Category Archives: Books and Art

It Takes a Village and an English Teacher

I just finished reading Alexander McCall Smith’s book Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. I see on Amazon that he already has another book in that series (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) out: The Double Comfort Safari Club, which I look forward to reading. I dearly love these books about Botswana. The main characters are good people trying to do their best in a difficult world. As such they encounter good and not-so-good people and challenging situations, not unlike what you encounter yourself. In these books everything eventually works out, good is rewarded, evil punished, and we close the book feeling good about our shared humanity.

By the time I reached the middle of this particular book, I was thinking about how one could use this book in teaching a high school English class. There was a time when I wanted to, and expected to, be an English teacher. Life is what happens while you are making other plans, as John Lennon said. I remember as a child, teenager maybe, realizing to the pit of my stomach, that I had only one lifetime and that seemed likely too short to do all the things I (or anyone else) might like to do. It seemed to me that reading books would give me a condensed experience of other lives I would not be able to, or have time to, live. I have always judged a novel as “good” if I felt it expanded my reach beyond my daily world in some dimension. Suffice it to say I tend to look at just about everything through several different lenses. I think we all do that as time goes by. And that’s a good thing.

Garrison Keillor plays with the tremendous value of being an English major. And he’s right, of course. Not only does an English major learn to communicate clearly, but they learn to observe, predict, and not only experience the fictional world, but examine it as it is experienced. That is good practice for leading a closely examined life, by the way. (Assuming you agree with Socrates that an examined life is worthwhile and not with Kurt Vonnegut who fears it might a clunker, also.) So the function of an English teacher, and what I wanted so much to do, is to teach young people to communicate in written and verbal modes, recognizing the way the human mind is structured to perceive things. Equally valuable and even more fun is reading books with a class. We tell young people that you can’t write well if you don’t read a lot. Vocabulary and sentence structure are learned through broad exposure to reading.

Cultural and social concepts are explored in reading, also. I fear for our world that so much of today’s media is worthless garbage. But then again, that thought has been around since TV first squatted in our living rooms. TV and video games have huge impacts on our children, especially where both parents are working. The impact is largely driven by commercial interests which do not have either the child’s or the society’s interests at heart. (And that’s why Sesame Street was shown on PBS, not on a commercial station.)

The fun in teaching a good novel is that it provides the opportunity to discuss the values, assumptions, and judgments in the story. The opportunity is there for an English teacher to guide students to think about cultural and social norms: what they are, why they are, what results from such norms being accepted or rejected. A novel depends on conflict. Life is full of conflict, real and imagined. Learning to recognize conflict, understand it, and see that we have options when faced with conflict are important things for young people to learn.

I started dropping bookmarks into the story at points where I could see an opportunity to confront a lesson with a class full of hormonal teenagers.  Let me share a few with you.  From Chapter 11:

Mma Ramotswe sensed that Mma Tafa was glad of the company. She knew that it was not always easy for women in such places, where the easy companionship of the village had been replaced by the comparative anonymity of the town. Such a woman might spend much of the day without any contact with other women — an unnatural state of affairs, in Mma Ramotswe’s view. We are born to talk to other people, she thought; we are born to be sociable and to sit together with others in the shade of an acacia tree and talk about things that happened the day before.  We were not born to sit in kitchens by ourselves, with nobody to chat to.

This could be an opportunity to ask whether Mma Ramotswe, the detective, is right or not. Do they agree or not? Does being sociable mean something different today in their world than they might imagine it meant to their parents and grandparents? What is it about human social behavior that is nourishing to the human spirit?

A few pages further on, as the two women are talking:

“So it is the job of women — and that means you and me, Mma — to find out what our husbands really want to do, and then to tell them about it. That is our job, I think, Mma.”

Mma Ramotswe wondered about Mr. J.L.B. Matekone. He was a mild man — famously so — and she had never heard him speak about the things that he wanted to do. Did he have ambitions? He must at some time have wanted to have his own garage, and he must have worked towards the achieving of that goal. Then he had wanted to marry, and had proposed — eventually — which suggested that he must have nursed matrimonial ambitions. But apart from that, she wondered what unfulfilled desires lurked in his breast. Did he want to learn to fly a plane, as the owner of another garage had done? She thought not. He had been terrified on that occasion when Mma Potokwane had lined him up to do a charity parachute jump, and so it was unlikely that he wanted anything to do with aeroplanes. Did he want to learn to cook? Again she thought not; Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had shown no interest in doing anything in the kitchen. Or did he want to go somewhere, perhaps to Namibia, to the sands and dunes of the coast down there, to the sea itself? He had never spoken of that.

The thought of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni nursing secret, unfulfilled ambitions saddened Mma Ramotswe, as did the thought of people wanting something very much indeed and not getting the thing they yearned for.  When we dismiss or deny the hopes of others, she thought, we forget that they, like us, have only one chance in life.

How much this differs from the modern media experience of being able to restart a video game after “dying”, or replaying a favorite TV show, or seeing a favorite actor who dies in one show resurrected in another. The fragility of human life and its ambitions, happiness and unhappiness are worth discussing. It is valuable to bring such matters to conscious discussion with young people. Otherwise the lessons of our modern culture mostly downplay the importance of these ancient human truths. Basic human truths rarely have commercial value. And commercial value is what drives our media. Even NPR must appeal to its audience enough to stay in business. (Awareness of commercialization and how marketing drives consumption is something that is taught, for the most part, only in English classes at the high school level.)

There’s an old saying about plays and movies, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” We know it’s an OLD saying because it’s all about telegraphs, but it is also about direct and indirect communication, which is also worth discussing with young people. So many lessons, so little time. A paragraph in Chapter 14 would be fun to discuss:

She returned his glance. A year ago she would never have imagined that either of the young men — Charlie or Fanwell — would understand such feelings. They liked speed and noise and loud music; they liked talking about girls and bars and football teams. Now it was different, and she realised how easy it is to misjudge the young, to imagine that they share none of the more complex emotions that shape our lives as we grow older. Well, they do, she said to herself; they have those feelings too, and suddenly they become capable of seeing them in others.

What a great opportunity to have a class write about a time when they felt they suddenly understood something new or to discuss how something might look different to a young person than to an older person.

When I was young I did a few weeks of student teaching in a high school, thinking I would become a teacher. I remember talking with the class about something and how their parents were once their age, too. We kept exploring that idea for a few minutes and I could absolutely see a wave of understanding wash over the whole class. Something in their eyes, their whole expressions just changed. They had a thought they had never had before. For a moment they recognized that their parents really, honest to God, were their age once. They had heard that statement many times, I’m sure, but never connected with it. What a rich experience for both students and teacher!

I don’t want to give away the story line, but there are a couple instances where the detective, a traditionally built woman, describes how she believes she can always trust the truth and observations of small children. That would be fun to explore with young people who are old enough to have opinions on the matter themselves.

HBO and the BBC have done a TV series based on these beautiful stories. Although I haven’t seen the videos and will probably prefer the books when I eventually do see them, I expect that video is the Classic Comics of the 21st Century. The story might be there, but I wonder about the lessons. An English teacher could help transmit awareness and cultural tradition, regardless of the media under consideration. It does take a village to raise a child, to transmit the cultural norms of the society. On the other hand, it takes a great teacher to have a lifelong impact on a person. English teachers are in a rare position to do that.

While we’re discussing rare teachers who impart life lessons to their classes, kindly allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Elvoid “Ellie” Mayers who taught History in the Rockland, Massachusetts school system for many years. She is currently the chairman of the Norwell Town Democratic Committee. And she is exactly the sort of person you would want to transmit the best of our cultural values to your children. If you watch these flash videos done by some of her former students, you can see the obvious love and respect for her along with a sense of fun. And here’s Ellie at a more serious moment with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick:

I continue to believe that the Village, electronic and otherwise, presents a set of social norms to our young people based on consumption and capitalism. A good teacher, on the other hand, can guide young people to examples of our culture that explore not just the best of human nature but the richness of its complexity. An English teacher’s tools include great novels. A History teacher’s tools are pretty impressive, too. Just saying.

Sex and Drugs and the American Diet

Earlier today I emailed this link to my brother, who I love dearly, but who smokes like a chimney (don’t feel obligated to read this):

How Stuff Works:  How does your body digest a cigarette?

I found that article interesting, in part, because I had just finished reading a book:

The End of Overeating:  Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

By David A. Kessler, MD

If you want to read it (just came out this year, 2009, in hardcover), it will only take a couple hours or so.  Very fast read.  Pages of footnotes in the back in tiny type, but they’re interesting also.

In any event, the point of the book is that there is a

Cue (dopamine driven) – urge – reward (opioids release) habit cycle

built into the human body.  It seems to activate for some people on some things and for other people on other things:  drugs, cigarettes, sex, gambling, alcohol, and food.  The more I read, the more a lot of things made sense and I was fascinated… there is nothing here you probably have not heard or read before, but the way it is put together is striking.  The food industry has done exactly what the tobacco industry did.  And they’re still getting away with it.  Of course, they didn’t start out to be “evil” per se, but the social costs of smoking and overeating are all too clear.  And the loss of Gerry’s son Willem due to a heroin overdose, of course, is still very much on my mind, so I continue to try to understand addictions.

Years ago the cartoon CATHY had a wonderful little strip in which she pointed out that she had lost five pounds but they came back and brought all their little friends with them.  I think I had that comic strip stuck over my desk for 10 years.  It felt absolutely true.  For me I always knew that I had to manage my weight because if I had to “lose” any weight, sooner or later I would not only gain it back but more.  If you saw a graph of my lifetime weight, which I will personally guarantee you will NOT, you would see exactly what I mean.  Like so many folks, I read the SET POINT diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, blah blah blah.  I even read Seth Roberts’ The Shangri-La Diet in which I quickly lost 5 pounds and then gained 10.  Blah.  I still think Cathy Guisewite had it right and science is still working on an answer.

When I was a small child I just plain KNEW that this memorizing multiplication tables business had its limits.  There had to be a better way.  I have happily embraced calculators all my life.  In a similar vein I have always trusted (ha) that there would be a magic pill that could dampen one’s appetite.  I mean really kill it.  As in… sometimes you’re hungry and sometimes you’re NOT.  I want more NOT.  Something called Pfen-fen was available years ago which broke the dopamine-opioid cycle but which had the nasty side-effect of killing a lot of folks.  So it was clearly not the answer.  But it did work.  It just did other bad things, too.  Otherwise it was exactly what I figured somebody would engineer.  I have a hard time believing that “big food” is as evil as “big oil” or “big tobacco” but what do I know?  Why is there no magic pill yet?  Other than that this is a really hard problem?

If you read this book you will come away with a healthy distrust of “big food”, not because they are evil (which maybe they are), but because their success has been based on training people to not resist their products.  They have learned to engineer the perfect products to create and maintain an addiction cycle.  Personally I’ve always believed that you shop around the edges of the supermarket for real food, not processed foodstuffs.  Sugar-fat-salt is the combination that is addictive and at the root of both food industry profits and the obesity epidemic.

On the other hand, I have never met a pastry I didn’t like.  Chocolate doesn’t phase me.  I can leave ice cream alone (except possibly a dish of Ben & Jerry’s Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream which is the single most delicious foodstuff in the world).  I don’t buy candy, except around or  after Halloween and Easter, of course, but that’s a fairly minor vice.  We don’t drink soft drinks, just coffee, tea, OJ, a little wine, and Gerry will drink a little beer. ( I was fortunate to give up all soft drinks years ago when a chemist friend pointed out that diet soft drinks turned into formaldehyde inside you.  Ok.  That was easily the end of that.)  We do struggle with portion sizes in our house, more than any other food related vice.  And it is a struggle.  My latest approach is to serve a single plate of food for each of us which pretty much removes the “it’s just sitting there” temptation of second helpings.  Even Dr. Kessler was surprised to learn that his considered opinion of what was a reasonable portion was roughly twice what he should have been eating.  I understand completely.

We do struggle with our diet in this country.  And we’re exporting that tempting, addictive food, along with the social environment that goes with it, to the rest of the world.  I remember being outraged to see a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees in Paris.  (Even worse, I stopped for a drink.  All the employees were Vietnamese, as I recall.)

Our capitalistic system has a lot to answer for.  Without going down a political road (any further), I highly recommend the book.  Along with his insights, Dr. Kessler offers some advice on retraining ourselves.  Interestingly, some of it is taken from drug rehab therapy approaches.  Let me know what you think if you read it.

Children’s Books with Great Artwork

This tweet came in from jimhill @euonymous what are your favorite books? writers? illustrators? always looking for great inspiration.

Ok, Jim, this is all your fault.  I decided I’d look around my collection of children’s books, which, fortunately, is pretty much on two shelves, and see what was there.  Problem, of course, is that “children’s books” (which was where this discussion began) are not simply children’s books.  The best of them appeal to all ages.  Part of that may be the stories, but, let’s admit it, a big piece of their appeal is the artwork.  Who can resist Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass? … but only with Arthur Rackham‘s or (preferably) John Tenniel’s illustrations.



I am not a fan of recent Disney output and artwork of that ilk (not keen on anime and manga, either).  Having said that, Fantasia is one of my favorite animated movies.  Early Disney is preferable to later Disney Corp I think.  (De gustibus non est disputandum.) An artist friend who worked for Hallmark Cards told me that they did not allow anything to be “pointy.”  Bunnies could not have pointy ears.  They had to have “rounded” ears.  Give me a break.  Current Disney output is sanitized corporate artwork.  It is a style that does not appeal to me.  But, having said that, if you are looking for commercial success, you have to be blatantly realistic about what sells.  What one might hang on one’s wall is not necessarily what one wants to illustrate a children’s book to maximize sales.  Emphasis on the word sales.  When it comes to earning a living, I respect those who have been able to do so while maintaining an artistic vision.  Hey, look at Van Gogh… life is tough.  Which is probably why “Art is what you can get away with.”

Children’s Books in my library:


Judith Viorst: Sunday Morning (art by Hilary Knight) <any and every book by Judith Viorst is wonderful.  Alexander and the Terrible, Awful, Very Bad Day (art by Ray Cruz); The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, etc., etc. as well as her books for adults.  The woman is fantastic in her output for children and adults. She is a psychologist, after all.>


John S. Goodall: The Midnight Adventures of Kelly, Dot, and Esmeralda (there are no words in this book… it is beautiful illustrations, beautiful colors, a beautiful story… also clever conceptually… each 2 pg spread has a half page in between that makes the spread a totally different picture depending on how you flip it… and, yes, I love pop up books, too.)


Margot Zemach: It Could Always Be Worse <cute, humorous, while it’s nice to have full page illustration throughout a book, it’s even more charming to have the text and illustrations integrated… nice layout>


Diane Paterson: EAT! <if this doesn’t make you at least smile in 45 seconds, nothing will… that’s how long it’ll take you to read the book>


Florence Parry Heide: Treehorn’s Treasure (art by Edward Gorey)

Peter R. Neumeyer: Donald and the… (art by Edward Gorey)


Edward Gorey: Double Feature – Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses <there’s a pattern here… around my house there are a lot of Edward Gorey books, as there should be around any proper home.  I remember his Dracula theater set with fondness. There is an Edward Gorey House museum in Yarmouthport, MA and you can follow them on Twitter @edwardgorey.  If you’re the sort of person who enjoyed the Norman Rockwell museum out in Stockbridge, MA, you will love this, too.>


e. e. cummings: Fairy Tales (art by John Eaton)  <I like the dustcover better than the internal art, actually I have the hardcover AND the  paperback on this one for some reason, probably because I always loved e. e. cummings>

Dragon Kite

Nancy Luenn: The Dragon Kite (art by Michael Hague) <so beautiful!>


Byrd Baylor: Everybody Needs a Rock (art by Peter Parnall) <amazing gentle lessons about choosing the rock that’s right for you>


Cat Stevens: Teaser and the Firecat  <what can I say? Love it, charming>

Jill Murphy: On the Way Home <great art, great layout>


Lyndell Ludwig: The Shoemaker’s Gift (art by Lynddell Ludwig) <super super layout>

Sal Murdocca: Sir Hamm and the Golden Sundial <great splashes of color>

Alexander Theroux: Master Snickup’s Cloak (illuminated by Brian Froud) <One morning it was the Middle Ages…>

Jon Agee: The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau <spoiler: portrait of a duck! Quack!>

Tomi Ungerer: Allumette (A fable, with due respect to Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm Brothers, and the Honorable Ambrose Bierce) <adorable>

Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince and other stories (art by Lars Bo)

Bat PoetBat Poet2

Randall Jarrell: The Bat-Poet (pics by Maurice Sendak)


Maurice Sendak: The Sign on Rosie’s Door and Chicken Soup with Rice, Where the Wild Things Are, etc.  <Sendak played his art for children to enjoy. If the rest of us enjoy it, too, that is our good fortune.>

William Kotzwinkle & Glenn Murray: Walter the Farting Dog, Trouble at the Yard Sale (art by Audrey Colman)  (Love all Kotzwinkle’s books.  Read his novels long before I found Walter.)


Dr. Seuss: Cat in the Hat, etc., etc. including The Seven Lady Godivas (funny art, not exactly a cb)

George Jonsen: Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls (art by John O’Brien)

James Morier: Hajji Baba of Ispahan (art by Cyrus Roy Baldridge) <1937 hardcover, I like old books>


Margaret Gordon: Wilberforce Goes Shopping


The Children’s Omnibus and other delightful stories <this is a replica of an “antique original” which I bought in New Orleans at Streetcar Store many years ago, Rackham type drawings, very sweet, done with a “cut out” shape to the whole book>

J. R. R. Tolkien:  The Father Christmas Letters <not sure what category this might fall into really but it does have a lot of illustrations>

J. R. R. Tolkien: Farmer Giles of Ham (art by Pauline Baynes) <small medieval artwork pieces>

J. R. R. Tolkien: Smith of Wootton Major (art by Pauline Baynes) <cross between medieval and Edward Gorey>


Peggy Parish: Amelia Bedelia (art by Fritz Siebel) <art is sort of Thurber-ish>

Tony Hillerman (yes, THAT Tony Hillerman): The Boy Who Made Dragonfly, A Zuni Myth (lovely pencil sketch art by Janet Grado)


Frank Jacobs: Alvin Steadfast on Vernacular Island (art by Edward Gorey, that tells you a lot right there, doesn’t it?)

Norma Farber: How Does It Feel to be Old? (art by Trina Schart Hyman)

Carole Spray: The Mare’s Egg (art by Kim La Fave – sorta Rackham-ish)

Flutterbyserendipityleo the lop

Stephen Cosgrove: Snaffles (art by Robin James) A Serendipity Book, one of many, and I bought the whole set for my first niece many years ago.  My personal favorite was Flutterby.

Louise Armstrong: How to Turn WAR into Peace, A Child’s Guide to Conflict Resolution (art by Bill Basso)

Rudyard Kipling (stories and artwork):  Just So Stories <These are amazing stories. If you share them with your children it can change their lives. That was true for me as a child and for a dear friend …check out The Cat Who Walked by Himself>  My copies of The Jungle Book / The Second Jungle Book aren’t illustrated.

Richard Adams’s Favorite Animal Stories (assorted authors) <one picture starts each story – art inside by Beverley Butcher>

Asterix the Gaul

Goscinny and Uderzo: Asterix the Gaul and all the other wonderful Asterix and Obelix books.  Please don’t say the artwork is a bit Disney-ish.  You read Asterix for the puns.  And if you’re multi-lingual you need to read them in several languages because the books contain puns specific to the language at hand.  The written and graphic style is the constant.  I just noticed there are Asterix video games.  Cool.  Are these children’s books?  Well…..


Light Reading/Humor mixed amidst the Children’s Books in my library:

Jazz Fish cover

jazz fish

Howie Green: Jazz Fish Zen (sweet story, great art all by Howie)

Matt Groening: Love is Hell, etc., etc. (artwork is childlike, humor more sophisticated)

Edward Koren: Caution: Small Ensembles (cartoons)


James Thurber:  Fables for Our Time & Famous Poems Illustrated, Further Fables for Our Time, Thurber on Crime (Stories, articles, drawings, and reflections on the evil that men and women do – not many cartoons in this last one)

Matt Freedman & Paul Hoffman: How Many Zen Buddhists Does It Take to Screw In a Light Bulb? (cartoons)

Sidney Harris: What’s So Funny about Science? (cartoons)

G.B. Trudeau:  Read My Lips, Make My Day, Eat Quiche and Die! <and oodles of other Doonesbury books, I love them all…  Still a Few Bugs in the System with intro by Art Buchwald; Joanie with afterward by Nora Ephron; Dare to be Great, Ms. Caucus; etc., etc.>

Berke Breathed: Bloom County ‘Toons for Our Times

Bill Watterson: Calvin and Hobbes

Hyacinthe Phypps (Edward Gorey): The Recently Deflowered Girl (or The Right Thing to Say On Every Dubious Occasion) <how can you not adore Edward Gorey?>

Felicia Lamport: Light Metres (art by Edward Gorey) <her other books are also delightful>  In a lazy effort to avoid scanning this cover, I found which I highly recommend to you as having several other covers of books I’ve mentioned and been too lazy to scan… the blog author is located in Australia and has exquisite taste in book design 🙂

Rich Binell and Anne Patterson: Do More with Dick and Jane (art by Sue Rother) This is a 1986 booklet from Apple Computer that even includes a price list in the back for the Apple Educational Systems exchange program.  Point is, it is done in the original Dick and Jane style for artwork and layout and is charmingly retro.

Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman: Yiddish with Dick and Jane <another parody of the original Dick and Jane, what can I say? I think it’s fun.>


Scott Adams: all the Dilbert books

Jim Erskine and George Moran:  Throw a Tomato and 151 other ways to be mean and nasty <Erskine has done many, many illustrated books, all that I’ve seen are very amusing>

Jules Feiffer: Hold Me! <always enjoyed his cartoons, particularly the lady who interpreted things in modern dance … “A Dance to …..” very funny>

Gary Larson: In Search of the Far Side <all his books are great>

Charles M. Schulz: I may have every little Charlie Brown paperback ever published.  Love the artwork, love the stories, love the characters.


Richard Armour:  It All Started With Columbus (art by Campbell Grant – great little drawings) <all Armour’s books are amusing>

Dr. Seuss’ Lost World Revisited, A book for grown-ups by the celebrated author-illustrator of the most popular children’s books of our time


John Bellairs: The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Curse of the Blue Figurine, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, etc.  (pics by Judith Gwyn Brown who is the closest illustrator to Edward Gorey I know)  These books are great and our kids loved them.

Favorite Books, Writers, Illustrators

Completely unable to discuss favorite books or writers except possibly with respect to Thomas Hardy, Tony Hillerman, Robert Heinlein, Diane Mott Davidson, Tom Robbins, Kinky Friedman, oh, dear I will just go on and on, so we’ll stop this right now.  I CAN discuss favorite books on the subject of “X”, such as children’s books above.

OZ books

Oops.  How could I forget the OZ books?  L. Frank Baum’s OZ series is wonderful.  I had a grandmother who taught me to read early, and when I was in school the only things in the library that held my interest were the OZ books and mythology.  The OZ books had child appropriate artwork, but it was the stories that were great to me then.  And of course I loved WICKED and SON OF A WITCH when they came out thanks to Gregory Maguire.  Then there’s E.B. White and C.S. Lewis  … I’m giving you authors that I liked.  When I think about our boys, I think of Hello, Moon; Lemony Snicket; Harry Potter; the Berenstein Bears and the books the boys went through.  Different generations, different books.

max parrish

Now then, illustrators.  This is another Where Do I Begin?  The one, the only, the greatest illustrator ever – in my humble opinion – Maxfield Parrish.  The greatest bar on the planet is in the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City where the walls are a mural painted by Maxfield Parrish.  I wish I could find a picture.  I may have some old slides somewhere, I’ll have to look.  Meanwhile take my word for it.


I used to read tons of science fiction and go to science fiction conventions (cons, as they are called).  That’s me and a friend (above) at the WorldCon in Brighton, England.  (I am not short, he’s tall.)  The cons almost always had an art show (and a masquerade).  For many of us that was a high point.  And a lot of artwork got auctioned.  (NB: Good place to learn auction bidding skills.)  Often you would see cover art for magazines or books, illustrations from published stories, that sort of thing.  It does not take long to become a minor expert in the subject if you actually read the stuff, attend the cons, and generally like the genre.  A reporter from some newspaper had been sent to cover one of the World Cons and met me wandering around an Art Show.  He made the mistake of asking a question and I think I told him way more than he expected.  He asked how I knew so much about the artwork.  It just never occurred to me that you DID anything to learn this stuff… you simply pick it up as you go along.  If you care about it, you pick up more.  Osmosis.  So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.  So… really cool illustrators include but are certainly not limited to (I refuse to go downstairs to look through several bookcases of sf books):


George Barr – fantasy artist, worked in colored ball point pens, you would have to see it to believe it, amazing.  The picture above is mine.  (Mine mine mine!)


Frank Kelly Freas – Mad Magazine, of course, great cartoon artist and sf magazine illustrator.

Bonnie Dalzell – I have a small, strange sculpture of hers – she did fantasy animals in 2 and 3 dimensions.

Rick Sternbach

Rick Sternbach – before he was associated with Star Trek, Rick lived in the Boston area and was part of NESFA, the New England Science Fiction Association.  Every month we’d all get together and collate an APA zine.  Rick is my favorite artist in the whole world because he taught me something.  He was doing a picture on white paper with black paint, wanted to get a soda, and handed me his paint and brush, saying “Finish those rocks over there for me, ok?” and disappeared.  Whoa.  What rocks?  Where?  What?  Hit me like a ton of bricks that he actually saw the finished painting in his mind and was just, well, painting it.  Much like sculptors say they simply liberate the thing inside the stone.  And I realized I couldn’t see the rocks, even though he’d already started on them.  I couldn’t find the vision he had.  Sorry.  But I learned something that night.  People really see the world differently.

Vincent di Fate

Vincent di Fate – if you read science fiction, you’ve seen Vin’s cover art.  An English artist, Eddie Jones, once explained some of the “shortcuts” the sci-fi artists used to do space ships and planets.  It helps me keep complex pictures in perspective.   Vin is an icon, very recognizable, still working out of Western MA, I think.

M. C. Escher – how can you not like Escher?  Our boys had Escher posters in their rooms!

Jack Gaughan – another iconic sf cover and illustration artist


The Brothers Hildebrandt – illustrated fantasy, Tolkien, Star Wars, Conan, etc.  Their work is beautiful, colorful, and the perfect artwork for children’s books.

Hundertwasser (Friedrich Stowasser) is one of my favorite artists of all time.  He’s Austrian, a dedicated environmentalist, interested in architecture and effective construction.  He uses wonderful bright colors, spirals, cities, rainforests, ships, eyes.  Absolutely love him.  I have a copy of the poster above on the left along with a large, square framed silk scarf he did.  His art is compared to Gustav Klimt, but I don’t care for Klimt.  Hundertwasser’s architecture somewhat resembles Antionio Gaudi in Spain.  If you’re interested, use Google Images and see some fascinating buildings.


Peter Max. How could I forget Peter Max?  Howie Green modeled a lot of his work on early Peter Max.  I love them both.  I’d include a photo of the one Peter Max I own, but it has shiny glass in front of it and I don’t think it would photograph well.  Humph.  I was right, but here’s my very own Peter Max (love his colors):


Max defined psychedelic art in the 1960’s and 70’s.  If you go here

or here

you will see a Continental plane wrapped in a Peter Max painting.

There are, of course, many artists beyond the list above but I have a fondness for these people who’ve given me so much enjoyment over the years.