FOR YEARS AND YEARS, I have been collaborating on this Illustrated-Young-Adult-Civil-War-Ghost-Story called Picture the Dead with the lovely and talented YA author Adele Griffin, (She's not a young adult, she writes for young adults.). It's finally hitting bookstore shelves this coming May, 2010.
One reason that the book took so long to complete and get published was because it was illustrated. Having a visual element to one's book adds another huge dimension to its creation: not only is the illustration craft itself time consuming, but a book with pictures can be challenging to reproduce and more expensive to publish than a "regular" novel. Having illustration in one's book also provides the artist and her editor with a vast new venue in which to make and discover embarrassing errors. I speak from experience.
So why illustrate a young adult novel? Aren't illustrated books really for little kids?
Here's my resounding "No:" I think that everyone can relate to and fall in love with a graphic story. Our choice to illustrate this particular tale was not arbitrary: the narrative lent itself particularly to visuals. Picture the Dead is about photography at a time when that technology was a relatively new means of reflecting the world. Much like nowadays, when 3-d computer animation is all the rage. I suspect that future generations will view the technical wonders of a movie like Avatar with the same jaded eyes as we now cast on spirit photography, or Clash of the Titans, or even Jurassic Park.
I think that people are much more receptive to illustrations in their books right now than they have been at any time in the recent past. Graphic novels have been enjoying a surge of popularity among teen readers, and the web, of course, is primarily a visual medium. Teenagers live in a world of photographs and pictorial navigation. Characters from centuries past, with their different cultural mores and strange clothing might feel a little alien to teenage readers. The illustrations help to place the book in a more familiar space.
The art itself is modern, too. I chose a digital style very deliberately: I wanted a form of visual expression that I felt kids could relate to in a day-to-day kind of way. There's nothing dusty or antique about our 19th century "photographs." The illustrations are an integral part of the whole book. Our intention was that the readers follow along with the narrator as she unravels the mysteries in the plot. The images make it possible for the readers to pick up on things that the narrator misses herself, at least at first. So the illustrations are not merely decorations, they are a means of imparting additional information.
So it's worth all the extra hair-pulling that creating a book with illustrations entails. At least that's my opinion.