Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Planet of Marlon Jackson

Virginia Hamilton is my all-time favorite author. She won the Newbery Medal in 1975 for M. C. Higgins, the Great, but I didn't discover her books until 1980 when I was in college and studying children's literature. I read all of her published work at that time, and I remember thinking that the kid on the cover of her 1971 novel The Planet of Junior Brown looked kind of like Marlon Jackson.

In fact, I thought I knew exactly which photo of Marlon the jacket illustrator had used as a reference.

It's a stunning photo of Marlon taken from the 1971 book The Jackson 5 TV Book, and it's one of the solo shots of each brother that was taken at the same time as the group photo that appeared on the cover of the Jackson 5's Greatest Hits LP.

Some of the features in the illustration are a bit different: the lips are fuller, the nose is not quite as broad. But the tilt of the head, shape of the face, hairline, eyebrows, eyes, upper lip, and chin are all so close that it's hard to imagine it was purely coincidental. And what's especially striking seeing them side by side like this is the color palette -- the successive layers of blue, green, and pink are identical.

But why would the illustrator use Marlon as a model? I can remember 1971, and I recall that it wasn't easy to find color photographs of African American children in those years. Even Ebony magazine, the go-to source, usually carried photos of adults (especially Richard Roundtree who was a ubiquitous model in Jet and Ebony before he starred in Shaft). Unless an artist was African American, or knew a lot of African American people who could volunteer their kids as models, he or she had few options.

The Jackson 5 TV Book would have come along at exactly the right time, offering the perfect photograph of a young, attractive adolescent boy with a pensive, soulful expression. It was just serendipity that the buttons and studs on his satin overalls could model for the planets in the solar system swirling around him.


  1. indeed the ressemblance is quite impressive. I agree.

    That's a lovely painting too.

  2. OMG, you're good!

    That painting DOES look like Marlon. Do you know who did that artwork for the cover?

  3. James McMullan was the cover artist.