The changing face of Jill

I actually had no idea when I started reading the Jill books that a. Black Boy was actually supposed to be black, and b. Jill was not born in the 1960s. This does show just what an impact illustrators make on us. To many, many people, Black Boy will always be a piebald, and that is all down to Bonar Dunlop. He illustrated the first Knight Jill paperbacks in the 1960s, and provided internal illustrations for three titles. When these books were published, Black Boy became a piebald in the text as well. He remained piebald in every edition after that, and so 40 years' worth or so of Jill readers have a piebald Black Boy galloping about their imaginations.

By the time I’d actually bought all the books and finished the Jill series, I had realised that there were other ways of looking at Jill, as the versions I found included some of the old Armada paperbacks, illustrated by Caney. Caney’s Jill was quite a different creature to Bonar Dunlop’s – much less sophisticated but with a charm all her own (and Armada did add to Jill’s sophistication in their publication of Rosettes for Jill by removing her plaits from the illustration to give her a smarter, shorter, hairstyle).

Jill is much sassier in Caney’s illustrations than in the Bonar Dunlops. There’s a lot of character there, which there perhaps isn’t in Bonar Dunop’s Jill, who is rather more of an indentikit 1960s girl having a holiday adventure. I still like the Bonar Dunlop illustrations, though. They have a lot of dash.

Elisabeth Grant, the only other illustrator who provided internal illustrations, produced a Jill who is a more traditional girl – though very few people will have seen those illustrations as they only graced one edition (the laminated hardbacks of the 1970s), with a frontispiece and no other internal illustrations.

Many more artists did covers. Caney of course did the originals, a little altered in the Hampton Super Library edition, and sometimes with re-coloured backgrounds in the Armada printings. Bonar Dunlop did five covers, Mary Gernat two, and there was this very odd effort by Wilding, produced for Foyle's Children's Book Club:

Oh dear. What my grandmother would have called a gawd-help-us. There were more to come. Armada used Caney illustrations for most of their paperbacks, but not all. Mary Gernat was an illustrator used very widely by Armada and Dragon Books in the 1960s. Her sketch style suited books in which there was a lot of action. Her two Jill covers are perhaps not a 100% success: Jill on A Stable for Jill looks short and awkward, and Rapide and Black Boy look more like horses than ponies on Jill Has Two Ponies.

Peter Archer was another illustrator widely used by Armada, and he did one Jill cover. I think his Pony Jobs for Jill has to rank amongst the worst Jill covers. Jill looks as if she's made of wood.

Armada also used an uncredited artist - far superior to the ones above, in my opinion – on some of their later 1960s printings. I have no idea who illustrated these four covers, though I have at times thought it might be Constance Marshall or Elisabeth Grant. I really don't know, but if anyone does, or has any other theories, I would love to hear them.

The only other artist apart from Caney who did a full run of Jill covers was W D Underwood, who did the 1970s Knight Jill edition. I admit I have a sneaking childhood fondness for this one:

but there is nothing at all washing round in my sentimental soul to save this one: cutesome, anatomically suspect, and oh, the eyes of the pony bottom left. My daughter would sell her soul for eyelashes like those. The poor thing looks like an early try out for My Little Pony.

Photographic covers at least avoided artistic licence and peculiar anatomy: in theory at least, a photograph should show horses and people as they are. Jill in the 1980s and onwards switched with fashion and had photographic covers. Only one set (the Rosette covers) were credited, to David Cox Studios. Some photographs are more successful than others, several of them bearing the dead, over-posed hand of the photo story. Here is A Stable for Jill, a particularly sterile example. Just keep holding those brushes above the straw, girls

At least this had a connection with what went on in the book. Bearing in mind Black Boy is supposed to be good enough to win showing contests, I am a bit puzzled by the piebald on this compilation, who is a bit of a podge.

In the 1990s, Jill covers returned to a pictorial cover style by Adrian Lascom, and they are very poor indeed. 

The Fidra editions are a considerable improvement, as after 50 years in the piebald wilderness, Black Boy is again black. Fidra used photographic covers as a direct appeal to today's market. But inside, everything is just as it was in the first edition, and that includes the Caney illustrations.

Jill hasn't always been well served by her illustrators. Childhood fondness can only excuse so much: we'll probably never know if Bonar Dunlop was a prime example of an illustrator not reading the book, or whether some bod at Knight had a precious piebald as a child and decided to make him live on in a newly piebald Black Boy, but I like looking at how Jill's changed over the years. May she continue to do so.

Originally published in 2009, and updated in 2018.


Anonymous said…
I really enjoyed this article - thank you!
Anonymous said…
Very interesting! I want to go and find my Jill books and gloat over Caney. I'd never seen those most recent pictorial covers before; just as well, really.
Anonymous said…
Found you through callmemadam and am enjoying your blog very much. My daughter has a couple of Jill illustrations we bought on ebay (late 90s I think?) that are lovely and were I imagine for the paperback reprints - not sure who did them though. Would appreciate you might have on them. I can ask her to send me some photos so I can put them up on my blog if that would help? Donna
Jane Badger said…
Thanks Lyzzy! CMM - I'm waiting for another of those recent covers to arrive. Can't wait....
Ramblingfancy - thank you very much. I'd love to see those pictures if you can manage to get them photographed.
Chris said…
Well what do you know! I haven't yet read the Jill books that I've added to my horse book collection but will now be taking more note of the descriptions of characters and how they're depicted on the varying covers ;)
lily said…
Two books in one? Looks like two ponies in one.
Marie said…
Jane, I read your article on illustrators only recently and I must say how much I enjoyed it. It had me laughing out loud (with my husband casting quizzical, annoyed glances in my direction), especially the bits about the Jill books (I'm especially thinking of Black Boy - aka the 'piebald porker'). Wonderful therapy at the end of a long, tiring day!
Jane Badger said…
Thank you Marie, and I'm sorry to be so slow in acknowledging your comment!
Sheila Moore said…
BlackBoy had his name changed as well as his colour, an early casualty of political correctness
Anne Rogers said…
Interesting. I always imagined Black Boy as black, never as piebald. I can't remember which of the editions I had, although I read all the books when I was a child, but I do remember the Knight cover of Jill's Gymkhana, so maybe that was the first I read.
Jane Badger said…
@Sheila Moore - you're right - but it was just in one book, and then it changed smartly back again. Why, I guess we'll probably never know.

Anne - I think it was probably particularly confusing if you read Jill in the seventies, as I did, as there were likely to be sixties editions still available which had Black Boy as black.
Jill's Gymkhana in WD Underwood was the first one I read - was that the Knight edition you read?

Popular posts from this blog

My desert island pony books

Vintage Riding Schools - Heather Hall

Desert Island Pony Books: John Rees