Northern Lights cover thoughts


I have a lot of favourite books, but Northern Lights is something else. Undoubtedly brilliant, but then I'd read brilliant books by the time it was published when I was 12. It was the right book at the right time, I think, and it's continued to fascinate me ever since. But from the moment I saw the poster at the library made from the original paperback artwork by David Wyatt I was struck with intrigue and enchantment with a text that has continued to be a source of wonder and learning for me ever since.


(I'm a lot more lukewarm towards The Subtle Knife and particularly The Amber Spyglass incidentally. I do adore Lyra's Oxford and Once Upon A Time In The North though).


So I met reacted with something like euphoria to the announcement that The Book Of Dust - even better the first part of a whole TRILOGY of Books Of Dust - is finally to be released this autumn. I immediately wanted to make some art in celebration but have been stumped for a while as to what.


It's possibly surprising that in all my years of both fascination with Northern Lights and with book design I've never really attempted to design a jacket for it before. I've created a lot of fanart for this book and trilogy. Half-finished graphic novel adaptations, tarot arcana, paintings...


But I think my feelings are so big and complex for the book I struggle to engage in the a project that involves boiling it all down to a simple, commercial image.


The other issue is that Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass as it is called in the United States and some other countries) has already had many a very good covers and there's no impetus to didactically recreate what has been already achieved successfully. As I mentioned, the original UK paperback artwork was a huge part of my initial fascination. The original hardback artwork, a beautifully executed illustration of the central 'Alethiometer' plot artifact, was also perfectly imagined and designed. I collect foreign-language editions of the book when I travel and there are a dozen beautiful covers for the book. Most books are lucky to get one.


So I am taking a particular angle on it to allow myself a way in. I'm avoiding the set of imagery that most artists have opted before: protagonist Lyra riding the armoured bear Iorek Byrnisson, or the Alethiometer.


I've also decided to somewhat follow stylistically in the graphic style I've set down before with my Wolves Of Willoughby Chase cover and my Mortal Engines cover. They're two of my favourite images from my portfolio, and they follow the same rules: a structure illustrated, distorted and stylised to fit a portrait format page; typography inco-orperated in that illustration. The bus-in-the-rain creative I designed for Autumn 2015 and the pirate ship creative I designed for Autumn 2016 follow much the same rules but they take a different approach in using simpler shapes and more of a vector look than a hand-drawn/raster one, appropriate to reproduction at large sizes.

My vision for the Northern Lights cover is far more in line with the Willoughby Chase aesthetic.

In fact I'm tempted to let the third one in this set push the words-on-tall-structures thing towards being a project; to carry on honouring favourite children's books with similarly styled covers/posters. After all, I've noticed before the importance of place in children's fiction. The Academy from Ballet Shoes, Miss Minchin's school from A Little Princess, Green Knowe ... buildings literal and symbolic can be used to express so much about a book.

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