Summer 2018

The genres of fantasy and science fiction have long been a fertile place for illustrators, although the full value of their contribution is not always recognised. One illustrator who is now best known for excelling at luminous watercolours of fairies also helped to define the embryonic science-fiction market in the 1890s – although this is rarely remembered. Warwick Goble’s illustrations for H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds are artistically striking, chilling and astonishingly modern. They not only faithfully reproduce the writer’s descriptions, but also feature a “reportage” look that foreshadows many later sci-fi films. J R R Tolkien is similarly far more famous as a writer and creator of the all-encompassing world of Middle-earth, in which he set The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, than he is for the illustrations he completed for these books and other tales. Yet for him, the process of illustrating his imaginary places, books and
objects was integral to the creative process just as much as developing working languages and mythologies. His illustrations are fascinating because they demonstrate how he saw the places he describes in his books, and, like Goble’s work, they have subsequently been interpreted to great effect in films.
A century after Goble created his terrifying Martians, half mechanical, half tentacled sea creature, society continues to fear invasion by machines. Now, however, we are as afraid of the machines we create as we are of those sent from other planets. Dave Pressler has built a career from his illustrations, animations and models of robots, who move seamlessly from paper to computer screen, television and film. Meanwhile, cartoonist Martin Rowson is most commonly employed lampooning current affairs and world leaders, but his illustrations for the novels of Laurence Sterne demonstrate the way in which the human imagination has always mixed the familiar with the exotic, broken down the borders of reality and reassembled it to reflect society’s interests and fears. Fantasy provides us with a perfect place to reassess reality and illustration continues to play a vital role in helping us to visualise this.
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