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Embodying Word and Image: Magazines in Illustration Studies

“Do you like illustrated articles?” asked The Western Home Monthly in 1901.[1] The answer was obvious, but drawing attention to illustration reminded prairie and northern readers what a magazine subscription offered that small-town newspapers largely did not. In 1903 editors boasted that WHM was going to be “Amply Illustrated”—special articles in particular, “so that they may be of greater value along the line of instruction”—and that the cover newly printed in two colors and larger format would specifically “give better attention to illustration.”[2] WHM also doubled as a showpiece for parent company Stovel Printing, which offered art services: some WHM illustrations are signed by Stovel Studio. An examination of illustration tells us much about publishers’ and audiences’ values—and about the power of the visual, material object to define identity and to act rhetorically.

How does illustration studies, the umbrella discipline I work in, shape how I read, use, and navigate WHM? Pertinently, before I completed graduate degrees in communication and culture, and in art history, I trained for and was employed in illustration, art, graphic design, photography, bookbinding, and printing. My clients included BC Agriculture magazine, and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of British Columbia, both serving audiences that, like WHM, included farmers and workers in related industries. As an illustrator and historian of illustration, I am situated within the profession and outside of it, advantageously positioned to unpack how images work with and against physical printed text-objects. What is the magazine to a practitioner-historian, and how can I study it and my own research process?

Illustrators have lately taken up practice-based research: studying and conceiving subjects through crafts of observation and imagination; using technical experimentation to master another illustrator’s processes; conducting community-based art initiatives of one’s own; and self-publishing zines, graphic novels, and magazines.[3] I have made annotated sketches when designing graphic narratives, book layouts, websites, or data visualizations; how might these techniques be applied in an art history or periodical studies project? Although I always begin writing essays with mind maps that show connections between keywords, this time I wanted to map or sketch everything that occurred in my mind’s eye. To capture my internal visual thinking and haptic experience of WHM, I started a logbook in which I could both draw and write, to translate from visual to verbal modes, enable lateral thinking, provoke “Aha!” moments, slow down thought to make the intuitive noticeable, and develop ideas in maps, charts, symbolic representations, and practice-based experiments (fig. 1).

Logging my research approach visually and verbally in a sketchbook allows for intuitive connections to be made more easily, and concepts and relationships shown much faster, than can happen with the forced sequentiality and logocentrism of a word
 Fig. 1. Logging my research approach visually and verbally in a sketchbook allows for intuitive connections to be made more easily, and concepts and relationships shown much faster, than can happen with the forced sequentiality and logocentrism of a word processor. 

I used the logbook like a stream-of-consciousness diary, notebook, and sketchbook in one. The pages, even though some may look cohesive and thought out, have not been sketched out or planned in advance—they ARE the first and only sketching and planning, warts and all, executed haphazardly in real time as the thoughts came to me. The initial eighteen pages ruminate in words and pictures on multimodal methods, neuroscience, disciplinary expectations, the functions of illustration, and (because I am interested in how media is embodied) also my daily activities (eating, travel, exercising, stress levels, distractions)—all as I defined my project and wrote my initial proposal (fig. 2). Then I took the logbook with me to the archives, to record steps as I researched the magazine’s contents. Thirty-one pages are pure notetaking, sometimes with thumbnail sketches of odd lettering or striking illustrations (fig. 3), interspersed with commentary about the limitations of the physical archive and the Peel’s Prairie Provinces website and their effects on my research. Reflecting on findings, a further twelve pages record notes from archival research outside the magazine, more mapping of ideas about methods, technical experimentation with tools, ink and watercolor, and my own drawings inspired by the project (fig. 4).

Early logbook page.
Fig. 2. Early logbook page. 
Logbook pages: notes and sketches made as the magazine was perused.
Fig. 3. Logbook pages: notes and sketches made as the magazine was perused. 
Logbook pages: rough sketches showing how Francis Dickie’s 1930 short story “Homesteaders” could have been more accurately illustrated.
Fig. 4. Logbook pages: rough sketches showing how Francis Dickie’s 1930 short story “Homesteaders” could have been more accurately illustrated. 

The Illustration Scholar’s Baggage

In my first stage of logging, I became aware of how much prior knowledge I bring from studying other Canadian magazines, how heavily my application of illustration studies and research borrows from art history, communication studies, cultural studies, gender studies, literary theory, neuroaesthetics, network theory, sociology and Canadian studies—and how illustration always has to fight against the stigma of being anti-intellectual (fig. 5). I am also bridging two emerging paradigms, illustration studies and illustration research. The former is generally adopted by literature scholars; the latter is the domain of illustrators and more often adds a practical component and a wider gamut of illustration. In this study I will focus on a central concern of illustration scholars—text-and-image relationships—and on the particular strengths of illustration research, practice, materiality, and affect. My foci configure the magazine as a physical encounter, an opportunity for self-expression, and conveyer of multimodal messages, from the visual codes that illustrators intend the reader to semiotically decode consciously and unconsciously, to the subliminal impressions that textures, smells, colors, sounds, shapes, and symbols wordlessly convey.

Logbook page: critique of disciplinary lenses.
Fig. 5. Logbook page: critique of disciplinary lenses.

For illustrators, the magazine is a canvas or stage, where you transform the abstraction of words into living painterly puppets. You have a social contract to uphold between art director, writer, reader, and yourself. The biggest thrill—or terror—is opening up the magazine and knowing thousands of people are seeing your work and name in print. Ideally, the magazine is a proclamation of integrity.

Like other illustrators, I am also a big print consumer, participating in print-related societies, shows, publications, and conferences. My network (connected through meetings, cons, shops, and social media) shares a thirst for collecting ephemera, books, magazines, comics, zines, and other inky matter. In these circles, the magazine becomes a commodity, a jewel—and a form of social capital among an in-crowd of largely male experts. Valuable covers can be decontextualized as they are torn off and sold as art objects. Print attains a fetish status that in comics may lead to “slabbing,” where prize comic books are commercially graded for condition and sealed in un-openable airtight cases. True connoisseurs loathe the practice because slabbing makes the book inaccessible. The object, in its intended form and original reading experience remains paramount, an agent of self-expression and social connection in both its production and consumption phases.

But I am also an academic, critiquing fan cultures, publishers’ political and financial agendas, writers’ historically privileged upper hand, and advertisers’ commercial aims (figs. 6–7). With various parties negotiating control, the magazine is a competitive game as well as a collaborative one—a sports field where winning carries high personal and professional stakes. Fans’ subjective enthusiasm stands in seeming opposition to academics’ objective criticism; accordingly, my doctor’s bag of methods is loaded with verbal, visual, and haptic tools for examining the magazine in relation to reader/maker communities as both a participant and an analyst.Logbook pages: the magazine as a person.

Logbook pages: the magazine as a person.
Figs. 6 and 7. Logbook pages: the magazine as a person. 

These orientations exist before I so much as peek at The Western Home Monthly. Although I have seen National Home Monthly before, WHM is new to me. I predict it will be a typical mass periodical for women, featuring Canadian and American illustrators and perhaps British ones. I expect some collectible covers and visually mediocre interiors, and an editorial climate friendly to advertisers. I hope for a distinct political editorial voice. But now is the time to suspend expectations and allow the magazine to reveal itself.

Research in the Magazine Itself

The invitation to study WHM via digitization online (electronic slabbing?) triggers a gloomy thunk in my gut. To omit viewing illustrations in their intended published form is to inherently misapprehend them. Would an expert be content to study a painting from only a jpg? In this I have to acknowledge the values of my art, art history, and collecting backgrounds, where no substitute for the original and its “aura” is ever considered equivalent, for the original magazine is incontrovertible historical evidence, the ultimate authoritative, semiotic index of everything that went into its own making and use. Even for a less artistically invested visual communications researcher, magazines become a Baudrillardian simulacrum of themselves when reduced to small, crystalline sets of pixels onscreen; or conversely, a fraction of themselves when enlarged and no longer fitting in the screen. Either way, you cannot get an idea of the gestalt of the thing except by imagination. Perusing digital versions is also misleading: the technical print expert in me asks, what adjustments have been made to correct condition or color? What if my own monitor is uncalibrated? Then, analyzing print requires extreme magnification, but rarely are sufficiently high-resolution scans provided, presumably because of memory and bandwidth restrictions. I always take my own photos, which can capture the halftone dots.

Also absent in digitization is the embodiment at the root of print consumption, which is necessary for the scholar to resurrect in order to understand and theorize how content becomes “sticky”—that is, what drives the reader to pick up the magazine, to notice the ads, to ponder and identify with the articles, to recall the pages days or years later, to think and act in accordance with or in reaction against them. Embodiment is also at the heart of the practice-based researcher’s translation of intuitive knowledge to conscious verbalization; for this, the magazine must be handled. Following Marshall McLuhan’s maxim that the medium is the message (or massage), which neuroscience supports, sensory input is a form of “reading” too: the scale and weight buzzing through the nerves of your fingertips, the smell and feel of paper transmitting the microbes of the room it has been stored in, its rustle and crinkle, the ways pages can be rolled, folded, torn, the sheer awkwardness or handiness of the specimen read on the train, at the kitchen table, in bed, in a bath. Also escaping scans are the reflections of glossy stock, the saturation of those pretty covers and their silky feel, and the hazy grayness and whispery touch of the inside pages. And digitization loses the aggression of the large color ads printed on heavy stock that command your attention as you find their thickness with your thumb caressing the page edges, that cause the ads to nefariously flip open of their own volition (fig. 8).

The advertisement plagiarizes popular illustrations of pirates by Howard Pyle. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.
Fig. 8. The advertisement plagiarizes popular illustrations of pirates by Howard Pyle. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.  

Also, some digital interfaces promote linear, sequential navigation. Such linearity inhibits making the intertextual inferences that my creative and hermeneutic training demands. Handling real copies facilitates rapid riffling, sorting issues in stacks according to one’s preferred order, bookmarks, and side-by-side comparisons of as many opened magazines as your desk’s width allows. Although digitization aids searching and statistics—and I am happy to avail myself of these tools, grateful for the reduced wear and tear on fragile, rare originals, and for ease of access that doesn’t necessitate another plane ticket just to confirm a footnote—it cannot replace physical examination.[4]

I resolve to find actual hard copies of WHM before looking at the website. Worldcat shows me that the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) has a limited number. Reading hard copy is important for aligning my first impressions as closely as I can to those of a curious period reader who might have first picked up WHM on a newsstand or in a local library. “Period reading,” a term I coin in sympathy with “close reading” and “period eye”— means self-consciously approximating the original reader’s experience and how they used the magazine in its day. Period reading is not just identifying how the original audience understood verbal and visual content, but getting a sense of how else the physical magazine was used: bug-swatter, art on the wall, toilet paper, fire-starter, craft project fodder, status symbol, gap-filler, first aid kit, and more (fig. 9).

Logbook page: extensions of the magazine.
Fig. 9. Logbook page: extensions of the magazine. 

I peruse BAnQ’s holdings chronologically (October, 1926 to September 1932, missing a few issues) in one seven-hour sitting, with logbook and camera to take visual notes, recording especially tables of contents, covers, and notable advertising and editorial illustrations. Ideally I would have started with volume one, number one, but beginning in the middle is almost always how I discover a new magazine in flea markets, collector’s basements, or in incomplete archives like this. It is also how most original readers would have begun, finding a copy in the dentist’s office, perhaps, or beginning a subscription without seeing all the prior issues.

My period reading is a bit challenged by BAnQ’s policy that I wear gloves and turn each page with a 4” x 1” rectangle of card (fig. 10). The fumbling gloves are clumsy and risk damage, and it is impossible to pick up a single leaf without crushing the page edges while trying to slide in the blunt card, not to mention excruciatingly slow. Since I am not monitored, I keep the glove on my left hand and surreptitiously resort to using the clean, bare fingers of my right to gingerly pick up the pages, as is the norm in other archives. At least I can feel up the paper a little (smooth-ish, bland). But I have to extrapolate from beach-reading experiences what rougher, more realistic handling would be like.

Work table at BAnQ archives, Montreal.
Fig. 10. Work table at BAnQ archives, Montreal. 

My purpose at this moment is to get to know the magazine by letting it exercise its agency upon me. From the cover, inside cover, and pages 1–4 of the October 1926 issue, I record the following:

  • odd display font on cover, very industrial like farm equipment branding, a very odd e
  • cover illustration by Robert Robinson (unknown to me) showing the technological progress of an old farmer using radio while old almanac lies abandoned
  • cover illustration’s stylistic similarity to MacLean’s, Liberty, Saturday Evening Post
  • inside paper’s middle-range quality, not very heavy or white but not as rough or acidic as newsprint; reasonable strength, but fragile chipping and faint yellowing indicating some acid content; sameness to the paper of competing magazines
  • large ads for Palmolive, Chrysler, Community Plate, showing magazine is beholden to American advertisers
  • illustrators not credited in Table of Contents
  • fiction shows regional representation
  • ToC shows women are major audience, but not only women
  • editorial champions prairie solidarity, decries corruption
  • they emphasize importance of cultivating home and making it “attractive,” and champion the arts and literature (illustration is presumably a component of this)

This list already suggests the business model, readership, political stance, and class of the entire magazine—I expect perusal of other numbers will confirm.

As I go, I write down all the illustrators. Familiar ones, Grace Judge and John Clymer, tell me WHM was sourcing Canadian talent at least part of the time. Kathleen Allen is a regular, despite it being unusual for women to be given fiction illustration (fig. 11). Perhaps it isn’t surprising, however, given that famous feminist columnists such as Nellie McClung and Janey Canuck appear frequently.

Stories such as “The Gentleman King,” from March 1929, were likely bought as second rights, as the superior work embellishing the page by the famous London-based illustrator Fortunino Matania suggests (fig. 12). Evidently the provincial editors did not recognize his signature: the credit line gives J. Matanio instead. Matania makes the efforts of the rustic Canadians seem all the more awkward, as do prominent Americans who are being awarded covers, such as Earl Christy and Charlotte Becker. This was a disappointing loss for Canadian artists and an outrage to cultural nationalists (Toronto illustrators later went on strike about it), but the publishers and readers naturally wanted the best. From the point of view of Canadian studies and media history, the Canadian magazine is a cultural battleground.

Illustration by Kathleen Allen shows three kinds of print in the domestic space: a calendar, a hardcover book, and a magazine. Western Home Monthly, October 1926, 18. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.
Fig. 11. Illustration by Kathleen Allen shows three kinds of print in the domestic space: a calendar, a hardcover book, and a magazine. Western Home Monthly, October 1926, 18. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal. 
Illustration by the internationally-recognized illustrator Fortunino Matania, misattributed by the editor to “J. Matanio.” Western Home Monthly, March 1929, 5. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.
Fig. 12. Illustration by the internationally-recognized illustrator Fortunino Matania, misattributed by the editor to “J. Matanio.” Western Home Monthly, March 1929, 5. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal. 

The print historian in me notes that Stovel is making efforts to improve visual appeal. The first full-bleed cover (a modern and expensive practice, in which the image runs right off the page with no margin, necessitating a larger paper size that is then cut down) is used in January 1929, and the fonts get updated in April 1929. The October 1929 cover, by American Russell Sambrook, is given an extra boost of red where the engraver has manipulated the yellow and magenta plates to make them print strongly in specific areas. January 1930 introduces the first full-color interior fiction illustration. In September 1930, the first Hall Smith cover appears—later, this Winnipeg “pretty girl” illustrator will contribute to National Home Monthly’s brand identity, competing with Toronto’s Rex Woods’s similar work for Canadian Home Journal. New, flashier children’s and fashion sections appear; so do cartoons. Then, in September 1931, a strongly visual movie section begins, with close-up glamour photography printed in colored ink on newsprint, to mimic the rotogravure sections of big-city newspapers; its visual and tactile difference immediately makes it stand out. The magazine’s visual variety constitutes a sales sample for Stovel Printing.

But what is the function of an individual, commissioned illustration? A primary function is to help readers to swiftly find favorite content, each genre being encoded with stylistically recognizable visuals keyed to subject matter. Perusing like a casual period reader, I am hooked by “The Higher Love” by Francis Dickie (October 1926) because it looks like the patriotically-inflected pulp genre known as a Northern that I have seen before: the feature illustration, reminiscent of the Group of Seven (unusually, unsigned and uncredited), shows a glum man regarding a cabin in the woods (fig. 13). In fact, while a stock Indian princess and troubled, alcoholic British remittance man type are the main characters, this not-quite-pulp story has literary aspirations, evident in its descriptive realism and its social scientific interest in sexual attraction and inter-racial coupling. Despite being indelibly racist, it nevertheless describes the “half-breed” as a faultless, loyal country wife.

The design of the tree branches and flatness of tones aligns this illustration with Canadian cultural nationalism as practiced by members of the Group of Seven painters influential at the time.
Fig. 13. The design of the tree branches and flatness of tones aligns this illustration with Canadian cultural nationalism as practiced by members of the Group of Seven painters influential at the time. The skulking man in sharp light and remote cabin scene, however, recall the dramatic covers of the pulp magazines known as “Northerns.” Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal. 

I am left with many questions. What is the status of First Nations people in WHM? Is Francis Dickie a Canadian nationalist—and is WHM? How often did WHM print Northerns? What do the race themes mean? Is the quasi-modernist illustration style typical? How does all this relate to the editorials? Since I am interested in finding a case study or two that would demonstrate what WHM is all about, these are the research questions that guide me as I continue.

Identifying and Confirming Patterns

My next tasks are to verify whether the contents I have noted are typical (yes, I determine from remaining BAnQ issues), and to watch for items to inform “The Higher Love.” I find Northerns or Westerns appear in every issue. First Nations figure often in “noble savage,” derogatory, and documentary guises. In July 1927 there is a rendition of the Fathers of Confederation in full color on heavy paper, begging to be removed and patriotically displayed for Dominion Day. I check the editorial page for context. Lauding founding explorers and politicians, it states:

Progress and prosperity rest in the character of the people. We are proud, therefore, that we are cosmopolitan. . . . Forty nationalities are joining to give the world a new type. If we are only careful to exclude the baser elements that each group might bring and encourage the nobler qualities for which each is noted, what a fine nationality we can present to the world. . . . the proudest boast of all for any man is that he can call himself Canadian.[5]

The editorial (surmounted by a decorative headpiece depicting a shining city, sheaf of wheat, globe, books, and writing implements) goes on to discuss the Nelson river power potential “going to waste,” the need for trebling the population, and increased settlement. These few items repeat in tone in everything I look at (more perusal is needed, to further verify).

Some weeks later, I access the digitizations, starting with the earliest and working forward to trace the magazine’s biography, a conceit I owe to material culture approaches that anthropomorphize the object as a distinct person in order to develop a theory of its agency. Initially I do this from a cabin similar to the one in Dickie’s story, where I become acutely aware of why so few WHMs have survived when I have to make a special trip to town just to acquire newspapers to start a fire (fig. 14). The internet is painfully slow, and the interface apt to fail when the server falters. I also have problems when magazines are misplaced due to being catalogued wrongly, or the search engine fails to pick up instances of entered search terms. The images look suspiciously contrasty, and where are all the tears, thumbprints, coffee stains, library stamps, and other marks of time? If these objects have been retouched, then the magazines’ life stories have also been “disappeared.”

Logbook pages: notes and sketches made while studying digital files of the magazine via a cell phone connection while in a rustic wood-heated cottage.
Fig. 14. Logbook pages: notes and sketches made while studying digital files of the magazine via a cell phone connection while in a rustic wood-heated cottage.  

The first years are important because that is when a magazine establishes its identity. The title page banner does this visually. In May 1901, the banner contains a cartouche of a man and woman reading the magazine in comfortable surroundings. The editors know that modeling behavior is powerful. How they represent their magazine says a lot about who their ideal readers are and how they see the magazine functioning. Here, it’s a genteel family that values the arts (note the piano, art, furnishings, toys, and potted plant), for whom reading is a shared activity. As I go, I see WHM uses a redrawn version of this banner until May 1909, and also depicts people reading the magazine inside or on the cover. Scanning issues cover to cover, I collect all such depictions that I come across so I can compare them and identify any patterns. Although I found an instance each of woman, boy, and girl readers, the repeated front-page cartouches and some cover illustrations depict a man holding WHM with his family looking at it over his shoulder, and one cover depicts men at a corner store in discussion around the magazine while women shop. WHM is thus gendered more male. Reading the magazine is usually shown as a leisure activity, although the shop scene indicates a role in current affairs, and the covers with children signify WHM’s aims to mold Canada’s future, symbolized by youth, through education and acculturation (figs. 15–22).

Banner detail, May 1901. The magazine is firmly in the hands of the man of the house. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 15. Banner detail, May 1901. The magazine is firmly in the hands of the man of the house. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.  
Banner detail, October 1901. The house is comfortable and shows signs of cultural refinement. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 16. Banner detail, October 1901. The house is comfortable and shows signs of cultural refinement. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 

 

Cover detail by Stovel Illustrators, January 1904. Men hold a discussion with printed matter a focal point while ladies shop.
Fig. 17. Cover detail by Stovel Illustrators, January 1904. Men hold a discussion with printed matter a focal point while ladies shop. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 
Interior photograph, June 1906. “Everybody works but Father—He reads Western Home Monthly.” Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 18. Interior photograph, June 1906. “Everybody works but Father—He reads Western Home Monthly.” Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 
Interior photograph, July 1907. “Reading the Western Home Monthly.” Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 19. Interior photograph, July 1907. “Reading the Western Home Monthly.” Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 
Cover detail, July 1908. On the cover, the magazine is still primarily men’s privilege. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 20. Cover detail, July 1908. On the cover, the magazine is still primarily men’s privilege. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 
Cover by Elizabeth Macvicar, July 1910. Canada’s future leaders are brought together by the magazine. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 21. Cover by Elizabeth Macvicar, July 1910. Canada’s future leaders are brought together by the magazine. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 
Cover, November, 1915. As suffrage draws near, a scholarly-looking girl improves herself with reading. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
Fig. 22. Cover, November, 1915. As suffrage draws near, a scholarly-looking girl improves herself with reading. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel. library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries. 

Unfortunately, many covers are missing, compromising my assessment of visual identity. Prized by collectors, or despised by library bookbinders? I cannot tell from digitization whether these scans are from bound copies, which often suffered library economizing.

Once I feel I have an adequate understanding of WHM’s personality, I speed up by skipping a few issues at a time, taking care to alternate months skipped (about every third one). Exceptions are December, January, and July, which I always look at, because when magazines make a major shift, take a stand, or spend extra on illustration, it will most likely be to mark Dominion Day, Christmas, or the new year. Then I begin looking with more care at 1924 and 1925, the years preceding Dickie’s 1926 “The Higher Love,” to get a better sense of the editorial climate directly informing it. I see Nellie McClung has a regular feature, one of which is titled “Canadian Characteristics.” A March 1925 biography on Dickie constructs him as an ultra-Canadian tough-guy sort, who has been contributing to WHM on an almost monthly basis for twelve years already.

Technical Analysis

Back to that important moment in January 1930 with the first color interior illustrations on thicker, smoother paper (fig. 23). Page 1’s editorial calls it “a step forward” and intends to keep color up. For this special feature they choose a Northern story, “Homesteaders,” again by Dickie. The illustrator is R. Dorf; I see in a later issue his first name is Robert. The illustration, which depicts a slender, blonde woman sitting on a bed in a cabin with snowshoes and bear pelt, supports the magazine’s desire to look modern by Dorf’s use of a highly autographic, scratchy ink line that appears to be drawn with bamboo or reed, tinted with bright, unusual colors of pink, chartreuse, green, dull blue-violet, and rust. Very atypically, the second illustration, of a man trudging through yellow and violet snow, is also in full color (fig. 24).

The first full colour interior fiction illustration by Robert Dorf for “Homesteaders,” by Francis Dickie. Western Home Monthly, January 1930, 9. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.
Fig. 23. The first full colour interior fiction illustration by Robert Dorf for “Homesteaders,” by Francis Dickie. Western Home Monthly, January 1930, 9. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal. 
Interior illustration by Robert Dorf again using modernist colouring that exploits the printing inks’ gamut. Western Home Monthly, January 1930, 10. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.
Fig. 24. Interior illustration by Robert Dorf again using modernist colouring that exploits the printing inks’ gamut.  Western Home Monthly, January 1930, 10. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal. 

I examine the dots with a magnifying glass (fig. 25). Spot colors or separated? Benday or halftone? Gravure, letterpress, or offset? Certainly not gravure (no netlike pattern or depth). The tiny, crisp dots and lack of deep blacks suggest four-color separated offset lithography, which was progressive technology then. But the blue is blue, not cyan; and the magenta is not very intense—the ink was still not perfected. I would say the illustrator chose colors Stovel predicted would come out well when translated to the press’s inks, hence the oddly bright yellow, pink, and violet combinations. The scratchy black outlines conveniently sharpen the picture and cover up slight mis-registering, which is visible under magnification. This suggests Stovel was working hard to keep abreast of the industry, but was not necessarily the most proficient printer.

Magnification of halftone dots, showing slight mis-registration. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal.
Fig. 25. Magnification of halftone dots, showing slight mis-registration. Photo by the author from copy held in BAnQ, Montreal. 

To verify my assessment that Dorf used reed or bamboo to draw, I take a bamboo appetizer stick and split its point to obtain a rough splinter. With Chinese ink I copy Dorf’s illustration by sight (fig. 26). I find I can easily replicate his line weights and textural and tonal variety; the original art was probably not much larger than the size it is printed at. I discover Dorf used his left hand a lot, because the direction of his strokes zips from right to left, which is awkward to achieve with any kind of control if the artist is right-handed like me, it being much easier to pull the stick than to push it. I also make some watercolor washes, as Dorf did. He seems to have used waterproof ink, or did the coloring first, with ink applied over top. He probably penciled in the composition first, but pencil lines are no longer detectible.

Logbook page: practice-based research in materials, tools, and technique.
Fig. 26. Logbook page: practice-based research in materials, tools, and technique. 

Research Outside of the Magazine Itself

From my background in art history, cultural studies, communications, and material culture, I am predisposed to think of the magazine as an intertextual actor in a networked media environment. I therefore seek out whatever could illuminate it and how Dickie’s and Dorf’s works operate, finding information on Dickie’s life and publishing history (including more race-oriented works); prairie print culture; and the Stovel family and their company. Archival research should continue, especially since I did not find anything on Dorf, not even in the 1921 census, Winnipeg directories, Artists in Canada index, or in American indices—very unusual.

I also locate studies on WHM by others.[6] Eventually I will read and reconcile their and my accounts, but right now I want to form my own ideas without influence. Naturally this sometimes means having to rewrite to acknowledge the predecessor and avoid the appearance of plagiarism, but for the sake of independent thought (a key value in artistic practice), it is extra work I am willing to do.

Interpretation: Formal and Semiotic Analysis

Explication of forms is fundamental to art and art history, studio critique, and art criticism to describe why a composition or style is effective. Formal analysis is often combined with semiotic analysis, the goal being to show how meaning is embedded in and reinforced by the physical appearance of artworks, and how those works function in terms of visual rhetoric. In illustration, it is necessary to also relate form to the page’s text. Then there are the intertextual and intervisual readings one makes, comparing the object in hand to other circulating texts and images. Semiotic readings are never closed because they shift with time, interpreter, and context. The hermeneutic assumption is that there are always hidden meanings, and that these meanings affect us without our awareness. For humanities scholars, the magazine is a trick mirror distorting the world. Comparing what the image conveys by itself to what it conveys when it is considered in relation to words can be particularly revealing.

I meditate on the first illustration for “Homesteaders.” Because illustration escapes full articulation, I stay attuned to how the picture makes me feel—the subjective, bodily base that all interpretation stems from. I feel a bit shaken up, destabilized. The treatment of the interior of the log cabin is a riot of abrupt strokes of the bamboo pen, animating the page in almost abstract commotion where strong diagonal lines make everything seem to speed from rear right side to the left and fore of the picture plane. Indistinct shapes in color-wheel opposites of pink or rust and green compete with acid yellow and violet. Against this chaos, the woman’s upright figure intersects the diagonal perspectival movement, her serene S-curve in the upper half of the frame halting the rampage. Her bright yellow shoulder, escaping delineation by the busy bamboo pen, provides one of the few resting-places for the eye and makes her the focal point, which encourages me to contemplate her.

The slender woman looks conventionally pretty, her stern profile conveying the authority of young Queen Victoria on the famous Penny Black stamp. Yet she sits casually, albeit primly with knees together, her daintily pointed toes resting on the floor. She is dressed in a fashionable slim skirt over bare (!) legs, and the cheerful colors look like something you’d find on a Parisian scarf or in the fashion plates at the magazine’s rear. Her forehead is exceptionally high—the favourable phrenological attribute of high intelligence often quoted in caricature and portraiture. She is very blonde too, and altogether the quintessential Northern “type” said, in popular and pseudoscientific literature, to be a hardy, superior race purified by generations of rearing in adverse cold climates. Dorf understands Dickie’s fixation on eugenics indeed.

In the story I find again English settlers persevering in the Alberta bush, planning how they will profit from its development. The flat, stark colors and expressionistic drawing recall the Group of Seven painters then at their height, themselves of mostly English stock, with all their nationalism and simultaneous embrace of modern art and retro back-to-the-land themes.

But what is this in the dialogue? A bitchy wife speaks in a lower-class dialect and seems to be crazy. She harangues her husband until he sets out on a life-threatening winter journey to fetch some canned strawberries that she irrationally craves. Now the queer, sickly yellows, greens, and mauves, and the chaotic, blurry, jittering outlines seem to reflect her cabin-fever state of mind.

The final paragraphs hidden on page 55 reveal, upon his return, that she has given birth in his absence.

What? I flip back to the front illustration, page 9. Yes, absolutely flat-bellied and chic. Back to page 55: “Well, there’s a new citizen for the country over there with your wife,” the attending midwife says. Now the clashing confetti colors and energetic strokes seem to celebrate the surprise ending and the birth of the child—and the advent of the colonized nation.

Although the semiotics of the lively colors and bamboo pen technique signify in different ways depending on if they are interpreted in relation to the reader’s own senses, fashion, Canadian art, or the text, what does not change is that in each case some kind of break is marked: the unexpected optical assault when we open the page and first encounter the illustration, the modish (drawn) impostor glossing over where the pregnant (written) heroine says “ain’t,” the cultural turn that came with modern art, the urgency of illness and the arrival of a baby. The arresting function and symbolism of the color and style thereby echo and support WHM’s break with primitive black and white pages, signifying a progressive, stylish outlook in an evolving medium, people, and geographic region alike.

Theorizing

Scholarship is about discovery, as the previous analyses entail. Then there is fitting it all into an epistemological discourse. The illustration studies scholar/historian elects to participate in a well-known theory or debate, either to further that debate’s generation of knowledge, or to use its precepts to explicate the research findings. Or the scholar may invent their own theories. For example, I might engage Roland Barthes’s concept of the “third meaning” to theorize how the handling of the “Homesteaders” illustration acts as a counterpoint to Dickie’s storyline in the service of nationalism, while at the same time disputing Barthes’s confinement of the third meaning to film stills over drawings.[7] I might relate third meanings to the race, class, gender, and postcolonial discourses. Engaging with theory is, I reflect, at least partly a necessity of the political economy of academia—the gestures required to qualify for publication, grants, tenure. In this vein, the magazine is simply ore to be mined.

Meanwhile, the practical illustrator shrugs and simply shares her cartoons and lets them speak for themselves. In illustration, images are theories, never entirely reducible to language, that can productively undercut or circumvent jargon and intellectual posturing (fig. 27).

Logbook page: visual summary of the magazine as carrier of colonial intent, rendered in the style of editorial cartoons.
Fig. 27. Logbook page: visual summary of the magazine as carrier of colonial intent, rendered in the style of editorial cartoons. 

Writing

In my logbook I referred to my process as the “can o’ worms method.” Writing is where the wriggling mass of observations and ideas from all the research, analyses, theorization, and material- and practice-based inquiry get disciplined into something academically palatable.

Every paper I make begins life as a mind map, which allows me to see how things are interconnected (fig. 28). Sometimes lists of words tumble out as I circle around whatever elusive key concept it is that I’m blindly after. Eventually I get an abductive Aha! moment.

Logbook page: the earliest stage of the writing process—a mindmap.
Fig. 28. Logbook page: the earliest stage of the writing process—a mind map. 

Writing is not just taking all the research and giving it grammar. It is itself a research process in which the ideas form and connections are made because, like drawing and mapping or following a hunch in the archives, it seeks and responds to intuition. The precise words weave with images to make conscious what was only dimly felt before.

Conclusions

The range of disciplines that illustration studies and illustration research borrow from means there are several ways to encounter the magazine. Here, because of my particular background embedded in communities of makers and users, I have stressed the importance of the anthropomorphized magazine in its original form, with the power to act as interlocutor between parties and across time. As such, I navigate it as a period reader passing time; an illustrator sizing up a potential client and the talents of competing illustrators; a collector appraising treasure; a historian unmasking hidden messages; a technician examining halftone dots; a caricaturist judging history. Despite the initial fun, my research agenda means I end up scrutinizing with a magnifying glass, reading and re-reading texts and images, and cross-referencing pages, issues, and period visual culture in a far more intensive, interpretive way than a casual reader (figs. 29–30).

Logbook page: research activities in detail.
Fig. 29. Logbook page: research activities in detail. 
Logbook page: research components in Illustration Studies.
Fig. 30. Logbook page: research components in Illustration Studies. 

What is The Western Home Monthly? Throughout, I have noted that the magazine figures as different entities depending which of the interdisciplinary lenses is being used. I have described the magazine as showpiece, canvas and stage, proclamation of integrity, messenger, commodity, jewel, social capital, art object, fetish, body, agent of social connection, sports field, evidence, household tool (bug-swatter and all), battleground, sales sample, actor, trick mirror, and ore for academic miners. In sum, my research example and analysis suggests that WHM is, in all these modes, ultimately a vehicle for transmitting cultural values that benefit—politically, socially and financially—the colonizing publishers, their advertisers, the illustrators, and the readership, who are bound by the magazine into a cooperative economic ensemble.

Provisionally—further case studies would have to confirm—I find that values of racial and ethnic superiority, economic and social progress, and individual responsibility in nation-building underlie the identity and purpose of WHM. That Dorf depicted an English woman as far more glamorous than the text called for, and that Stovel repeatedly showed the magazine in masculine hands in spite of its plethora of feminine content, suggests that hegemonic values are perpetuated by its illustration more than its writing. The investment of Stovel Printing in visuals was not just to make a decorative catchpenny, but to deliver a normative worldview that was more pointed than their placating editorial addresses to their multicultural readership.

Tactile engagement with real magazines approximates period reading; this physical, haptic input fosters embodiment of the object and one’s innate understanding of it. This embodied knowledge is best expressed in a matching form of output in an equally tactile medium. Logging manual, affective engagement and the research process in a sketchbook with visual-verbal notations has numerous benefits (figs. 31–32), many of which have been theorized by scholars who consider drawing a form of thought and of research:[8]

  • Practically, logging on a moment-to-moment basis provides a concise timeline of the evolution of discoveries in the course of a project
  • Logging allows both documentation and reflection on the fly
  • Like a diary, a hard copy logbook permits easy, inviting review back-and-forth between pages, facilitating making sense of it all as data develops
  • Complex, skilled hand-work and handwriting activate multiple areas of the brain; engage neurologically to enhance comprehension and recall, is well established[9]
  • Longhand writing and drawing tap into memories, emotional centres (hippocampi and amygdala); bodily disposition, permitting the unspoken to be manifested[10]
  • Logging encourages translation of the felt to the visualized to the verbalized
  • Logging permits a variety of analogous mark-making that records textual, visual, and affective observations of the object of study[11]
  • Logging slows down thought and allows complex data to coalesce into succinct verbal-visual notations that encapsulate key takeaways at a glance
  • Feedback loops between the marker and the marks made, ambiguity, and gaps in imprecise drawing; and disconnects, blank spaces, and outliers in mapping and grouping, all show where more accounting-for is needed and invite intuitive leaps[12]
  • Logging facilitates finding serendipitous and intuitive connections between seemingly unrelated concepts in both “Aha!” moments and longer, reflective puzzling-out
  • Non-linear visual-verbal notation enables pattern recognition; groupings; organization, as in figure 32, which began as just a bunch of stream-of-consciousness random bubbles but became the outline for this section you’re reading now
  • Logging makes review of notations much easier, since key findings are visually highlighted and symbolically enhanced with color, connecting lines, placement, etc
  • The inherent, unavoidable goofiness of illustration acts as a critical counterpoint to “serious” writing, breaking open regimented research protocols, acting dialectically, keeping meaning open, and challenging logocentrism and “truth” (fig. 33)
  • Drawing encourages communication channel alternatives to essay-writing, such as comics, animation, data visualization, illustrated Powerpoint slides, audio-visual formats, and dioramas, which could enhance reader engagement and break down accessibility barriers
  • Keeping a logbook leaves an attractive archival record for posterity that is more likely to stimulate future scholarship than a dry word processor document or scribbled notes
Logbook page: some thoughts on the use of sketching as a research tool.
Fig. 31. Logbook page: some thoughts on the use of sketching as a research tool. 
Logbook page: more thoughts on visual and haptic notetaking.
Fig. 32. Logbook page: more thoughts on visual and haptic notetaking. 
Logbook page: ruminations on the power of cartoon and illustration to be both enlightenment and obfuscation.
Fig. 33. Logbook page: ruminations on the power of cartoon and illustration to be both enlightenment and obfuscation. 

A scientist may well be horrified at the subjective nature of the methods outlined here. My social life among collectors could hamper my objectivity even as it informs my research. Spurious conclusions are a risk if insufficient archival, intertextual, and historical research to verify patterns and contexts are not performed and cited to back up subjective readings and cherry-picked examples (fig. 34).

Logbook page: examination of the role of intuitive data selection, and ways such data may be verified.
Fig. 34. Logbook page: examination of the role of intuitive data selection, and ways such data may be verified.  

Sometimes I do employ quantitative methods such as content analysis to confirm or disprove my qualitative postulations. But relying purely on quantitative methods does not engage with readerly experience and the intricacies of multimodal, poetic meaning-making. Quantitative approaches can identify what is in a magazine, but they do not adequately explain why people accept or reject that content, nor how they imbibe it. Examining the emotional valance of a magazine’s offerings, its affect and its capacity to signify verbally and nonverbally, how transmission of information is touching—physically handled, embodied, and emotionally bonded with—is the chief contribution of the qualitative methods used in illustration studies and practice-based research (fig. 35).

Logbook page: the illustrator’s touch is conveyed by their technique through the magazine page to the reader, who translates this touch as “touching.”
Fig. 35. Logbook page: the illustrator’s touch is conveyed by their technique through the magazine page to the reader, who translates this touch as “touching.”      

Notes

[1] “To Our Readers,” Western Home Monthly, May 1901, 8.

[2] “Announcement” Western Home Monthly, November 1903, inside cover; “Larger and Better Paper,” Western Home Monthly, November 1903, 12.

[3] Examples of practice-based and practice-led research by illustrators appear in The Journal of Illustration. See also Practice-Based Design Research, ed. Laurene Vaughan, (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), and Tangible Means: Experiential Knowledge through Materials: Book of Abstracts, International Conference 2015 of the Design Research Society Special Interest Group on Experiential Knowledge, ed. Anne Louise Bang, Jacob Buur, Irene Alma Lønne and Nithikul Nimkulrat (Kolding, Denmark: Design School Kolding, 2015).

[4] See also Jennifer Greenhill, “Flip, Linger, Glide: Coles Phillips and the Movements of Magazine Pictures,” Art History 40, no. 3 (2017): 582–611.

[5] “Editorial: Canada’s Jubilee,” Western Home Monthly, July 1927, 5.

[6] See Hannah McGregor, “Remediation as reading: digitising The Western Home Monthly,” Archives and Manuscripts 42, no. 3 (2014): 248–57; Hannah McGregor and Nicholas van Orden, “Remediation and the Development of Modernist Forms in The Western Home Monthly,” in Reading Modernism with Machines: Digital Humanities and Modernist Literature, ed. Shawna Ross and James O’Sullivan (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 135–64.

[7] See Roland Barthes, “The Third Meaning: Research Notes on Several Eisenstein Stills,” in The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 41–62.

[8] See Maarit Mäkelä, Nithikul Nimkulrat, and Tero Heikkinen, “Drawing as a Research Tool: Making and understanding in art and design practice,” Studies in Material Thinking 10 (2014): 3–12.

[9] See, for example: Yong He, Yang Gao. Cuiping Zhang et al, “Long-Term Experience of Chinese Calligraphic Handwriting Is Associated with Better Executive Functions and Stronger Resting-State Functional Connectivity in Related Brain Regions,” PLoS ONE 12, no. 1 (2017): 1–15; Markus Kiefer, Stefanie Schuler, Carmen Mayer, et al, “Handwriting or Typewriting? The Influence of Pen- or Keyboard-Based Writing Training on Reading and Writing Performance in Preschool Children,” Advanced Cognitive Psychology 11, no. 4 (2015): 136–46; Michelle Fava, “Drawing Analogies to Deepen Learning,” International Journal of Art & Design Education 36, no. 3 (2017): 315–24.

[10] Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York: Viking, 2014), 125, 132, 239–41.

[11] Andrea Kantrowitz, “The Man behind the Curtain: What Cognitive Science Reveals about Drawing,” Journal of Aesthetic Education 46, no. 1 (2012): 1–14.

[12] Andrea Kantrowitz, “Drawn to Discover: a Cognitive Perspective,” TRACEY Journal of Drawing and Visualization Research (2012): 1–13.

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