Revisiting An Illustrated Ghost-Story of Christmas
Tuesday, December 19th, 2017
About this time last year I brought you a look at five illustrated editions of the beloved Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol, that ghostly, redemptive journey of one soul through Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
For this year I thought that idea worth a revisit and an expansion. I tracked down some more of my favorites and yours as well! Going through your comments from last time, I found a few versions that were new to me and I’ve included those here.
Though it’s been 174 years and countless illustrated editions of the book what remains is the myriad of ways to approach any given scene. From the arrival of Jacob Marley to the vision of Scrooge’s own grave, I present evidence that the solutions are endless.
A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens.
John Leech. The original illustrated edition. 1843.
Brett Helquist. 2009.
I remember the moment I first laid eyes on Brett Helquist’s work. I was in a Barnes and Noble and I picked up a book in this new series I’d been hearing about, A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve been a fan ever since.
I love the way Helquist builds with shapes and the how he does this kind of hatching within the textures. It’s wonderful. Speaking more specifically about this edition, man, do I ever love the larger than life Marley. That’s such a brilliant idea.
Arthur Rackham. 1915.
It’s sobering to think of Rackham working through these illustrations during 1915, the second year of The Great War. I checked my copy of Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustrationby James Hamilton to see what, if anything, was noted about this time in his life.
This was the first Dickens story Rackham had attempted, and despite its ghostliness, and the opportunities for the supernatural that story presents for its illustrator, Rackham did not exploit these to the full. … It’s as if, in choice of his subjects, he voluntarily passed by the opportunity to terrify his readers with too many ghosts and images of retribution, and chose instead to calm them with pictures of sliding on the ice in smoky London, dancing with Mrs. Fezziwig and children bouncing about on Christmas Eve. Perhaps caught by the national anxiety and tragedy of wartime, Rackham voluntarily softened his interpretation of Dickens’ story in a way he might not have done eight or ten years earlier – or indeed twenty years later with Poe’s Tales.
Despite that, as you can see, I chose the spookiest ones to include here. There’s some top-notch grumpy old man face Rackham on display. I mean, just look at that Scrooge nose.
Roberto Innocenti. 1996.
Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti was a new find for me, from one of your comments, in fact. I had a hard time tracking down any larger images online but this piece above is just lovely.
P. J. Lynch. 2006.
One of the more recently illustrated editions on this list is by the prolific Irish illustrator P. J. Lynch. This is a truly beautiful collection by a living legend.
If that final piece of Scrooge playing in the snow doesn’t lift your heart, well, I’m sorry to say that you might actually be dead: to begin with.
Lisbeth Zwerger. 1988.
Another edition which proved difficult to find quality images online, nonetheless, Zwerger’s inimitable watercolor and unique compositions are on full display.
C. F. Payne. 2017.
Ok, fine, a little bit of a cheat in that it’s not a new edition of the book but just look at this! Your move, entire publishing industry.
Payne’s Instagram is a gold mine and he’s constantly posting great new work.
Trina Schart Hyman. 1983.
What more could I say about Trina Schart Hyman? I adore her work. Rather than me go on about it, I’ll let her ink and paint do the talking.
Carter Goodrich. 1996.
As before, I’m probably showing my hand here by posting this as the final one so I’ll just come out and say it: This is my favorite illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol.
If you haven’t happened to have seen it, I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single piece in this book is a masterclass in design, storytelling, and composition. The warmth and life of the characters, the glowing color and impeccable values, the despair and joy written on Scrooge’s old face…
Cory Godbey creates fanciful illustrations for picture books, covers, comics, editorial, advertising, animated shorts and films.
His work has been featured in a variety of esteemed annuals and publications including Imagine FX, The Society of Illustrators, and Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.
His client list includes: HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, The Jim Henson Company, Penguin Kids, Oxford Univeristy Press, Mayfair Games, Nintendo of America, Microsoft, and Highlights for Kids, among many others.
Wow, nice post Corey. I didn’t realize I was missing out on so much Christmas Carol awesomeness! I want all 5 of these copies now.
Dean Morrissey also did a nice version. Rackham gets my vote for the best one.