Saturday, September 3, 2016

Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time
edited by David Larkin
Bantam/Peacock Press, September 1976



'Once Upon A Time' was published in September 1976 by Bantam Books under its Peacock Press imprint, which specialized in trade paperbacks devoted to art and illustration. The editor of the Peacock Press was David Larkin. 

Although Bantam discontinued the Peacock Press line in 1977, Larkin had continued success in working with other publishers, releasing a number of well-received illustrated fantasy books such as Faeries (1978), Giants (1980) and Castles (1984).

The Forgotten Temple by Alan Lee

'Once Upon A Time' is a collection of 44 plates, all composed from 1975 - 1976, on fantasy and folklore themes. Most of the featured artists are British, and, with the exception of Ian Miller, most of them were not well known outside their field.

Of all the illustrations in the book, only Pauline Ellisons' paintings for the Bantam Book paperback editions of Leguin's A Wizard of Earthsea are likely to be recognized by modern readers.

Earthsea Trilogy (panel) by Pauline Ellison

To be fair, while most of the entries in 'Once Upon A Time' have the simplistic style associated with illustrations for children's books (or in some cases imitate the styles of 19th century artists such as Arthur Rackham), in 1976, children's books were the only real market for what we now consider 'fantasy' art.

Daffy Daggles by Chris McEwan

It's also important to remember that back in the mid 70s, abstract art dominated the curricula at art schools. Realistic art, including illustration, was considered outmoded, and few (if any) faculty were willing to provide instruction in the subject. Those students who sought training in realistic art often had to fend for themselves; when it came to trying to earn a living providing such art to commercial markets, the situation was even more difficult.

The Sword of Thrac (unpublished illustration) by Brian Froud

Nowadays, fantasy and sf fans take for granted that they can walk into any Barnes and Noble and see significant shelf space set aside for art collections such as the Spectrum series. But fifty years ago, back in 1976, you were lucky if your local Waldenbooks or Coles or Brentanos carried a Tolkien calendar or two......and maybe a Frank Frazetta calendar, too......and that was pretty much it for fantasy art books.


Lord of the Dragons (unpublished illustration) by Frank Bellamy

Summing up,'Once Upon A Time' is best regarded as a pioneering effort to bring fantasy art out of its status as a children's medium, and into some degree of acceptance as a legitimate artistic endeavor in its own right. By offering the public a reasonably priced collection of genre art, it paved the way for the success the field enjoys today.

The Dreaded Bombax Bird by Wayne Anderson


Painting for The Witch's Hat by Tony Meeuwissen


Painting for The Witch's Hat by Tony Meeuwissen

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