Category Archives: Book Illustration


Is there anything so abysmally bad as Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy? In your conscience, now. Have you ever seen anything so atrocious? Be honest.

I may be alone in my desperate bull-brained hatred of those particular films, but I think everyone has felt the anticipation, hope, excitement and disappointment of having a beloved book slashed to ribbons and stitched into a patchwork quilt of cool mediocrity. For some, it’s the Hunger Games. For others, it might be Frankenstein.

It doesn’t matter what your book was. When you saw it pale and sterilized on the silver screen, you knew that something had gone horribly wrong.

What happened?

I remember my mom used to make covers for some of her books. She covered up the original illustrations with plain white paper so she wouldn’t have to look at them. When I asked her why she did it, she said something like this:

“I don’t like the picture of (the main character). That’s not how I picture her in my head.”

The commercial artist who did that cover illustration had messed something up. He or she got it wrong. There was a disconnect between the vision that the author projected into the reader’s mind and the vision that the illustrator had executed.

And this happens all the time. Authors are painters with words, and unless an artist is intimately familiar with those words, how can they visualize them authentically? The reader and writer are very close, and illustrators have to wedge themselves in, somehow.

So why bother with illustrations at all?

Really, some books should not be illustrated. Non-fiction should not be illustrated. Autobiographies of politicians should not be illustrated. But sometimes, artists can show you something in a new way.

5Tove Jansson, The Hobbit, 1962

Pictured above is one of Tove Jansson’s illustrations for the Hobbit. These caught me off guard this morning, and I had to look for more of them.  Tove Jansson was a Finnish illustrator and storyteller, best known for her stories about the Moomins, a lovable race of hippo people.

title-alternativ swedish-hobbit-illustration-1962-12

They’re so free, loose, and fun! This is appropriate, because the Hobbit is a fun book. It’s chock-full of songs, dancing, and feasting.

finnish-hobbit-illustration-1973-26 de398dda760357e19042359fbaa2d872

Tell me this, Peter Jackson. Which is a better interpretation of the Hobbit: your high-definition, 30 frames-per-second slaughter-action-fest, which altogether runs for nearly 9 hours, or the picture below?


My apologies to people who like the Hobbit movies. I just get so mad sometimes.

Bonus! Here’s one of Tolkien’s original artworks for the Hobbit. See more here.


J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1936


Visual Oddysey

Ulysse Malassagne!

Lesser artists cringe, turning paint-stained pants away from the dark figure in the doorway.

Ulysse Malassagne!

He enters, returned after a long journey to find his banquet hall full of miscreants and vagabonds who merely pose at craftsmanship. He bares a shining sword. No one says a word. A few ragged beggars begin to file toward the door.


I’m not sure how to transition from that gripping intro to the normal blog post. Really it was just a dumb joke based on the fact that his name sounds like Ulysses and his blog/portfolio is called Oddysey. Just forget it.

Ulysse Malassagne is an artist and storyteller from France with a wonderfully loose and imaginative style.

Malassagne_New Companions_2010Ulysse Malassagne, New Companions, 2010

He’s perhaps best known for writing and illustrating the graphic novel series Kairos, which was launched with a very cool book trailer (animation directed by Malassagne).

KAIROS Trailer from Studio La Cachette on Vimeo.

The first two volumes of Kairos are currently available, with one more to come.  To my shame, I don’t have the money to buy any of them. Hopefully I’ll scrape together some cash later this summer.

Malassagne_Kairos_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 1, 2013


Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 2, 2014


Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 1, 2014

There’s been a movement in the past few years towards what I’ll call the “Really-Fast-And-Quick-And-Sort-Of-Crap” school of drawing, embodied and largely inspired by the show, Adventure Time.  I have a beef with this school simply because (1) it has so many followers, and (2) it’s not visually rich.

But I love loose artists. Loose doesn’t necessarily mean “Sort-Of-Crap”, any more than it indicates a lack of effort, and Ulysse Malassagne is a prime example of a loose style, executed well.

Malassagne_TheHouse_2010Ulysse Malassagne, The House, 2010Malassagne_Poster_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Poster, 2013

Looking through Malassagne’s work, I get a sense of his genius for character, setting, and tone. As he tells stories that can only be told with pictures, his work takes on some of the rampantly original flavor of Miyazaki. If we were to cut this guy open, we might find liquid creativity in the place of viscera.

Malassagne_voeux_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Happy New Year, 2013  Malassagne_The Soul of the King_2009Ulysse Malassagne, The Soul of the King, 2009
Malassagne_Searching the Plain_2010Ulysse Malassagne, Searching the Plain, 2010

Malassagne_Jade_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Jade, 2013Malassagne_Anaëlle et la gouvernante_2010Ulysse Malassagne, Anaëlle and the Governess, 2010


Freebie Wednesday!

NateTaylor_journeystone2_04 NateTaylor_journeystone2_06 NateTaylor_journeystone2_08 NateTaylor_journeystone2_09

The word “free” is the cocaine of the English Language.

“FREEEEE?” You say, drooling a little. “Yes,” I respond coolly. From the dark folds of my vast trenchcoat I produce a box, which I deftly unlatch. It snaps open, and inside you see…

Journey Stone Books I & II, now FREE to download!

Get ’em while they’re hot at this link. Enjoy!

Frank the Barbarian

So, with all the media buzz surrounding this new Conan the Barbarian movie, I figured it would be a good time to give a shout out to one of the greatest Sci-Fi and Fantasy cover illustrators of the 80’s: Frank Frazetta.

He painted a lot of voluptuous women, none of which will be posted here. Google ’em yourself. Said women graced the front covers of innumerable paperbacks, which graced the shelves of myriad book shops, which graced the streets of cities all around the world.

Our boy Franklin is best known for his work on the Tarzan and John Carter books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (someone I’ve been meaning to bush up on in my reading time), and Conan the Barbarian, by someone I’m not going to bother looking up.

Young Frank was also an avid athlete, but no one really cares. This just goes to show you: the arts have infinitely greater staying power than athletics.  Who even knows who Babe Ruth was any more?

Without further ado, here are a few selections of Frank Frazetta’s work. No further ado. I’m going to wrap up all of the ado in a Hefty bag and put it out for the trash man. If you see any ado lying around, sweep it under the carpet. But watch for carpet vipers.

Frazetta-ConanTheUsurper-1967Frank Frazetta, Cover for Conan the Usurper, 1967

Frank-Frazetta-Combat_1968Frank Frazetta, Combat, 1968

Frank Frazetta-Against The Gods_1966Frank Frazetta, Against the Gods, 1966

So, lots of muscular people; you get the idea. But sometimes these center-stage, anatomically awesome humans steal the show from Frazetta’s truly terrific fantasy critters.

Frank Frazetta-TheMoonMen-1978Frank Frazetta, Cover for The Moon Men, 1978

(Not to be confused with The Moomins)

frank_frazetta_gollum_1973Frank Frazetta, Gollum, 1973

frank_frazetta_manapeFrank Frazetta, Man Ape from Conan the Barbarian

Frank Frazetta-John Carter1-c1970Frank Frazetta, from John Carter, 1970

Aren’t those great? You only get that good at monsters by studying animals.

Frank Frazetta-Black Panther_1972Frank Frazetta, Black Panther, 1972

Frank Frazetta-Kane on the Golden Sea_1977Frank Frazetta, Kane on the Golden Sea, 1977

Fun fact: Frazetta was good buddies with infamous, irreverent animator Ralph Bakshi. He and Bakshi collaborated on the 1983 high fantasy/lowbrow film Fire and Ice, but I don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend any of Bakshi’s films, even if I do admire his spunk.

For more of Frank’s work, check out this gallery!

New Book Available

Welcome to National Toot-Your-Own-Horn Day.

Toot toot.

I’ve got a brand-new book out, the first in a series of four:

 Journey Stone: Book I

It was done in cooperation with Jacqueline Druga, a Pittsburgh native and author of many terrific thrillers.  My contribution? The illustrations!

JourneyStoneNate Taylor, concept for Journey Stone, 2014

Asrene map

Nate Taylor, concept for Journey Stone, 2014

So, is it good?  Yes, it’s very good.  Just look at this trailer.

It’s about imagination and friendship (but NOT the power of love, that’s the next book).

Check it out on!

Preview_Chapter7Nate Taylor, Journey Stone, 2014

preview_Chapter8Nate Taylor, Journey Stone, 2014

Great Job, World.

The World has treated its brilliant minds well. Beethoven, Michelangelo, Andy Warhol (hmm, maybe not Andy); they’re all comfortably ensconced in shrines of eternal adoration, their names ringing through the halls of history. While they were alive, they had the best of everything.  Now that they’re dead, they’re immortal.

And then there are the others. The World nervously bites its lip as we list the names: Van Gogh, Bach, Oscar Wilde. The ones who died face-down in the World’s ditch. Yeah… about those.

Kay Nielsen was one such artist.

Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen_1924Kay Nielsen, from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, 1924

Nielsen_In Powder and Crinoline_1913Kay Nielsen, from In Powder and Crinoline, 1913

A contemporary of Arthur Rackham, he was one of the last “greats” of illustration’s Golden Age (roughly 1880-1930). He began his career in book illustration, tackling the traditional fairy-tales with singular flair.

Nielsen_In Powder and Crinoline_1913_02Kay Nielsen, from In Powder and Crinoline, 1913

Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories_1925Kay Nielsen, from Hansel and Gretel, and Other Stories, 1925

Nielsen_eastrofthesun_troll_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

In the late 30’s he moved to California to work for Disney, where he did concept work on Fantasia and The Little Mermaid.

Night On Bare Mountain_Nielsen_1939Kay Nielsen, concept painting for Night on Bare Mountain from Fantasia, 1939

And then, after 4 years at Disney, he was let go.

Returning to his native country of Denmark, Nielsen attempted to renew his career in book illustration, but he found that his turn-of-the-century style was no longer in vogue. Vogue is a capricious mistress.

Need I say more? He died a brilliant pauper, sick and penniless. When a friend tried to place his work in museums, none of them expressed any interest. Good job, World.

Nielsen_EastoftheSun_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

Nielsen_WestofTheMoon_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

This is upsetting. So I want to take this moment to say: Kay Nielsen, we’re so sorry. You were pretty great, and we should have taken better care of you.

At Rest in the Dark Wood_East of the Sun and West of the Moon_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

Goodness Gracious!

So it looks like it’s a monster kind of week!  Bernie Wrightson is a comic book artist who produced a riveting series of illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Wrightson Frankenstein



Bernie Wrightson, Frankenstein, 1983

I have a confession to make.  When I see work like this, I get nauseous.  It’s so GOOD.

Immediately, familiar thoughts spring into my mind like Jack-in-the-box demons: I’ll never be this “good”.  Why am I wasting my time?  Maybe I should quit.  Or maybe… I should just imitate this guy’s style.

When approached the wrong way, masterful work can be really discouraging.  A lot of artists deal with these qualms, and our biggest question is always:

Will we ever be this “good”? The answer being:

No, we won’t.  

For several reasons.

Wrightson Frankenstein_1983


Bernie Wrightson, Frankenstein, 1983

1. An imitation can never match the original.  A lot can be learned by the act of imitation, but we’ll never exceed or even equal the quality of the original in our copying; we’ll always be approaching it.

2. We aren’t “the Masters”.  Artists are made up of more than just lessons and practice; artists are molded by their lives and surroundings.  The circumstances of your childhood and adulthood shape and mold you, and in turn you shape and mold your body of work based on those experiences.  This is what makes artists (and people) unrepeatable.

I’m convinced that we have to learn from the masters, rather than trying to become them.  We’ll never be Bernie Wrightson, or Gerhard, or Katsuhiro Otomo… we’ll never get “there”. But then again, do we want to get “there”?



Bernie Wrightson, Frankenstein, 1983

We also have to be careful not to confuse “good”ness and excellence- there’s a big difference. With time and persistence, we will arrive at excellence; that’s the journey of a thousand miles.  There’s no denying that Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein is excellent.  But the book’s 47 illustrations were seven years in the making. Excellence is a journey.

But “good”ness… that’s a nebulous quality that is relative from person to person. Groucho Marx was “good” at being Groucho.  Anyone else who tries it is annoying; the only solution for other comedians is to find their own schtick, and schtick with it.

The same goes for artists.  Find what you love, and express what it means to you, to the best of your ability.  Push yourself.  Put in the hours.  Make something truly original.

Let’s re-define “good”.  Let’s be excellent.