Lloyd Metcalf Inc.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Does Illustration Matter?

If you think maybe Art doesn't sell, and has no effect on your printed book, game module, or product, think again.

Ask a Dungeons and Dragons player to describe in detail a mind flayer, Goblin or beholder and they can use any book they like.
While they talk watch what happens. Their eyes do not scan the page for words, not the paragraph on the subject, not the place-holder in the text.... but an image, a piece of art is where their attention rests.
The gamer will dart his eyes down and up well over a dozen or more times to get through about 10 sentences of descriptive language.
He / she is not reading text, they are looking at the illustration that interpreted the text. They recognized the section they needed that held the monster in the text by recognizing the artwork.
The more engaging the artwork, the more engaging you will find the description become.

Why is it important to game and fantasy writers to try this?
In the web design world it's what we might consider a usability study of a page. Just to sit aside, and record where a visitor looks, what they read, and where they click.
Without directing a reader and user of your product let them have a round of the text without art and it becomes apparent as you sit at the table what happens. Quietly play through your module as someone else is reading and presenting without art. Don't interrupt, don't re-describe your vision for encounters. You won't be sitting at every table after you publish.
The game changes dramatically with no art, and even different artistic interpretations of the exact same text will change the game. Just pop in a couple stick drawings in the text, all with round heads and funny faces, an play through again, it will be a new game.

If I type the name Kitiara, or Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Raistlin etc.... do you immediately recall passages of text from the great writers who created the names, or are you conjuring first artwork of Larry Elmore and his interpretations of dragons and hourglass eyes?
Make no mistake, Weis and Hickman were the creators of those characters, breathed life into them, made them talk, feel and interact with the world, but when someone thinks of those characters, they are thinking in Elmore imagery before they talk.

Now think of the importance of Rich "Uncle" Pennybags to sales of a product. Don't recognize the name in type? What if I said "The Monopoly Man" who looks like J P Morgan? How important is that little piece of art to sales? How many millions of times has that drawing been reproduced and printed? He is an American Icon. Sadly, no one really knows who the original artist was.

How much impact can a little illustration have on people?
Fred Mizen, an artist / illustrator in 1930 who managed to get a one off job painting a sign for a department store to pay his bills.
Oh, you don't don't know the name?
That's ok, most people don't and I had to google it myself.

Describe to yourself, or your kids Santa Clause.

You just described Fred Mizens interpretation, and you possibly have described it to children many times over. Fred Painted the first modern Santa that was rotund, jolly, wearing a red suit.... and... drinking a Coke over the worlds largest soda fountain. Prior to that he was smaller, occasionally gaunt, elf like, a little scary and paranormal. The Saturday evening Post, and later Macy's printed Freds art, and the world was changed.

When an illustration appears in text it is referred to in description, big deal!! Big deal indeed. Especially in Fred's case, and that of role-playing games and fantasy. In these situations it is left to the responsibility of one person describing to others how something or someone looks, what the mood of their setting is, how they interact with the world and how to relate to them. one person tells others.
When the others read that text, the imagery used to describe that scenario is reproduced when they look at the text. They will likely re-tell it again, continuing to use the image they see, their past experiences with it (described from another looking at the art), and the new things they see on closer inspection will be added.
Retold to 3 to 5 people a dozen times using a single image and a certain "expectation" becomes solidified as how something should look. How would you react to a waif thin, sunken eyed, elf draped in animal furs sneaking into your house? That would be the old Santa, not Raistlin sneaking into your bedroom.

So buy art for your writing, buy it often, and consider the value and impact it will have. Treat your artists well and they will strive to make sure your product lives in the memory of people for the long run. They will happily associate their images with your brilliant writing. Slapping in the wrong art, or no art, or even worse... MS office CLIP ART (yes, I have seen it).. will get your product passed over by the readers regardless of the writing quality.

~Lloyd M