The Five of Us, and welcome to the House of Illustration.
Brian Alderson on Quentin Blake publishing, and the new House of Illustration that will house his archive.
The Famous Five in Quentin Blake’s brief picture book bear a relationship to that team of comrades in traditional tales each of whom has an amazing gift such as being able to see a sparrow sitting on the top of a statue five miles away. Where they tend to unite to help a hero win a princess or the like these chums combine to save a bus driver from an attack of the collywobbles. It’s a jolly little tale – especially when little Eric’s vital gift is revealed – but it has more promise in both its narrative and its illustration than Sir Quentin allows (and we never know what happened to the yellow bus in which the adventure started).
The book stands though as a contribution to a year of multiple Blake-events that deserve at least to be given a unified record in BfK. For 2014 was the year when the House of Illustration, just up the street from Kings Cross Station, was opened – a magnificent project initiated by Quentin and eventually to house his archive (will it be large enough though?) It is dedicated to promoting every aspect of illustration, by no means either in children’s books or any other kind, but extending to the illustrative work by anyone from cartoonists to architects. Its first exhibition though was indeed of work by Quentin, not only displaying original drawings but giving his own descriptions about the influences that brought him to selecting or making texts for illustration and (partly through a short, repeating film and a pamphlet on What Does the Illustrator Think About?) explaining aspects of his own techniques.
At the same time, Tate Publishing have extended the original tale of The Five of Us with further studies of Quentin’s career. They have produced a valuable new edition of his mingling of chronological and experimental reflections, with additional material and a new bibliography: Words and Pictures (978 1 84976 151 2). They also published Joanna Carey’s fresh and broadly chronological view of Quentin’s work, Quentin Blake, its brief text amongst a heap of illustrations provoking thoughts that she could have more to tell us. She does though include helpful mentions of work outside ‘the canon’, such as the illustrations for classic texts from the Folio Society and the drawings for the maternity unit at the University Hospital at Angers in France. also published by the House of Illustration (978 1 84976 327 1).
The Five of Us, Quentin Blake, Tate Publishing, 32pp. 978 1 84976 304 2 £11.99
Quentin Blake, Joanna Carey, Tate Publishing, 96pp, 978-1849763271, £14.99
Words and Pictures, Quentin Blake, Tate Publishing, 256pp, 978-1849761512, £16.99