Discreet Illustrated Literature for Adults (and Youth!)

Fully illustrated literature for adults is hard to find. Once it was common to see illustrations sprinkled within the pages of novels, but never much more than merely sprinkled. Except for graphic novels, it has always been hard to find fully illustrated literature for adults.

[caption id="attachment_460" align="alignnone" width="250"]Discreet illustrated literature - Eve watching bird, Adam observing "I recognized that she was beautiful"[/caption]

The two Mark Twain stories we have now combined to create our upcoming “Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Eve and Adam” were notable exceptions. “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”, published in 1904, and “Eve’s Diary”, published in 1906, were hardcover books intended primarily for adult readers. Full illustrations grace every other page in both books.

The illustrations in “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” had an abstract, hieroglyphic design. The artist, F. (Frederick) Strothmann, must have chosen this design to create an ancient effect. Or did he choose an abstract design to steer clear of controversy? A conventionally illustrated book about Adam and Eve would depict them unclothed - pre-fall - because that’s how the story goes. But illustrations of nude adults, no matter how discreet, risk offending someone. F. Strothmann may have intentionally avoided taking that risk.

Lester Ralph, the illustrator of “Eve’s Diary”, was not so cautious. His illustrations of Adam and Eve are conventional, and they did cause a stir. A library in Charlton MA banned “Eve’s Diary” because library staff objected to the nude depictions of Eve.

Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam and Eve

With our upcoming book, “Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Eve and Adam”, we are perhaps taking a taking greater risk than Mr. Ralph did. That’s because, although our approach in illustrating Eve and Adam emulated his, our illustrations supplement a book that is adapted for middle-grade readers. Granted, more than 100 years have passed since the original books were first published, and moral attitudes have changed somewhat. Yet we know even our discreet representations of Eve and Adam in the nude will likely offend at least one parent or another, maybe many.

It is tempting to argue that we publish illustrated literature that appeals to both adults and middle-grade readers. After all, our logo states that we publish “Illustrated Literature for Youngsters (and Oldsters), which is intentional messaging. But to be honest, our target audience is definitely middle school readers, notwithstanding the fact that most of our book sales are to adults at Art Shows, who almost always say they are purchasing the books for themselves.

We will not release Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Eve and Adam” for sale until June 30, 2017. We are awaiting judgment of the book by pre-publication reviewers with expertise in the realm of books for youth. If they find the book to be inappropriate for youth because of the depiction of Eve and Adam unclothed, perhaps we will have to market the book as fully illustrated literature for adults only. But honestly, we doubt we would do that regardless. We know the illustrations are discreet, and it would be hard to convince us otherwise.