Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Middle Earth, The World of Tolkien Illustrated

My passion for illustarting The Hobbit led to my first nationally ( American) published book. Right about that time, in the early Seventies, comic book shops were just starting to be created. Previous to then the only place to buy a comic book was at the newsstand or a drugstore. I found a shop tucked up into the second floor of a small shopping center located in Simsbury Connecticut. It was the kind of shop people who love books have a passion for. It was tucked into the attic of the the building so tightly that the ceiling sloped to accommodate the roof rafters. Like all great little book shops it was piled high with boxes of comics, piles of books and a long glass case stuffed with really collectible treasures and a few special pipes, incense and rolling papers. Norm, the store owner was a very amiable guy and he offered me the entire wall behind, his cash register, to hang my artworks of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
I was hoping to sell a few pieces, which I did, but the real stroke of fortune happened when one of the publishers of a small press, called Centaur Books, visited the shop and wanted to publish my illustrations in a book. The first book devoted to The Hobbit exclusively. Of course they would not have the rights for the text so they marketed the book as a companion book, to go along with, and compliment the Ballantine edition. I was very excited to take on the project and immediately started to create new works that were reminiscent of the artwork that was hanging in Norm's shop. The book was called Middle Earth, The World of Tolkien Illustrated, and Lynn Carter, the noted fantasy writer, wrote the foreword and text. Color printing was very expensive when Middle Earth was published, so many books, including this one, divided the artwork up, so that half was in color and half was in black and white. Still very much into the circle as a compositional form I placed many of the the illustrations into round shapes. In addition, I was smitten the intricate black and white illustrations of the English book illustrators from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and wanted to border some of my illustrations with the same types of intricate artworks that those artists had used. This book also started me on a quest to research historical costumes and armor. Tolkien's text is a fantasy, but he based much of the content on historical events and times very much related to European history. Hooded cloaks, shirts of mail, plate armor, swords and axes all fit into our own historic record, and I wanted to have knowledge of how they evolved and what they looked like to guide me in creating a reality to make the fantasy of Tolkien's words more believable.
The book did sell well for the publisher and ultimately the cover was chosen for the Society of Illustrators 21 show and was printed as a full color two page spread in the annual, which in those days was still half color and half halftone reproductions.

1 comment:

Brer said...

Dear Mr. Wenzel, I must say I have enjoyed your illustrations for some years (especially the graphic novel of The Hobbit), and just want to say that I enjoy your whimsical but strong line! Thank you very much for the vision you brought!