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.
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:
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.