Earlier this year Diane Luger at Grand Central Publishing asked me to illustrate a cover for the 50th anniversary edition of To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my favourite books ever.
Leaving aside the nerves at taking on such a responsibility, this meant an immediate phone call to my friend Jules who is also a life-long fan and who can still, years after our O levels ended, quote whole sections of the book. She lent me the DVD of the film and had on standby her copy of the book and, together with my friend Drew, provided ideas and thoughts and, later in the process, very objective feedback on what I was putting together, helping keep some of the 'less confident' ideas from the art directors' eyes!
For me the most poignant moments are those when the feared Boo Radley leaves his little gifts for Scout and Jem hidden in the tree, especially the tiny figurines of the children. That needed to be central to the image and in the end, it literally does form 'the spine' of the book. The other elements were Scout's tomboy clothing and the trees (forming play areas and hiding places), and, since I've been working with silhouettes a lot recently, a nod to the work of American artist Kara Walker, whose work frames themes relevant to the book such as race, history, narrative, power and shame.
Ink drawings of Scout and Jem:
An early sketched cover idea:
To my relief the end result was approved of by both Jules and Drew, art director and author. I get quite excited when I think about Harper Lee's eyes on my artwork. Not known for her sociability, it is rumoured she keeps a very low profile in the town of Monroeville where she lives, and where Mockingbird is alleged to have been set. But it seems she liked it. In an enlightening coincidence, a recent BBC documentary on the 50th anniversary of the book led the presenter to Morris Dees, founder of The Southern Poverty Law Centre in Alabama, also a client, and one I'm proud to work for. You can read his narrative on 'What To Kill A Mockingbird Means To Me'.
'The small-town life that Harper Lee wrote about in Mockingbird may be fading away, but many of the attitudes about race live on. Just as importantly, the deep, underlying structures of racism in our country have not been eliminated. On the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s classic, we must dedicate ourselves to the work that remains to be done.'
Now, the OTHER one I'd love to do is Wuthering Heights, but for I'll have to wait until 2047 for the next anniversary...
About the book.
Southern Poverty Law Centre.
Buy a copy of the book (US only, sorry).