Jeff Noon Book Cover Roughs

When word-hunter novelist Jeff Noon got in touch with me a while back thanks to Twitter,
the first thing on his mind – before what became my work on the Microspores fiction project – was for me to have a go at some book covers for reissues of two of his works, ‘Pixel Juice‘ and ‘Automated Alice‘. Naturally I’d read both of these books years ago, as any self-respecting rabid Noon fanboy would have done. I forgot to do the full hero-worship name-drop on Jeff the last time I blogged about this. Did I mention he’s an Arthur C. Clarke Award winnner?
So once I’d managed to calm down a bit, I got the two books down from the shelf in order to refresh the visual threads that had been squirrelled away in head from the very first time I’d read them, and in no time at all had about three A3 sketchbook pages cluttered with a scatter-burst of ideas.

Jeff Noon's Pixel Juice book cover roughs

Pixel Juice is a collection of short stories and other things besides. Going through the thumbnails above, the first one relates to a story about pixellated faces on television (that became a starting point for a Microspore too). The second and third are Vurt feather jobs, just because I was excited that I could be drawing something set in that world, and so did.
The first one of the second row is a story called ‘Bug Compass’ about the boyhood of two characters from Vurt, Beetle and Scribble.
The first image of the third row is from the story ‘Hands of the DJ’. The purple one next to it is the main character of the story ‘Xtrovurt’, a man with a second mouth formed on his stomach who’s on a business trip to New York.

Jeff got back with an idea about how the covers for each of his novels could look like a machine constructing itself, maybe even in a slight ‘steampunk cogs’ visual style. I wasn’t keen on hopping on the steampunk bandwagon when it was already at the bottom of the hill, so I stuck with the germ of the idea of strange machines, processes, and converting language. It was also around this time That Jeff intoned that the covers would have to work at a tiny wee thumbnail size, and even in black and white on a Kindle or e-reader too. That changed the entire game from illustration to design, and these were the second lot of Pixel Juice roughs:

Jeff Noon's Pixel Juice book cover roughs

Going back in time, here are the first splurge of Automated Alice roughs from the sketchbook. Automated Alice is a novel where after going on her wonderful adventures, Alice goes on yet another journey that’s just as strange:

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

During the book, Alice discovers she has a twin sister, so that’s where most of the duality in these comes from. The second thumbnail is her going down a termite tunnel in the book, as opposed to a rabbit hole.
The third one was me with my eye on the thumbnail market. The fourth was based on a chess game from Through the Looking Glass. The fifth – and the bottom two – are me deliberately going a bit, erm, ‘steampunk’, as the period of the Lewis Carroll books justifies it, and both the originals and Jeff’s book have plenty of clock motifs. Automated Alice also has some analogue computing strangeness in it too.

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

Moving on to the image above, I focused on the colours that you tend to associate with Alice; sky blue dress, yellow blonde hair and white pinny. This is thanks to Walt Disney‘s animated version (A fact which I discovered thanks to John Ronson‘s ‘For the Love of…’ show, it was probably because the Disney animators picked up a contemporary edition copy of the book where Alice was printed those colours in the illustrated plates. Just to ramble about that film a bit more; you can watch it and see just how much ‘grandfather of manga’ Osamu Tezuka was influenced by the Disney style. Alice looks a lot like a manga character to our unsuspecting modern eyes. Not that it’s that simple of course, you can get entire articles out of that train of thought and whether or not it’s getting derailed.)

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

Moving on through to simple colour schemes and then shapes too, trying to get something that immediately leaps into your eyes and brain. I was trying to work up a duo of colours for each book, making each book different, but based on the same template, so they would all make sense sitting next to other on a shelf.

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

Moving on to the last rough, I was trying to get as steeped in book-design for a busy market as I could, and came up with these two-stage pieces of long-range typography first, then illustraty bits inside, for the keen. The flies are ‘blurbs’ (an interesting choice of name from an author used to selling books for things that broadcast short ideas, propaganda and adverts, and even ‘advurts’) from Jeff’s ‘Nymphomation‘ novel that also appear in a story in Pixel Juice. There’s a moon in there because there’s a story called ‘Spaceache and Heartships’ all about how planet Earth actually has a second moon that nobody knows about.

Jeff Noon’s Microspores

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I got in touch with one of my heroes, the man like Jeff Noon. I’ll blog about what we got talking about first later on, but in the short term Jeff invited me to contribute to what ended up becoming his ‘Microspores’ project. As the fellow who’d probably been helping out Noonism on the web for a good few years by having his old Vurt Comic Remix hanging about online, I thought it was only right I got involved.

Jeff’s been writing ‘micro-fictions’ on his Twitter – little blips of writing that only last for one hundred and forty characters at the most. A collection of them is going to be published as an ebook at some point, and meanwhile a group of them are being used as the basis of a communal multi-discpline art project: ‘Microspores’.

So here are the handful out of the fifty plus that I thought I’d add something to…

Imagined Pixelation Syndrome: believing that your face is fragmenting into tiny squares, and that people can no longer recognise you.

Jeff Noon Microspores

I was drawn to this one because there’s a story in Jeff’s Pixel Juice collection along a similar line, about people’s faces being disguised for broadcast on television.

The building grows itself over time from biomorphic materials. It has one secret: a room without doors or windows where a woman sleeps, dreaming of a house that grows around her.

Jeff Noon - Microspores

Michael Jackson wakes to find his lonely soul trapped inside Celebrity Ghost War 4. Marilyn Monroe strides towards him, screaming, machete in hand. She spits blood.

Jeff Noon - MicrosporesMy god, looking at Michael Jackson to reference this drawing was a terrifying experience.

And here are the (fairly big for a change) first sketch versions of each ‘spore…
Jeff Noon's Microspores - Roughs

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And while I’m on, I’ll be at the Exeter Comic Expo on Sunday the 19th of February. The con’s part of the annual city-wide animation festival, Animated Exeter.

Exeter Comic Expo

Also in attendance will be cheeky South-Western chappies Dom Reardon, Jock, Henry Flint, Lee Garbett, John Spelling, Rob Williams and Ron Tiner to name but a few!

The Skeletons in my Closet Have Big Eyes

Me colouring up some old linework (2002? 2003?) from my sketchbook. Yeah, it’s more Vurt stuff. I once read in an interview that Jeff Noon gave – about his novel being translated into Japanese – “…The Japanese one’s great,” says Jeff, “but what I’d really like to see is the manga version. I’d love to see Scribble [the main character] with those big eyes…” And so this kind of happened.

The thing is, it was manga that got me drawing comics seriously in the first place… The work of people like Masamune Shirow, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and Katsuhiro Otomo were like pure, distilled ideas and outlandism compared to any ‘Western’ comics about… In the mid-nineties the small U.K. monthly mag Manga Mania was the bible, as far as I was concerned… The slightly ironic thing was that from the mid-nineties to the turn of the millennium, even though I was was rabid for it, larger circles weren’t bothered with manga at all really. It was a level point between Manga Video‘s initial ‘violent cartoons for teenagers’ explosion, and Tokyopop‘s current dominance of bookshops.

If I can sound even more self-involved, think the linear aspect of my style – although flavoured later on by European comics – definitely came from Manga’s concise nature. My natural sense of pacing in graphic storytelling is also much, much slower, ‘glacial’, even – compared to the frame breakdowns in the scripts I artwork…

Not that I’m complaining or owt. :) The bottom line is though, it’s all comics, no matter which way you hold or read ’em. Yay.

Love hidden in the attic

My little comic adaptation from a few years ago of U.K. author Jeff Noon‘s award-winning first novel, Vurt, still attracts sporadic comment from kindly folks on the interweb, for which I am eternally grateful.

I got a mail yesterday from an Austrian gentleman whose Serbian housemates had introduced him to my work… What do you do when presented with such love from differing international quarters..?

Draw them a sketch, of course!

I heart the internet sometimes.

If you’re someone somewhere interesting in the world and you genuinely like Vurt and my wee comic of it, I might even draw a sketch for you too…