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Selznick, Brian

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist, Author.

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(1966-    ) US illustrator and author, in earlier years almost exclusively for younger children or Young Adult markets, and whose work as a whole is too complex and multi-sourced to fit easily into any specific mode; over all, though, his art and stories, combined or separately conceived, can be seen as exercises in Fantastika. His first book, for instance, The Houdini Box (graph 1992), Equipoisally hovers between fantasy and sf explanations of the nature of the box of secrets left by Harry Houdini (1874-1926) and opened, many years later, by the bemused but intent protagonist. In the end, no easy genre fixative can be applied here, any more than to his next tale, The Robot King (graph 1995), in which two children manufacture a Robot that comes to life (by Magic) when a music box is placed where its heart would be. The Boy of a Thousand Faces (graph 2000), a tale involving invoked Monsters and a Beast who may emanate from memories of Lon Chaney (1883-1930), defaults in the end to Halloween fantasy.

Of greatest overall interest, though it is not literally fantastic, is The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (graph 2007), set in 1931 in Paris where an orphaned boy, living within the walls of Montparnasse train station, becomes obsessed with an Automaton able to write words on paper that his father had been renovating; through his attempts to repair it he comes in contact with and causes the rediscovery of its maker, the aged Georges Méliès. There is some poetic licence here: Méliès had been in fact rediscovered a few years earlier, and in 1931 was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. The frame story is told by "Professor H Alcofrisbas", one of Méliès's recurring magician figures, but in reality the boy grown up. The grown Cabret's claim to have himself constructed an enormously intricate Automaton whose product is the book we have just read is a literary conceit. The tale was filmed as Hugo (2011), directed by Martin Scorsese, and conveys with Steampunkish intricacy a sense that the world Cabret occupies is a Zone: the automaton-heart of a great City. [JC]

Brian Selznick

born East Brunswick, New Jersey: 14 July 1966

works (illustrations for titles by other authors not listed)


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