Telling stories – Illustrating Ulysses
As co-illustrator and designer (along with James Moore) of the Bloomsday Survival Kit and Manual, my background in animation proved to be a big asset in the project. With my love of creating characters and telling stories, James Joyce’s words conjured images that are ideal for illustration.
Unlike animation, illustration has to convey a story in a single image. The challenge was finding a suitable snapshot for each chapter. Exploring ideas for the illustrations, I wanted to find a way to catch a flavour of the episode, convey a sense of the character, and tell a story. Because of the pocket-sized nature of our manual, I went for a strong graphic style with simple lines and shapes. A ‘less is more’ approach also gave me the freedom to be more playful with the visual elements as Joyce was with words. One of the inspirations for my work is the output from the American animation studio, UPA in the 1950s. They pioneered a bold graphic design and experimental quality to their animation.
Being a Joyce novice in the team, I decided to use the humour in the book as a starting point for the illustrations. Also as our manual is a fun guide to Ulysses, I wanted the images to have a universal appeal. Through my ideas and design process, I saw huge potential in the character of Leopold Bloom. Envisioning him as a Walter Mitty-type figure, an antihero and dreamer, but one who finds himself reluctantly embroiled in various incidents as he journeys through Dublin on the 16th June 1904.
One of my favourite illustrations is for ‘Lestrygonians’. In this case I imagined Bloom peering curiously around the corner to investigate if indeed Greek statues have anuses! By hiding his face from the viewer, I hoped to create a sense of mystery and from here the design of the character started to take shape. Finally, by keeping the image of Bloom at the very edge of the page, the reader gets a sense of him weaving through the manual and the city.
It has been a challenging but hugely enjoyable journey, and I look forward to continuing to bring Ulysses to life through my illustrations.
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