The SoA View: On asking to be named

We signed an open letter this week.

As with every open letter we put our name to, we were proud to back it to highlight an injustice. But on this occasion, we did so with a frustrating sense of déjà vu. This letter should not have been necessary. What the letter demands has been requested countless times before, and yet the solution could not be simpler.

The letter, written by award winning book illustrator Dapo Adeola, calls the BBC to task for a feature on BBC Breakfast on 31 October in which Look Up! – a book Dapo not only illustrated but co-created with Nathan Bryon – was mentioned repeatedly as ‘Nathan Bryon’s book’.

The illustrator was not mentioned at all.

This is not an isolated case. The BBC failed to credit Dapo for the same book when it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in August. And in the letter, Dapo includes a photograph of a Sunday Times bestseller list from August, in which Look Up! appears, credited only to Nathan Bryon.

In the same Top 5 list, other illustrated works are credited to Julia Donaldson and David Walliams, while their illustrators Axel Scheffler and Tony Ross also go unmentioned.

As Dapo writes in the letter, ‘I’ve been in the children’s publishing industry for two years and it’s become very apparent to me that there is a major problem when it comes to how illustrators and visual artists are valued by the media. It’s really not on. The financial compensation for illustrators in all fields can be very modest; and then to suffer this erasure on top of that simply isn’t acceptable. We become invisible when the media use our artwork for content or spotlight the success of our books and art with no mention of our names.’

An illustrator’s name is their brand. To fail to mention it is not simply a snub (although it is). It can harm their careers and devalues half of the creative effort that went into a book’s development (or worse, it implies that the writer did it all!).

As highlighted by Sarah McIntyre in the Pictures Mean Business campaign, this is a major issue for illustrators – with reviewers, teachers, awards, publicists and others failing to mention them, and publishers even leaving their names off the covers and interiors of books. She told us, ‘The BBC and publishing like to talk about Diversity, but they constantly miss opportunities to amplify Black voices and talent when they cut out an illustrator such as Dapo from their coverage. Why would they do it? It seems like a no-brainer to mention his name when they showcase his work.’

In the case of Look Up! Dapo’s name is right there on the cover, next to the writer’s – same typeface, same size, equal billing.

It is not easy to miss.

It should not take a letter with over 650 signatures to point it out.