I have had the unique honor of communicating with former Redwall cover artist, Thomas Canty.
Mr. Canty is notable for his fantasy artwork, and has won numerous awards for his illustrations.
The latter is well-known because Gabool the Wild is pictured with a pistol - and we'll find out why!
Mr. Canty not only agreed to answer a few questions, but he also generously provided original Redwall art and sketches, as well as personal reference artwork and illustrations that inspired his designs. He described working on the Redwall series as a "real treat", even though he had no contact with Brian Jacques during that time.
We asked Mr. Canty to discuss a bit about how he became involved with Redwall, his process, and Gabool's pistol.
Please do not reproduce any artwork!
Redwall Wiki: How did you become involved with drawing the covers for the Redwall novels? Out of the ones you've drawn, do you have a favorite?
Thomas Canty: I became involved in the paintings for the Redwall novels through Tom Egner, Art Director at Avon books and the Editors who were responsible for the series. When these were done, there wasn't a lot of communication between the artist and the Editors, the assignments, comments, suggestions, were all transmitted through the Art Department.
I'd done a map for The Wheel of Time series, using a technique which involved drawing on vellum, having a sepia print (similar to a blue print) made, and painting that in colors and scrubbing techniques that somewhat mimic an illuminated manuscript.
I was also involved in a children's book, and had done all of the pencil work and a working comp which showcased the style which was eventually used in rendering the animals for the Redwall covers.
These two happenstances collided and drew the attention of Avon and lead to the assignment for the four covers. Out of the four, I like the one for Mariel of Redwall the best. I missed not being given the story segment to caligraph into the background, but I still just LOVE the color and composition of that one, even if it breaks format.
RW: How did you create the drawings?
TC: The drawings for the covers were first done on architect's vellum. This was then run through a blue print machine using sepia display paper. The result is a full tonal sepia drawing with a random background tone and texture, similar to that of an old manuscript. With the emphasis placed on the body text, and the hand caligraphy used on it, the Art Director suggested something which would mimic the look of an illumunated manuscript, with an illustrative turn to it. This required something that was just a bit more primative than usual and colors that were sometimes towards the brown tones and were other times really saturated. They struck a curious balance.
RW: Was the inclusion of text excerpts on the front covers (E.g. "One day you will wield the Sword..." on Mattimeo) a publisher decision? As a result, did you have to re-think any ideas due to the limited space available?
TC: The elements used on the covers were decided upon before I was involved. I would imagine that an Art and Editorial meeting was called to decide on the direction that the covers would take. I would also think that Sales would be included as well. With words like those crafted by Mr. Jacques, so strongly worded and poetic, it's no surprise that they would become the focus of the covers.
Once I had the size of the caligraphy where I wanted it, the images were almost draped around the text block. Augmentation, more than standing alone as illustration. Working within these limitations, with the design and direction locked tightly in place, I didn't really have to re-think, but rather forced myself to think along prescribed visual lines.
RW: Did you get to decide what scenes and characters to illustrate?
TC: I was given pages from the manuscript with certain scenes highlighted or circled along with a sheet from the Art Director suggesting which would most likely work best, which wouldn't replicate a "look" or "feel" of the previous or following book, I then chose from these scenes. The technique and drawing/painting and over-all concept that was arrived at for the series was working out well. Unique and adaptable and beginning to mature into something even cooler. I believe that Avon had something special in mind for this series, it was evolving beautifully, I still think that it's a shame that their relationship with Mr. Jacques didn't continue. If it had, I just might have completed my children's book...I LOVED those little mice...
RW: Something that has continually sparked the interest of Redwall fans is the pistol in Gabool the Wild's belt on the back cover of Mariel of Redwall, given that guns do not exist in the world of Redwall. How did this come about?
TC: I don't honestly recall, and I wish that I did. I looked about to see if I could locate the reader's report and instruction page for that cover, but it wasn't with the original art. It may have been suggested, "Back cover will be of Gabool the Wild in pirate's garb: skull and cross bones, pirate hat, gun and sword stuck in to his sash, etc." as was often done. Or I might have elaborated on the Pirate theme, "Be SURE that Gabool comes across as a pirate, use pirate weapons and symbols." which I sometimes did. Regardless, the praise...or in this case blame...falls on me.
I wish that I had a better reason for including the darn gun in the sash. Back then we were given manuscript sections and reader's reports and such. If I had a copy of the complete manuscript I would have learned that there were no guns involved in the tale. From what I eventually read of the series, considering how beautifully crafted the characters and their world is within those books, I honestly, really, feel so terrible for violating the "bible" of Redwall and including something as out of place as a flint lock.
RW: Thanks for your time! It's been a privilege!
TC: Take good care, and thank you.