Elon Musk, The Wall Street Journal, and me

On October 3, I got an email from Ellen Gamerman, an arts writer for the Wall Street Journal. Elon Musk was in the process of being sued by Twitter for backing out of his offer to purchase the social media giant. No news there, right? So I get this email:

Hi Gerry,
I’m an arts writer with the WSJ, and I’m working on a story about Bleak House and the chancery court, pegged to the start of Elon Musk’s trial in a (very different) chancery court. I hoped to talk with you because I saw on the Dickens Society site that you were interested in illustrating that novel. It would be great to hear your thoughts about the visuals in Dickens’s chancery court. If you’re free, I’m on a tight deadline and hoped to reach you today if possible, or tomorrow. Thank you!
Best,
Ellen

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Inspector Bucket

It has been said that Inspector Bucket, the police detective in BLEAK HOUSE, was the very first fictional detective, pre-dating Sherlock Holmes among others. I don’t know about that, but I do love this great Dickens character!

It’s tempting to compare him to others of the genre, and I often think of Columbo for some reason, but that’s not even close. Bucket is not rumpled and never feigns confusion, but the attribute they share is a totally disarming likability. Bucket’s greatest skill as an investigator is instantly being everyone’s best friend and confidante. He can speak to little children, Lords and Ladies, or street sweepers, and within a sentence or two bond with them like an old friend.

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Charles Dickens and Race

You may know that I was extremely honored earlier this year to be asked to write a blog post for the prestigious Dickens Society in London. It was well-received and there is a standing invitation to write more for them in the future.

The Dickens Society is an academic group dedicated to exploring all facets of Charles Dickens’s* life and work, but it is not an exclusive club at all. In fact I was surprised to learn how easy it is to join: by subscribing to their journal The Dickens Quarterly, you are automatically enrolled as a member.

It is The Dickens Quarterly that I would like to write about. I’ve been a member for a year now, and I am by no means either a Dickens completist, or an academic of any kind. Some of the material is a little over my head, but I’m comfortable with that. What is great is the breadth of subject matter, and how it makes you think differently not only about Dickens but also about nineteenth-century fiction, Victorian England, and much more.

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“Spot Illos”

So in doing magazine and book illustration for a few decades, I picked up a couple of technical terms. For example, an illustration is called an “illo”, a sketch is called a “ruff”, and a deadline is called a “#!!@! deadline”.

Illos done for print are termed by their size, and from biggest to smallest are called a spread, full-page, half-page, quarter page, and spot. Spots are fun because they are usually simple, a quick visual read, and they don’t necessarily have to carry as much narrative weight as a full-page does.

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Free Ebook Download!

This fully illustrated ebook contains the first seven chapters.

I’m extremely happy to announce the completion of the next step in this monumental project: A free, no-strings-attached ebook download of the first seven chapters of Charles Dickens’ great BLEAK HOUSE.

This is intended primarily as a calling card and proof-of-concept for my ultimate goal, a hard cover print edition of the entire illustrated novel.

As you may have discovered, I am smitten with this book. I began work on it in the Spring of 2019 and have been working on it nonstop since. With the completion of this sample, I will be continuing work on the monumental, 57-chapter novel, as well as continuing to post here on a regular basis.

This ebook in pdf format can be read on any computer, device or reader. There’s no sign-up, no email harvesting, no obligation of any kind. I hope you enjoy it.

Mr. Vholes and Richard Carstone

Richard’s high spirits carrying everything before them, we all went out together to the top of the hill above the village, where he had ordered a gig to wait and where we found a man with a lantern standing at the head of the gaunt pale horse that had been harnessed to it.

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Research Sketching-Costumes

My favorite part of doing any kind of historical or genre art is researching the appropriate costumes. In my magazine illustration days it didn’t come up much; mostly I was drawing doctors, nurses, businessmen and contemporary kids and grownups of all kinds. 

With subject matter like Dickens, costuming the characters not only correctly, but in a way that tells us about their personalities, is part of the job description!

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It’s the Little Things!

As I mentioned in the post on Miss Flite’s birds, I had a bit of an epiphany when I started laying out a sample eBook: I discovered that as a reader I wasn’t as interested in the detailed, heavily-researched full page illustrations I’d been slaving away on, as much as wanting to see smaller, spot illustrations tucked into the text.

A fence-stile that connects two estates whose owners are in a perpetual war over rights-of-way
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BLEAK HOUSE cover illustration

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes–gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

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