To celebrate picturing of stories is to mark a tradition that goes back more than 100,000 years to the Stone Age. While creating my book, The Stone Age – Hunters, Gatherers and Woolly Mammoths, I realised that our amazing Stone Age ancestors could be considered the very first comic-strip artists! Their wonderful cave paintings are often a sequence of drawings that tell a story, which is exactly how modern comic strips work. Some of these Stone Age cave paintings may have been created like text books today, to instruct and inform. I suspect that others were a way of boasting about the vast number of beasts killed during a hunt! But I also like to believe that many of them were ancient picture and comic books, relating tales about life, dreams and fantasies. We know that daily life must have been a struggle for early man – the environment was harsh and food was often scarce – yet these incredible ancestors of ours took the time to share thoughts, ideas and stories on the walls of caves. They had no crayons or ready-mixed paints, but simply used found tools and colours, such as lichen, moss, twigs, feathers and their fingers which shows just how important picturing stories has always been to mankind. The instinct to create and share tales is one of the things that makes us human and it is amazing to see this demonstrated at a time well before the invention of writing.
The children’s writer and illustrator Edward Ardizzone said that the best picture books are written and illustrated by the same person. I imagine that he meant that they instinctively understand the balance between their own pictures and words. So it is interesting to note how many of our great children’s authors are also wonderful illustrators, like Maurice Sendak, Anthony Browne, Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs and our present Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell. The writer and artist Max Beerbohm said that ‘painting and writing are marvellously akin; and such differences as you will see in them are superficial merely’. They use similar tools and follow the same instincts, passions and ability to observe. However you choose to picture a story, with words on a page or with drawings on a cave wall, I think that Max Beerbohm is right and that the differences are superficial. A story is a story, is a story – however you choose tell it.
It is wonderful to celebrate National Share a Story Month with the theme ‘Picture a Story’. Children’s books are one of the few places where words and pictures can sit side by side in happy harmony! I doubt that during the Stone Age adults ‘grew out’ of cave paintings – I imagine they were enjoyed by young and old alike. Now most adult tales are published without illustrations and it is a sad loss! So we have every reason to celebrate and hold on to our great tradition of illustrated children’s books. There is a wealth of illustrated books out there – I like to think there is one for every child to enjoy. The wonderful Stone Age cave paintings are evidence that mankind has always used pictures to tell stories – it is as human as walking on two legs! So I hope that if those incredibly inventive and creative Stone Age ancestors of mine and yours should ever chance upon my book, they might forgive the liberties taken and enjoy the comic strip tales, which celebrate my connection to the some of the first people to ‘picture a story’!
The Stone Age by Marcia Williams is out now in hardback, £12.99.