Seven years ago we published a short fairy tale by Joanne Harris and asked Charles Vess if he’d like to illustrate it. Harris, as it turned out, was a fan. The two became collaborators and friends, and the gorgeous results are finally available in Honeycomb, an illustrated collection of dark, enchanting fairy tales that “drips with whimsy, mischief, and violent delight,” as our friends at Locus describe it. Below, we talk with Vess about the project.
Enchanted Living: How did this collaboration come about?
Charles Vess: A number of years ago I was asked by the editors here (when it was known as Faerie Magazine) if I wanted to illustrate a story by Joanne Harris. I was already a big fan of her writing, and Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, and The Girl With No Shadow were favorites. So I was thrilled and leaped at the chance. Soon after that story —“The Clockwork Princess”— was published, I received an email from Joanne asking me if I would be interested in illustrating more tales like it. I immediately replied, “Yes, please!”
EL: What was the process like?
CV: Quite seamless. My only problem was limiting the amount of illustrations that I would produce. Every small vignette offered abundant opportunities to depict a particularly vivid scene or an interesting character.
EL: The theme of this issue is magical spaces. How do you create those in your art?
CV: When I consider what it is I’m going to draw or paint, I never want to just produce a simplistic portrait. Instead I want to develop an entire world, one where a tree or a rock or the crenelated wall of a palace has just as much to say about a particular story as any character that populates it. I never think in terms of background and foreground but in terms of a living breathing world of a particular story.
EL: And in your life?
CV: For the past few months I’ve been transforming a large area of rubble in my backyard into a more reflective space. I am slowly and literally sorting through tons of rock, building stone steps, walkways, and a spiraling wall into what had been an unsightly area left behind after I had an old building torn down. I have to admit, this newly created environment would have been much easier done on a sheet of art board than in the very messy physical reality in which we all live. But when I’m finished, hopefully I will feel like I’m relaxing inside one of my own created worlds. Most certainly I could have used a bit more help from the fairies.
EL: Can you describe Honeycomb to us? What should we expect?
CV: I have seen it described as a mosaic of small stories that slowly piece themselves together to make an extraordinary whole. And that is true. In its pages you will meet the Lacewing King with his cloak of a thousand eyes that see into all nine worlds, a clockwork tiger, a barefoot princess who exhibits extraordinary courage, the Lord of the Dead, a city filled with forgotten things as well as the wrath of the Spider-Queen, and you will never stop running from the vengeance of the Harlequin.
EL: Are there any stories or illustrations that are especially meaningful to you?
CV: I think that the tale of the artist that makes his way before the Lord of the Dead to ask how he can depict life better was significant to me.
EL: How do you stay enchanted generally?
CV: A walk in the woods or by the wide river where I now live is always inspirational. The dapple of sunlight and shadow that falls across the rich, natural world around me, the cry of a heron in the night, or the barely heard and occasional dull thunk of rocks being slowly but inexorably moved downstream sets my imagination on fire and thoroughly enchants me.