J is for Jonathan Strange

Today’s post is from one of my most favorite books of recent vintage, 2004’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke. The book is an odd combination of fantasy, historical fiction, and alternative history. The basic premise is (as Wikipedia puts it), “that magic once existed in England and has returned with two men: Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange.” When the novel opens, there are many “theoretical magicians” working in England, who acknowledge the historical existence of magic and study it. Norell–and later Strange–though, appear on the scene and much to the dismay of these men (“The Learned Society of York Magicians”) begin actually practicing magic.

The way magic is depicted in the book is really interesting in that it deals mostly with manipulation of natural phenomenon rather than the more typlical Harry Potter-esque imagining of magic. The book is written in a style reminiscent of literature of the general period in which it’s set–similar to 19th century writers like Dickens or Austin. It also features extensive footnotes that are in the continuity of the novel. I’m a total sucker for that kind of thing. Anyway, here’s Jonathan Strange:

J is for Jonathan Strange – From Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke

Of the two magicians, Norell is stodgy and staid; Strange is more flamboyant–a risk taker. Here’s the initial description we get of him:

In person he was rather tall and his figure was considered good. Some people thought him handsome, but this was not by any means the universal opinion. His face had two faults: a long nose and an ironic expression. It is also true that his hair had a reddish tinge and, as everybody knows, no one with red hair can ever truly be said to be handsome.

As far as the drawing goes, I’m happier with the pose than with the slightly generic face I wound up with. It’s of course a well-known rule that any time you draw a magician named “Strange” you have to give him “Steve Ditko hands.” To get the full effect, when looking at the picture, play this song:


Process: Drawn with colored pencil and graphite, inked in Digital Manga Studio, colored in Photoshop.

The color halftone/off-register effect I’ve been using tends to obscure fine detail–in this case, a paisley pattern on his vest. Here’s how it looked pre-effects:

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