displays in that (geographical) region of the Fair. Another particular favourite was this artist, Xin-Yu Sun:
The photo really doesn’t do it justice (a little too shady on that side of the faux lawn), but it just seemed to communicate such a clean, fresh ‘lightness of being’ and exude an easy calm and contentment that comes at that seems to reign as a sumer day draws to a close (the colours could, arguably, look as relevant to and evocative of dawn, but I think the figures in scattered couples on the green, relaxing as they survey the horizon, the light sinking over the water, suggest a slowing, settling and more dusk-like atmosphere to me…). Not qualities that I recognise in my own work, and the figures are rendered in a quite different – more succinct, yet effortless-looking – manner to my own, but I think difference is where interest and the potential for learning and/or inspiration lies – and there was an abundance of difference on display among the illustrators featured by their, justifiably proud, publishers.
Between circuits of the exhibition halls – interspersed with trifles such as procuring lunch, reapplying vaseline to air-conditioning dessicated lips, re-jigging the contents of my portfolio satchel for optimum lugging-comfort, and encounters with German paper-engineers and minor Italian animation celebrities (OK, I tripped over his foot – probably doesn’t count…) – I, along with some of my new illustrator amicas, attended a handful of the wealth of seminars and discussions staged in the Illustrators Cafe over the course of the four days: Jean-Francois Martin was celebrated as Illustrator responsible for the new edition of Aesop’s Fables, published by Editions Milan, and winner of the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Award 2011; Jutta Bauer, 2010 winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, discussed her work with Nikolaus Heidelbach (regrettably, only in Italian and German translations, but every 30th word [understood] seemed interesting [I mainly looked at the pictures, the speakers animated faces, and attempted not to appear entirely stupid]…); Franco Tempesta in discussion with his Editors at National Geographic Children’s Books division re. the importance of creativity in illustrated works of non-fiction for children, and the amazing scope available to, but rarely properly exploited by, illustrators; and finally, a discussion about ebooks and apps, and the place of illustration in an increasingly digitized market.
All these discussions, with the possible exception of the Jutta Bauer non-comprehension episode (although I do admire her work), were fascinating and offered some valuable insights into the illustrator-editor relationship, the possibilities for, and perceptions about, illustration for digital media. (I was sorry to have missed some of the ‘gems’ in the Illustrators Cafe programme – e.g. interview with Philip Giordano, Winner of the 2010 International Prize for Illustration, announcement of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature 2011, and of course ‘The Reasons behind a Choice’, in which the adjudicating panel for the Illustrators Exhibition tried to placate the assembled horde of disgruntled, unsuccessful entrants with some tripe about ‘consistency of draughtsmanship’ (important but, judging by a few of the entries, in this case a little spurious) and ‘pushing the envelope’ of what it means to illustrate (I am, of course, speculating here – I’m sure they weren’t at all apologetic and probably had v. reasonable, er, reasons for the choices they made, but perhaps I spared myself an hour of disappointment and an ensuing, unshakable malaise…). In the light of the decidedly ‘digi-centric’ focus of the upcoming London Book Fair, and further to the casual (but pointed) suggestions of my occasional business associate, I congratulated myself on shuffling into position in time for the ebooks and apps discussion: much of interest about the development and possibilities presented by the picture book app was shared, although I will admit that the most entertaining aspect of that hour was the persistent failure of the elaborate technological props the speakers had assembled to illustrate the wondrousness of their product. Cue much (barely) stifled guffawing from the old-school publishing ranks, and mutterings of, ‘it wouldn’t happen with a real book’, as the iPad screen cut to black for the 14th time and a piercing feedback whine reverberated around the auditorium… What I cam away with, though, was a sense of the app being ‘packaged’ as an entirely new media entity, not merely a digital, animated version of an existing book, but a concept in itself that – while it might make a valuable enhancement to the market presence of a picture book published by traditional means – should stand alone as a thoroughly engaging, differently challenging experience. And certainly for the prices they were bandying around…! According to the featured app developer, Umesh Shukla of Auryn, the average budget for producing an app (albeit a fairly sophisticated one) was somewhere in the region of $45,000 (!!!!!) – begging the question, at what price would such a product become available to the public for individual purchase…? (For the price of a small movie in development, perhaps the price of a cinema ticket would be appropriate [but, arguably, not workable]…?). On invitation, an enquiry from the audience (comprised almost 95% illustrators) re. what percentage of the sale price would return to the illustrator, if any (as many of these apps are created ‘in the style of’ the original illustrations, and may not necessarily use wholly original artwork), after everyone else had taken their cut (including iTunes, at a flat 30%), was met with a masterclass in prevarication. Quelle surprise.