Friday, May 6, 2016

Some Golden Books and the Rainbow Book of Nature

Came across some really lovely illustration last month in various travels. I think I'm old enough that classic Golden Books still felt like normal, semi-current kids books when I was a child. Last month I came upon a friend's forgotten collection and found that they feel, now, like they are from a different age. Which is funny because you can see clearly that some of them probably felt very advanced when they were made – there are clear modernist touches in some of these with the emphasis on flat shapes and idiosyncratic self-conscious stylization. Others are more traditional and classic, of course. The bears and the rabbit(s) are early Richard Scarry, from when he was still lingering longer over his drawings.

Can't get enough of Little Red Riding Hood's amazing competing check patterns, here.

I also really love the style mash-up of the back cover template illustration. I remember lingering over it as a kid. There's something extremely compelling about usually separate fantasy worlds colliding. It feels faintly subversive in some way, like that the boundaries of reality are permeable. If Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse can escape their worlds into a shared universe, maybe you can, too... or maybe they'll end up in yours. It's pleasingly meta. Note the individual copyright information with its complicated footnoting, labelling each character in an attempt to shore up those boundaries and wall off that sense of possibility. And imagine the legal battles that would prevent anything like this image from being mass-produced today.
and here's a similar idea, but with non-copyrighted fantasy worlds. This was a book I found in a Portland antique shop. Three little pigs, meet Davy Crockett. Where the hell are they all going?
Lastly, here are a few illustrations by Rudolph Freund for the Rainbow Book of Nature, from the 70s, which I found forgotten on a shelf in an unused room in a different house. I love this sort of thing, too. The artist is doing a semi-scientific observational naturalism, but he's also interested in making beautiful drawings. Old bird guides are like this as well, it's a holdover from when art and science were still not fully separate disciplines. A book like this now would likely be full of photographs, which can be done well, but where one often loses clarity in a misguided emphasis on the apparent objectivity of photography.

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