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December, 2005

2 Dec 2005, by

Illustrations

As promised, today I will address the issue of illustrations.

I believe that illustrations are nearly as important as maps. While illustrations are less important to understanding how combat played out, they are nevertheless essential to the presentation of the tale, as they put a human face on what would otherwise be a pretty bland and impersonal story.

I have always found that seeing what these men looked like–putting a human face on it, if you will–adds so much to a book. It’s easier to relate to what these men went through if you can put a face with the name. It’s tougher to care about someone who is faceless, just a name on a printed page. But if there’s a photo, that makes that person real. I likewise think that illustrations of important landmarks also add a lot to the way that the tale is told. Imagine, for instance, a telling of the story of the Alamo that didn’t feature an illustration of the Alamo. To me, that would be almost inconceivable. Modern-day depictions of sites can also be very useful and very helpful to battlefield trampers, and I like to include those, too.

Contemporary illustrations, such as the woodcuts that appeared in Harper’s Weekly, are also invaluable additions to the story, as they make the events seem more real, more vivid. A good example is the depiction of John F. Reynolds reeling in the saddle after receiving his mortal wound on July 1, 1863. It was an eyewitness representation, and it really adds a lot to our understanding of what happened. The sketches of war correspondent James E. Taylor can be really useful additions to books. Taylor was a gifted artist, and he left some excellent depictions.

Finally, there are the works of modern artists such as Dale Gallon and Don Troiani. These can also be helpful, as they’re typically in color and really bring things to life in vivid color. Some–such as Gallon and Troiani–are meticulous about researching details (although that wasn’t always the case with Gallon). I worked with Troiani on a print called McPherson’s Ridge, of John Buford placing Calef’s battery in position on the morning of July 1, 1863. I suggested the scene, and provided Don with my research on the subject, which is why this painting is the only depiction of Buford ever done that got the color of his horse right. That’s the level of detail that Don prides himself in, and it shows.

At the same time, for every Don Troiani, there’s a Mort Kunstler, who is much more interested in the artistic side than in getting the details right. While his paintings are always aesthetically pleasing, there’s always something about them that’s just plain wrong. He did a depiction of a charge of the Citadel Cadet Rangers at the Battle of Trevilian Station led personally by Wade Hampton. Again, while it’s an aesthetically pleasing depiction, the terrain is just plain wrong. Consequently, I’ve always tended to avoid his work.

I particularly like these types of illustrations on dust jackets. I think that they add a lot to books.

Again, pictures are another place where some publishers skimp, which saddens me. In this day of high resolution scanners, it’s easy enough to insert images into books. However, I have had publishers–university presses in particular–severely restrict the number of illustrations that they would permit. To me, the cost savings in production pales by comparison to what the illustrations add to a book. That’s why I give our authors at Ironclad carte blanche on illustrations. I have never yet told someone, “nope, too many pictures, you need to pull some”, and I don’t expect to, either.

It’s all about producing the best book possible that makes the customer–who has forked over his or her hard-earned dollars–feel likey he or she has gotten his or her money’s worth when they buy that book.

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1 Dec 2005, by

Maps

In my mind, maps and illustrations are important elements of every book that I buy. If, for instance, it’s not an action that I am familiar with, maps are absolutely indispensable to understanding the action. Here’s an example of what I mean here. Some months ago, I wrote a review of a recent book on the Battle of Bentonville. Bentonville, a favorite of mine, is a large and complex action. One of my favorite Civil War books of the past decade or so is Mark L. Bradley’s excellent Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville. One of the things that makes this book so good is the inclusion of a superb and extremely detailed map series by Mark Anderson Moore, who does some of the finest maps of anyone in the business. Some of Mark Moore’s maps can be found on the Bentonville Battleground’s web site. Mark Moore’s maps are so good, in fact, that the map series was published as a separate volume, which is indispensable to anyone wanting to stomp the battlefield. Not surprisingly, both of these books were published by Savas Publishing, Ted Savas’ prior publishing venture.

The same thing also holds true for Chris Fonvielle’s terrific study of the Wilmington Campaign, which also features a large and remarkable map series by Mark Moore. Again, Mark Moore’s maps were published in a separate volume this is similarly indispensable to touring the sites associated with the campaign.

By contrast, Broadwater’s book, which was published by the Mercer University Press, by comparison, does not contain a single map. If I did not (a) have Mark Moore’s maps available to me and (b) have some familiarity with it from touring the battlefield with Mark Bradley twice, there is absolutely no way that I could have made heads or tails out of Broadwater’s book. That this book was published by a respected university press makes it all the more stunning that there isn’t a single map in this book.

I tend to follow the philosophy of Ted Savas, of Savas-Beatie Publishing, which is that one can never have enough maps in a book. That’s the primary reason why I approached Ted to publish my forthcoming work on the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads–Ted was wiling to go with my entire map series, which is something like 25 maps. We do the same thing at Ironclad–within reason, I will let the authors have carte blanche on maps, even if it does add pages to the book. I would rather have more pages with lots of good, usable maps than a smaller, cheaper book that LOOKS cheaper because we scrimped on important things like maps.

I have always believed that good maps are absolutely essential to making a book usable to the user, and the more good maps, the better. Cutting back on maps to save pages is the sort of corner-cutting that makes me absolutely crazy. I tip my hat to Ted for doing things the right way.

Tomorrow, I will address the issue of illustrations.

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