Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Book In The Book – or, Why My Pictures Look Like Garbage

I’ve had no time for illustration this past month or so, but I have had plenty of time to think, so I thought I’d write a few posts about the book and the project and that kind of nonsense. The synopsis isn’t working for me anymore – every time I do a page it gets harder and harder to write it in a way that makes any coherent sense – so I think I’ll replace it with a page of my illiterate, ill-informed musings instead. Enjoy!

First off, I thought it might be good to explain my decision to make all my illustrations look like they were soaked in tea for a primary school history project. There is an actual reason, which is all to do with the role that the book itself plays within the narrative of Finnegans Wake. That’s right, you don't really know a book is arty until you’ve found out how self-referential it is, and now I'm going to tell you.

Just as the “characters” of Finnegans Wake shift among a huge cast of figures and settings, so the book itself appears in a variety of different guises. It is first discovered in a rubbish pile in chapter one, as the mysterious “Book of Doublends Jined”, an illuminated manuscript, part almanac, part religious text,
which tells the history of civilisation. Later it appears as the “Mamafesta” of the wife character, ALP, and as the scandalous novel of ALP's son, Shem the Penman. In what you might call the underlying narrative of the book, it is the letter, dictated by ALP to Shem, and delivered by Shem's brother, Shaun the Post, to their father, HCE, as a simultaneous love letter and testament to his innocence of the various unknown crimes for which he is brought to trial. Finally it is lost, and rediscovered in a rubbish pile, in chapter one.

When I began this project, I wanted the look of the illustrations to take into account the book’s various incarnations -- to appear variously as an illuminated manuscript, as the work of an obsessive artist, and as scavenged discoveries of the city dump. So that’s why my pictures look like garbage.

Well, that’s one reason, anyway.

9 comments:

James said...

Keep up to good work. Oh and have you seen the Book of Kells, the 'Mamafesta's rediscovery is very much how the Book of Kells was found. It was found, nearly destroyed, in a poor brick hiding place and was found accidently much like ALP's letter. Have you thought about illustrating the letter itself well it’s a fragment of the letter but still.

Stephen Crowe said...

Thank you! Yes, the letter seems to be a kind of fusion of the Book of Kells and the Annals of the Four Masters. What fragment are you referring to? Could you give me a page reference? I vaguely remember there being a description of the letter in chapter five (I think) and a version of it right at the end, which is so unimaginably distant right now that you may as well ask me which afterlife I'd prefer!

mliber said...

What a fabulous, hell-of-a-project! Thanks so much!

Stephen Crowe said...

Thanks, I'm so happy you like it!

johnsonsrambler said...

I just discovered your site today - what a fantastic project! The way you draw it and describe it, Finnegans Wake doesn't sound like the 'incomprehensible' book of legend, but immensely rewarding. I've read Ulysses several times but never attempted FW, partly because of its reputation. I think I will now. Thanks!

Stephen Crowe said...

That's really great to hear! I’ll have to admit that there are some later chapters that are pretty hard work. But if you’ve read Ulysses, then you shouldn’t find most of Finnegans Wake significantly more difficult, and I think in many ways it’s more rewarding.

Ignacio said...

This is such a great project!. The illustrations are amazing and it really captures the mixture between ancient text / fairy tale / pop artifact / megalomaniac book. If you ever turn this into a physical book / graphic novel, be sure I'll buy my copy!. Cheers from Argentina

Ignacio said...

P.S: Humpry Dumpty with HCE's E for a crown: Perfect!

REEKFEEL said...

my copy of FW has a nice tea stain on it and it's skewered deeply by the professor's fork.
it's moulded nicely by the finger-starch of time.
only fitting don't you think