In the Parallel Imports debate, not much attention has been focussed to date on the importance of book illustrations in preserving our Australian culture.
Martina Matussek, illustrator, CEO of Artrillium House writes about what can happen to Australian books when they are taken on by US publishers.
The impact of a law, which may allow easier access to cheaper books from overseas, goes deeper than what may be seen on the surface.
Apart from the financial impact of removing the Parallel Import Restrictions on books, there are many other deeper issues, such as cultural boundaries, which are dangerous for our children, ourselves and the culture we live in.
Children’s books are in fact cultural products that face unique challenges when crossing cultural boundaries. I remember years back Australian international award-winning illustrator Gregory Rogers mentioned it was impossible to illustrate a loaf of bread within an American children’s book as they would not recognise a loaf since they only eat ‘toast’.
He also told of a list of things you weren’t allowed to illustrate. I remember that some of the cover illustrations Gregory did were re-illustrated to fit the standard of what Americans see as ‘beautiful’ and the other way round.
The US, although seeming alike and using the same language as Australia, is anything but similar to other English speaking countries. This is proven by the mass of differences in vocabulary and illustration practices.
Margaret Mahy revealed in an interview with teenagers in Newcastle on Tyne, England, how, in the case of her book, “Jam: A True Story”, the American editor wanted to cut out the fact that when mother comes home, father gives her a glass of sherry. And another example is where ‘nipples’ were not allowed to be illustrated in American children’s books, not even on animals feeding their young in the most innocent illustrative way.
We definitely do not need our country to become another American copy, selling books filled with no knowledge of the rest of the world and illustrations which allow no form of ‘normality’ in faces and anything living, but where the need for perfection in looks and make believe is more important than truth and the acceptance of getting old and not so beautiful.
I deeply fear for the integrity of our country.
Martina Matussek http://www.artrilliumhouse.com.au