Illustrating a Story

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Title: Illustrating a Story
Creator: Jean C.
Date(s): September 1982
Medium: print
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Illustrating a Story is a 1982 essay by Jean C..

It was printed in S and H, a Starsky & Hutch letterzine, issue #35.

Excerpts collect your mail; and you find among the bills and magazine s a letter from a fellow fan asking you to illo for her proposed zine. Even if you're inclined to fire off an unequivocal 'yes, yes, yes' immediately, don't. Make your acceptance conditional upon readinq the story. It's also wise to sort out any problems about subject material. If the request didn't specify what sort of story you're being asked to illo, take your feelinqs known immediacy. You could save everyone several bucks in postage. Ask about the printing schedule, size requirements, and special requirements (i.e., can the printing process support large areas of black? Will the publisher consider screening which will allow you to work in pencil? — usually not. Can the editor do reductions?) If you have no reference material, ask the editor to provide some. Don't take on a story if you don't think you can meet the deadline or any of the other requirements.

The story arrives a week or so later, you read it and like it. Now is the time to send a note sayinq 'yes, yes, yes'. If you don't like it, then send a note ASAP sayinq 'nope, its just not me or some such, And when refusing, send the story back. It's not yours to keep unless otherwise specified. But remember that there are people waiting to hear from you and they're up against a deadline. Don't keep everyone in suspense. You may want to include a critique, but don't count on it being appreciated. That's not what they asked you for.
Assuming that you accept, discuss your ideas with the editor and/or author. They can probably give you valuable input. One or both of them may have some ideas for illos and you might find them helpful, but don't feel constrained to use the ideas if you're not happy with them. Your job is to interpret - do it your way. Usually, though, the author and editor will bend to your wishes. They'd rather have a good piece of art than a half-hearted sketched of their favorite scene. Tell them how many illos you'd like to do and where they'll go in the story (roughly). Remember, it's wise to distribute your efforts as evenly as possible. They'll tell you how many they wanted. Arrive at a compromise number. Everyone will be pleased.

Now, I'd like to say a word or two about ethics. I play by two hard and fast rules that have always served well. i) You have a right to know who wrote the story you've been asked to illo. I may get flak on this, but I remain firm in my belief that it's a latter of common courtesy. You should not allow yourself to be bullied into an awkward situation. HOWEVER, you'd better be able to keep your mouth shut if need be. Knowing the author's name does not give you carte blanche to spread it around fandom. Respect the author's wishes. 2) You do not have the right to show the story to anyone else unless you are given permission. This means not only best friends, but Mom and Dad ("What sort of stories do you illustrate, dear?!!!), husbands, lovers or even your cat who probably won't like it anyway - they're so critical.

In the humble opinion of this lady, if you fuck-up on these two items, your name ought to be mud.

As you work, keep in touch with your editor. She needs to be assured occasionally that you haven't dropped into a black hole. She is also the one who will be able to tell you about major changes in the story you're working on. There is nothing more ulcer-making than to illo a scene that has been excised. If you have a problen, ask your editor. (There's a school of thought that maintains that editors should also be mind-readers. This view is held mainly by writers and while it does seem sensible, it is a bit Utopian. You can't get help unless you ask for it.)

Keep your deadline in mind. Mark it on your calendar with a star, a circle or a little red noose, but keep the date in front of you and plan accordingly.

Finally, your contrib copy will arrive in the mail. You tight want to crack open a bottle of wine to celebrate.

Next time, I'll talk about art shows and cold, hard cash.