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10 Literary Authors Who Illustrated Their Own Work

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, and as a result, we’ve been blessed with all manner of new Hobbit-related media coming to fruition. Inspired by the recently published compendium of Tolkien’s artwork, The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, we decided to track down a few other literary authors who created illustrations for their works, whether published or unpublished. Though The Hobbit is arguably a book for children (and The Lord of the Rings trilogy even more arguably so), it gets a pass as a classic, and for the rest of this list we’ve been committed to leaving out children’s literature, picture books, and graphic novels — because that’s just too easy. Click through to see our list of ten literary authors who illustrated their own works — and since a list like this can never be complete, let us know who we missed in the comments!

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien was not only a prodigious storyteller, but a fine illustrator as well — he drew maps and illustrations for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, though (aside from the maps) they only appeared in some editions of the books. For a veritable treasure trove of Tolkien’s illustrations, head here.

Kurt Vonnegut

At this point, Vonnegut is probably as well known for being a doodler as he is for being an author. The very first instance of drawing in Vonnegut’s work is the image of the locket hanging between Montana Wildhack’s breast in Slaughterhouse Five (1969), but it was his felt-tip pen drawings in Breakfast of Champions four years later that really gained him attention as an illustrator — not only were they clever (and often offensive) but they actually seemed to enhance the text. Now they are tattooed across half of America.

William Makepeace Thackeray

The 19th-century novelist proved the illustrations to early editions of his most famous novel, Vanity Fair. They are, if we can be excused for saying so, surprisingly good. See many more of his illustrations for the novel here.

Günter Grass

The Nobel Prize-winning author always designs his own book jackets, and several of his works also contain drawings as well, sometimes intermingled with the text. For Grass, who has also published books of drawings, the visual aspect of his art is as important as the literary. “Invariably,” he told The Paris Review, “the first drafts of my poems combine drawings and verse, sometimes taking off from an image, sometimes from words.” In Show Your Tongue, poems are printed alongside drawings that often have the poem’s text scribbled within them, text and illustration becoming one.

William Blake

William Blake is famous for his “illuminated” books, many of which he wrote, illustrated, and printed himself, as much a pioneer in visual art as he was in poetry. The above etching/watercolour “Ancient of Days” is from his 1794 prophetic book Europe a Prophecy.

T.S. Eliot

It may have been just a blip, but we’re tickled by the first edition cover of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was designed by the poet himself and published in 1939. The book was republished the next year with illustrations throughout by Nicolas Bentley, and has since been re-illustrated more than once, but there’s something so charming about that drawing. Now if only Eliot had illustrated The Waste Land.

Evelyn Waugh

Waugh’s first published novel came complete with the author’s own illustrations in pen and ink, the above being only the first of many. At the time, The Guardian called the book “a great lark; its author has an agreeable sense of comedy and characterisation, and the gift of writing smart and telling conversation, while his drawings are quite in tune with the spirit of the tale.”

Rudyard Kipling

Kipling grew up in a family of artists (his father was a sculptor), and the tales for children in his Just So Stories are accompanied by his own pen-and-ink drawings. But he didn’t only draw for his children’s tales — he thought his short stories for adults worthy of illustration as well. Kipling created the above drawing for his macabre short story “The City of Dreadful Night,” published in 1888.

Alasdair Gray

Gray’s works are filled with his own intricate illustrations, as well as various other artifacts, images, and creative typographical feats. The above images are from Lanark, his most famous work. We’d remark at the detail, but since he took almost 30 years to finish the thing, it seems about right.

Jack Kerouac

Kerouac drew this mock cover for On the Road and sent it along with the book’s text to A.A. Wyn, a potential publisher, in 1952. The typed message on the top reads: “Dear Mr. Wyn: I submit this as my idea of an appealing commercial cover expressive of the book. The cover for The Town and the City was as dull as the title and the photo backflap. Wilbur Pippin’s photo of me is the perfect On the Road one … it will look like the face of the figure below.” Ballsy! Wyn rejected the book, and it wasn’t for five years that this classic American novel would find a publisher.

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