Noted fine artist and YA author L.A. (Louis) Meyer, creator of the swashbuckling Bloody Jack adventure series starring intrepid Mary “Jacky” Faber, died on July 29 in Ellsworth, Maine, of complications from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 71.
Meyer was born in Johnstown, Pa., in 1942 and spent much of his childhood moving around with his family due to his father’s position as an officer in the U.S. Army. In a biographical essay he noted that he attended 12 schools before graduating high school in Fort Myers, Fla. Meyer earned a B.A. in English literature from the University of Florida in Gainesville and soon after, enlisted in the U.S. Navy for a four year-stint. During one of his leaves, in 1966, Meyer married his college sweetheart Annetje Lawrence.
Following the end of his military commitment in 1968, Meyer and his wife lived in New York City for a year where he took graduate art courses at Columbia University. In the early ’70s, the couple was living in Boston and Meyer published two picture books with Little, Brown, The Gypsy Bears and The Clean Air and Peaceful Contentment Dirigible Airline, before receiving his M.F.A. in painting from Boston University in 1973.
But book projects took a back seat for a while as Meyer taught high school art in Massachusetts and the family grew to include two sons. Art was still at the forefront when Meyer and his wife left the teaching world and opened art and design shops in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. and Bar Harbor, Me. They eventually settled full-time in Maine and ran the Clair de Loon Gallery in Bar Harbor and the Blue Loon Studio Gallery in Birch Harbor, which sold prints of Meyer’s paintings, until closing the shops in late 2013 due to Meyer’s illness.
Meyer has said that the inspiration for Jacky Faber was sparked by the creative mind-wandering he did while matting and framing art at the shop, and a particular bit of music he heard in the summer of 2000. “I was listening to British and Celtic folk music on our local community radio station, when the host of the program plays a long string of early 19th-century songs that feature girls dressing up as boys and following their boyfriends out to sea, the most well known of these being Jackaroe and Cana-di-i-o,” he wrote on his website. “It occurred to me, however, to wonder what it would be like if the girl, instead of seeking to be with her lover, connives to get on board a British warship in order to just eat regularly and have a place to stay, her being a starving orphan on the streets of late 1700s London.” From that point, Meyer said it took him seven months to write the first title, Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy (Harcourt, 2002). The 12th and final book in the series, Wild Rover No More, is due out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next month.
In tribute, Betsy Groban, svp and publisher, HMH Books for Young Readers, said: “It has been a privilege to be the publisher of Lou Meyer’s rousing and much-loved Bloody Jack Adventure series. Year in and year out, Meyer’s enthusiastic readers eagerly welcomed the latest escapades of his spirited and courageous heroine, Jacky Faber – a great tribute to the power of his writing and the tremendous appeal of his characters. He will be greatly missed by all of us who have known him.”
Karen Grove, Meyer’s longtime editor, shared this remembrance: “I am incredibly grateful for the 14-plus years Lou and I worked together on the Bloody Jack Adventures. During that time I came to know him not only as a talented, insightful, and imaginative writer but as a kind, witty, and very dear friend. Through Jacky Faber, Lou captured a sense of adventure, joy, and goodness that he himself embodied. He never failed to make me laugh, even when we were arguing about a scene or line in one of his stories. And I often think he purposely pushed the limits on some of Jacky’s antics, just to see what I would do. I could hear the grin in his voice as he tried to cajole me into leaving some questionable bits in Jacky’s behavior. It is his playfulness and teasing, beneath his deep voice and good-heartedness, that I will always remember. Lou is Jacky Faber. Long may her ship sail.”