Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

My One Two Three Legged Fiend

What with moving house and Bostin' Heroes and what have you, the War of the Worlds illustrations I was footling with rather slid out of view. I did three in the end:

In order: first sighting of the tripods in a storm at night; the destruction of Shepperton by the heat ray; the aftermath of the engagement of the tripods by HMS Thunderchild. I picked this incident, when an object appears in the sky and cascades the deadly black smoke over the land, rather than the actual battle because a) it's something of a curtain-down moment on a section of the book, and I tried to reflect that sense of conquest and doom in the image of the black cloud falling, b) I had a feeling it would be the same as the Shepperton image only with more sea and bigger boats, and c) it's on the cover of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds album and whatever you think of that it's an iconic sort of image.

I'm ambivalent about the results. The book was inspiring, as it creates very vivid visual images to pursue. Doing it did throw up a couple of issues. Firstly, depicting something very tall and three-legged brings about compositional issues; as you can see, two of these are very similar, although I tried to vary them as much as I could. Secondly - dear me, look at the difference between the two tripods. It's as if the Martians had time to redesign and bring out a Tripod Mk. II, leaner, sleeker and more in tune with invading today's world. That's just carelessness. It's why - which I did, luckily, with the Bostin' Heroes - you need to spend a lot of time on preparatory sketches, so you don't make accidental 'improvements' as you go. Lesson learned.

I also learned a lot about indian and acrylic inks, the different finishes they give, and how well they blend in washes and in layers. I had to work hard to get that smoke/steam effect in the Shepperton drawing as I was using acrylic white ink; the indian ink (Windsor and Newton) blended much more smoothly and with softer edges in the black smoke image. I also liked using latex masking fluid to show the heat ray, which is invisible in light but is shown up in the steam.

Even so, I don't think I quite captured that mechanical, crustacean look that I got in the sketches:

I tried to be fathful to Wells' descriptions, which are both mechanically precise and nicely suggestive. (The notes on the sketch say "no plain pivots / like spiders / like crabs / ball joints / alive / lifelike and striding / scuttling / parody of human gait.") Even so, I think that my tripods are more stiff-legged than Wells' intended - his have a series of round plates that seem to be far more flexible than my crab-creature. It wouldn't be the first time someone's got it wrong, though, so I'm in good company: Warwick Goble drew some rather splendid illustrations to accompany the first appearance of War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. Splendid to my mind, anyhow - Herbert George did not like them, and even added an extra passage to later editions of the book which is a swipe at Goble's work:

"I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have been much better without them."


  1. Really evocative Rich. I've only dipped into the book because I find it too terrifying a concept but my husband and son are big fans of the book and music respectively (not sure it's really that suitable for a 4 yr old but hey ho). Are your illustrations for a publication?

  2. Sadly not! I wanted to get some practice in illustrating specific parts of a book, and happened to buy War of the Worlds in a second hand bookshop. It is a hair-rasing read, mind. Even the vegetation is ominous.



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