Brian Selznick and Leonard S. Marcus on Randolph Caldecott

RandolphCaldecottI'll admit it, I've known about the Caldecott medal for many years and seen it's seal on countless books even before I got into the book business, but I never knew anything about the man for whom the award is named.  Until now.  Leonard S. Marcus, himself a renowed historian and critic of children's books has written a fascinating biography, Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing, filled with unseen illustrations including some from Caldecott's last sketchbook.  Caldecott had an interesting life; he crossed paths with people like James McNeill Whistler, sought out adventure, and become an innovator in the world of children's picture books that resonates today.  

In this Omni exclusive, author Leonard S. Marcus and Brian Selznick, himself a recipient of the Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, talk about the man who inspired so many of today's best known children's picture book authors and illustrators.  You can read the rest after the jump.

Leonard S. Marcus: When you began your career as a picture book artist, what did you know about Randolph Caldecott?

Brian Selznick: At that time all I really knew about him was the award sticker with its image of a galloping rider. As a child I had a storybook treasury with illustrations by many classic artists. One section was a compressed version of Randolph Caldecott’s House That Jack Built. But when I was starting out professionally I didn’t have his drawings in mind. But then I didn’t know very much about any illustrator!

I first began to understand what an innovator Caldecott was when I read Maurice Sendak’s essay collection, Caldecott & Co.:Notes on Books & Pictures, in which he talks about how much he learned from him about bringing drawings to life on the page.

LSM: Do you see a connection between what Caldecott was doing and what might be called a cinematic way of storytelling?

BS: Moving images have become central to the way we think about telling stories, and we can see all the seeds for that in Caldecott’s picture books.

I am very interested in what you say about that in your book. For instance, what you write about Caldecott’s possible connection to the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose stop-action photographic sequences of people and animals in motion were among the true precursors of the moving picture. As you show, Caldecott’s picture books are themselves almost a kind of moving picture.

LSM: Train travel was still new then and Caldecott liked to draw while on board trains. The world was getting smaller—and faster. In 1870s London where he launched his career, there were the panorama shows people bought tickets to see and the zoetrope arcades. Joseph Turner and James McNeill Whistler were painting kinetic landscapes and seascapes that looked like a shimmering blur.

BS: The whole world was rushing forward at a gallop, and artists like Caldecott, Muybridge, and others were latching on to that impulse and figuring out how to make images move. I’m also drawn to the fact that the technology of the time was itself still handmade. You could go into a workshop you had built for yourself and carve out a gear and cut a piece of wood and make a shutter and pull a latch and have a spring—and invent a new kind of camera. A magician like Georges Méliès could go home, as he does in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and take pieces from the automatons he owned and build his own movie camera. The hand of the human being was still part of it, and for me there is a connection between that and the book as an art form: from the drawing of the pictures to the turning of the page.

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