02 December 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors No comments yet

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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