Friday, January 31, 2014

The Neil Gaiman Quartet.

Sounds like a magic-coloured jazz quartet of angels, but no, this was the set of covers for Neil Gaiman titles that I started last year and finished last week.

I confess to never having read any of his books before I got the job (always on the never ending ‘list’) but Neil Gaiman’s reputation precedes him. Massively prolific poet, writer of magical tales for adults, Doctor Who episodes, award-winning children’s author (Coraline), screen writer (Beowulf) and collaborator on some of the most famous graphic novels of all time (Sandman), this posed A Bit Of A Challenge, since there is such a huge archive of covers, interpretations, dramas, films and TV series of his work already in existence.

I know from experience that when this happens you’re best not to look to hard. Not only can it end up influencing you - for better or for worse - but it can also depress you if former interpretations have been awe inspiring!

Reading an entire manuscript can, I’ve learned, bring you too close to the characters and the minutiae of a story, which can then make excising visual elements for the cover difficult and sometimes lead you in the wrong direction. You can lose your objectivity (which is also, incidentally, why authors are rarely involved in the cover art process at the start). Especially if, as has happened on occasion, you really really like the book. So, I read the synopsis of each book, and a little about the characters, and got to work. The first, Neverwhere, was the hardest to crack as it was the first of the series and thus had to set the style. Just days before the job started I’d been standing right under the Angel Islington, so I had a little starter.

I actually intended to make this very typographic, and quite brave, as actually, previous covers had in my opinion been a little predictable. In the first rough, the two mirrored worlds of Neverwhere in positive and negative sat at opposite ends of a cover that was designed to be read any way up - something I’d experimented with a bit when I was at college:

In the second, the idea of the very word itself, ‘never where’ - suggesting never any where in particular - was explored with an all-over hand-drawn omnidirectional repetition of the title, the ascenders becoming London skyscrapers, lamp posts and iconic buildings. This one I loved, and was rooting for!

The third was a bit traditional looking, I thought, but could perhaps more easily be carried over to the other three books - and it’s the one they went for:

The sketch was turned into an ink drawing:

and then put together with colour and a moody hand-inked background:

The next three came over the course of the year with the final one, Anansi Bpys, completed recently. Here they all are, sitting well together, I think.I love the little pile of bones on American Gods, and the mallet!

On this one I was pleased I managed to stay real minimal on the colour - it was very tempting indeed to add more to this quite skeletal piece, just the ruby as the sole highlight:

Finally Anansi Boys, with its very liberal webs and fat juicy spiders, on a background of rusty flaking paint, taken in a friend’s reclamation yard:

I’ve had several requests for prints of these covers which I was happy to fulfil, so if anyone fancies one, please do get in touch!

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