There are people who will tell you that artist conceptions of characters, places, & things from books ruin the thing. That "your imagination" is better than anything some artist can supply. These people are speaking errant nonsense. Fiction is based on taking someone else's imagination & uploading it into your skull. Straight up using other people's ideas. & you know what-- pictures, illustration, whatever-- visual art is a legitimate addition to that.
Now, I realize I am speaking to the choir here, a little. Heck, who hasn't read a comic book? Where words & pictures are indelibly wedded. So let me take this & twist it around a little to specifically talk about science fiction, fantasy & horror. I mean, these are the genres where you imagination is really asked to do the heavy lifting. Heck, half the time the monster in horror is suggested only in metaphor, half-glimpses, or as a non-Euclidean squamous beastie.
These are zones where letting your imagination go wild pays off big. If the writer suggests the creature to you, then you are left to fill in the blanks with the emotionally appropriate imagry, right? If you are afraid of spiders, the creature is more arachnid. Afraid of swimming? Piscine. Toothy maws can be lupine, shark-like, or filled with grinding human teeth. So it seems like artists are better off leaving well enough alone-- right?
I'm not convinced. Especially when there is a good artist on the scene. Sure, a hack can ruin something alien & beautiful; it is a worry. The risk is there, but if it pays off...well, now we're talking! David Lynch makes the Third Stage Guild Navigator a giant naked mole rat grasshopper thing, & ugh, how much more creepy is that then what Herbert actually lays out? The right artist can take a thing & make it solid. I'm sure there is something tied up in mirror neurons & visual memory, right? Neuroscience or something.
I think the reason I'm chopping at this here is: intertext linkages. Sure, sure, people can mention this book or that book & seem erudite as hell. Good for them. Artists can take the context & spin it into another medium. I'm not talking college art show here. People like Alan Howe & John Lee-- Sorry, I mean John Howe & Alan Lee, my brain is always conflating the two-- defined how people think of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. They were so successful at this that they were called into the movie to be the primary visual innovators. Between the two of them making pictures they managed to define the canon. You think you know what a balrog looks like? Go back & re-read the passage & see just how sparse the description is in the primary source. Yeah, I said primary source; this is what I mean by multimedia intertexuality!
Why is all of this on my mind. A couple of reasons, stemming from Wayne Barlowe, the artist whose book Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials is pictured above. First thing: I looked at the picture of an Alzabo in Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy (& a creature in The Book of the New Sun) a while ago & said "Huh. I guess it is red." I'd totally missed it. & secondly, because I've seen illustrations, like the one of Gorice XII from The Worm Ouroboros, will make me pick up & read a book I would probably never have noticed twice. So. I've been thinking about it, is all.