When discussing the difference between the message and illustrations in Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes, “The trick is to never mistake the message – for the messenger.” The illustrations in A Connecticut Yankee do not make the novel into a comic book, but McCloud’s commentary applies to the way in which Beard’s farcical illustrations offset Twain’s objectionable satires. In most literature concerning the Middle Ages, knighthood, and chivalry, there are rigid, simple sketches that decorate the beginning of the chapter or outline the text. Emotion is rarely depicted in these drawings and they often mimic the art of the Middle Ages. A 1949 edition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court features this type of sketches by Honore Guilbeau.
Although his illustrations appeared sixty years earlier in the 1889 original edition, Daniel Beard’s work is quite revolutionary. Twain’s satire criticized some taboo issues, like slavery and the church. Beard’s illustrations featured emotions and provided some comic relief from the potentially offensive material, while simultaneously communicating Twain’s message. Twain utilized Beard’s illustrations, a specific type of technology, to communicate his narrative to as many readers as possible.
In order to support this thesis, I will analyze a certain number of illustrations in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and relate that sketch to the message of the relevant text. I already have four examples and I may search for one more to examine, specifically by thoroughly reviewing an edition that features a more illustrations. Originally, there were many more illustrations in thee novel and they were printed larger and in greater detail. The fact that Twain had commissioned Beard to create so many illustrations supports the idea that Twain wanted to use the technology of illustration to aide the message of his novel.
One of the four pictures that I would like to examine is featured on page 145 of our edition and has the caption, “This would undermine the church.” Hank’s efforts to strip the church of its power are well documented in the novel, and in this chapter his belief is that selling soap would undermine the church. Hank begins the business of selling soap in order to establish proper hygiene and then thinks, “This would undermine the church. I mean would be a step toward that. Next, education – next, freedom – and then she would begin to crumble.”
Hank’s formula for breaking down the church involves two elements – education and freedom – that are two potential threats to organized religion. Although Hank’s idea is a bit comical, his resolution to take away the churches power certainly is not. Beard’s depiction of the undermining exemplifies the former rather than the latter. In the illustration on page 145, Hank wears tight leggings and a cap with large feathers in it. This outfit mimics that of a jester instead of that of a person of high rank, like the Boss. Hank’s efforts to ‘undermine’ the church are also quite comical, as he is using a long piece of soap as a lever to slip underneath the thrown of a papal figure. Beard’s illustration evokes more laughter than anger and is more light hearted than the typical sketches featured in most medieval literature. This common illustration could have easily made Hank appear more threatening and dangerous, but Beard changed him into a jester while still communicating Twain’s general disapproval of the Church.
I will continue to analyze the illustrations in such a manner, particularly focusing on Beard’s work that depicts the church and its clergy. I think this is a good element of the satire to focus on because it was still quite taboo to cast Christianity in such a negative light in Twain’s time and because the illustrations concerning the clergy are the most entertaining. Tell me what you think!!!