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January 29, 2015

2014 Recap: Slate Book Review - Part 1

Last September I was contacted by Dan Kois, the culture editor at who wanted to know if I would be interested in drawing some illustrations for the October Slate Book Review.  The pay was not great, and the turnaround was crazy (9 illustrations in 10 days!!?!) but they promised to post a review of my graphic novel, Basewood and it sounded like an interesting challenge to me.  I don't do a lot of serious, editorial illustration, because usually I'm working on projects for children, so I thought it would be a good learning experience for me.  It was!

Please note that all of the illustrations in this post were first published in Slate™ Magazine (I'm required to say that!)  Also, while I'm at it, if you click on any of the pictures below, you'll be able to see them a bit bigger.

First up was a banner for the Slate Book Review landing page.  Since these illustrations would run in October, I thought of curling up with a good book inside while it is raining outside (I grew up in Seattle, if you can't tell).  I also tried to hint at a Halloween theme, with a stack of orange books making a pumpkin shape.  I threw in a black cat for good measure!

Above is the version I turned in, though "Slate Book Review" was added on the left side in yellow.  You can see the finished banner as well as all of the other Slate Book Review banners (along with the impressive list of other cartoonists and illustrators who have tackled this assignment!) on this Slate Book Review archive page.

Next, Dan started sending me the articles that I needed to illustrate, one by one.  I have to say, it was pretty weird!  The articles are reviews of books, but there wasn't actually time for me to read the books.  So I had to make an illustration that sums up a book that I hadn't read!  The first book was Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle.  I read the article I was given, but then I also looked at the book's cover design and then read peoples' reviews of it on Amazon and Goodreads to try and figure out some of the themes of the story.  That became my practice for all of these books.  I was having a hard time wrapping my head around this first illustration, until Dan suggested I put my composition inside a maze.  It really clicked after that!

"No Child Has Ever Been Harmed by Music" by Carl Wilson

I don't want to post any spoilers, but if you have read this book, you'll know that I had to do some pretty gruesome image research to figure out this drawing.  It was the first time, but not the last, during this assignment that I had to look at some really horrific visual reference, which I have not been able to forget.

Thankfully the second illustration was much more tame.  Unlike most of the illustrations I work on, the goal with these was to go more conceptual.  It was not enough to just depict scenes from the book, I had to find some theme to represent visually.  In this case it was contrasting the dust clouds of the great depression with the clouds of heaven.

Likeness of Wings by Marian Ryan

The third piece I did was all about Auschwitz, which, again, lead to some really horrific visual reference.  Based on the article, the idea I came up with was to contrast really cartoony characters with a more naturalistic environment.  Since the whole concept hinged on the idea of two different styles between the characters and the background, I enlisted the help of my extremely talented wife, Claire Sanders, to paint the background, based on a composition I whipped together in photoshop from various reference photos.  This also had the added benefit of saving me some time during this extremely tight deadline.  Thanks Claire!

Well, this post is getting a bit long, so next week I'll post the other five illustrations that I did for this assignment, as I continue to post work that I did in 2014.

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