Saturday, January 22, 2011

RIP: Jerry Weist

I never met Jerry Weist, but he was one of the most important chroniclers of the work of Ray Bradbury. His classic book celebrating the visual art of Bradbury, Ray Bradbury: an Illustrated Life, helped establish a real sense of the evolution of Bradbury's work over the decades. Before Jerry's book, we just knew Bradbury as a novelist and short story writer, and knew he had dabbled with films, theatre and poetry. But mostly we knew only Bradbury's books. For instance, "The Fog Horn" was just a short story that belonged in Golden Apples of the Sun, and the cryptic copyright notice at the bottom of the page merely tantalised us with some indication that the story had another life.

After Jerry's book, though, we all knew that "The Fog Horn" had an origin in a 1950s magazine. We could see how the original readers of that story were given the story with an entirely different context, a double-page colour spread that explicitly represented the "monster" that Bradbury's considered prose had thoroughly humanised and presented as not really monstrous at all.

After Jerry's book, we could see how Bradbury's work had attracted marvellous illustrators even from the days of the pulps, and how certain key artists like Hannes Bok and Joe Mugnaini had been inspired again and again by Bradbury's words - and how he, in turn, had been inspired by their creative take on his own stories.

The first time I saw An Illustrated Life, I saw it as a coffee-table book. A charming collection of mostly retro images that managed to capture the spirit of the old days of horror, fantasy and SF. It undoubtedly influenced what I decided to do with my own website, and even provided some images that I could find nowhere else. Now, though, I think of An Illustrated Life as one of three books that has changed our view of Bradbury's authorship:

  • Weller's Bradbury Chronicles gives us the life story, filling in the little-told aspects of Bradbury's life
  • Weist's An Illustrated Life gives us a picture of the changing context of of Bradbury's work, and given the extensive interplay of film, TV, theatre and illustration in his work, the picture is incredibly valuable
  • Eller and Touponce's The Life of Fiction painstakingly examines the evolution of Bradbury's texts, speeling out in detail how Bradbury's work so easily spills over from one medium to another, as he constantly re-authors his ideas across media
I'm sorry to say that I only knew Jerry Weist through that one book, but there was a lot more to the man. Perhaps the best obituary is from Gloucester Times. Many thanks to jkt for bringing this to my attention.

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