Saturday, May 26, 2007

Book Illustrations: Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" (2007)

One of the big projects that I've been working on that I recently finished is "illustrations" for a new Ted Chiang story "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" being released in July by Subterranean Press as a deluxe hardback chapbook. Ted's short story collection, Story of Your Life, and Others, is one of my favorite story collections that I've ever read. Ted contacted me asking for suggestions for potential artists to illustrate his new story, and I suggested a few, but then I went all fan-boy and offered up my mediocre services if all other avenues failed, giving the caveat that I'm no illustrator and I didn't think that I could do anything actually illustrative of the story's content, but I could do themed abstracts. Well, since I'm posting images from the story, I guess I ended up getting the job. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" is a crazy, awesome time travel story in a sort of Arabian Nights setting. I had to come up with 5 interior illos using black and one other color (various tints of that 2nd color were cool too) and a cover illustration that could be 4-color printed, so no limits on color there. In any case, I ended up being surprised that the initial comps that I was creating actually kind of were illustrative of the story, but that also made some things really hard, since I'd come into situations where I really needed to have an image to represent, say, a dead woman, and one that wasn't a 19th century European. And this was really hard to find. Since I'm not an illustrator, but more of a collagist or photomontage-ist, I have to have my source material. And much readily available clip art out there, via Dover books, or even non-clip art sources, are primarily European or Western oriented - at least the books readily available to me. The part that complicated this a bit was that the illustrations needed to not have any modern reference points, but needed to really seem appropriate to the Middle Ages setting, which visually means that I needed to stick with engravings and etchings, mostly. Anyway, it all worked out great. Ted is a great client, because he has really specific ideas of what he wants, and he can articulate what he wants extremely well -- so basically, as a designer, he's a client that I rarely get. So that was a pleasure. An additional pleasure was that John Berry was designing the book, and it was great to be able to work with a designer that is interested in crazy stuff (and one that knows volumes more about design than I ever will).

Below are the interior illos comps that were turned in.