Forty-three years ago, artist and graphic designer Jerry Joyner, who has made his home in Nashville since 1986, saw the publication of Thirteen, a collaboration with renowned author-illustrator, choreographer, set designer, and performer Remy Charlip. This unorthodox picture book, divided into thirteen parts, sees the light of day again with a reprint this month from the New York Review Children’s Collection.
Unusually structured, the book is imbued with a kind of creative energy and playful experimentation rarely seen in traditional picture-book fare, then or now. Eleven disparate images, rendered via warm watercolors, appear on thirteen spreads. Readers turn the page to see that the story for each image has progressed. Some stories, such as one of a sinking ship, are more traditional narratives with accompanying text, and others are succinct, wordless, one-image adventures.
A few paintings morph on each page in conventional ways (an acting troupe performs on a stage), while others transform in ways both trippy and abstract, such as in a watercolor image of swans. Turn the pages, and the swans become water, stars, an angel, a ring, and eventually a snail whose tentacles look like miniature swans. The right corner of each spread also includes a “preview of coming attractions,” a thumbnail image that serves as a peek at the spread that will appear next. Award-winning artist Brian Selznick describes the book as a “valentine to the art of the page-turn.”
Joyner, who has illustrated numerous children’s books and cookbooks, has learned from and worked with some of the greatest American graphic designers and illustrators in the field of the visual arts, including Charlip. After studying at Oregon State University and the California College of Arts and Crafts, Joyner studied illustration with writer and artist Edward Gorey and later worked as a designer and illustrator with luminaries Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast at the legendary Push Pin Studios, founded in 1954.
In the early 1960s, Joyner tells Chapter 16, he set his sights on Push Pin. “Just before my graduation in 1963, I was invited to a dinner party in San Francisco, where I met Michael McClure, a Beat poet and playwright. We talked about New York City, where I was going to start my life as an illustrator/designer, hoping to get a job at Push Pin, design ads on Madison Avenue, or illustrate children’s books. He gave me Remy’s number. We became great friends almost on meeting and spent many evenings at Judson Church, the leading edge of art, music, dance, theatre, and happenings.”
After a trip to the Netherlands, Joyner reconnected in New York with Charlip, who had already conceived of Thirteen and showed his friend a few rough stories. Thus began their collaboration, one that spanned many years. After fine-tuning the book’s concept, the two men carefully developed the stories, pulling it all together nine years later in Paris. In 1974, they did the final paintings in Greece. Now, nearly five decades later, it’s on shelves in a new edition—for a new generation of readers to discover and explore.
Since moving to Nashville, Joyner has designed album covers and box sets for the likes of Patsy Cline, Jimmy Buffet, and Garth Brooks, and he created the logo for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Though he still designs for local businesses and restaurants, he plans to move back to Oregon soon. Before that time, readers can catch him at Parnassus Books on May 23 to hear about his remarkable career. Undoubtedly, he’s a man with more than thirteen spectacular stories up his sleeve.
Julie Danielson, a former school librarian, blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, and the Horn Book. Her first book, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, was published in 2014.