YUKO SHIMIZU talks about designing the cover of THE UNWRITTEN
The cover of THE UNWRITTEN Volume 1 is very striking and sets the tone for the entire book. Tell us about the themes you wanted to capture in cover?
YS: Thank you, that is so nice of you.
Well, my editors, Karen and Pornsak, and I had a lot of back and forth on the first cover.
Actually, this was not the first cover I created for this series. There was one before this, which never got published, and I was happy we ended up redoing the cover. I am very happy with this one, and I think so were everyone else involved.
We wanted the first issue to have a cover that set the mood of the big picture of the story, and not just the first issue. After a lot of back and forth and ideas that were not bad but not perfect for the first cover, Pornsak finally called up and said “It is just Tom and book(s) and the rest you just go crazy with the idea.” I think this really freed me up to come up with a simple idea.
You have mentioned that it was difficult to nail down the first cover since you only had the first chapter to read at that point. Can you walk us through your process?
YS: The toughest part was that with the first issue, I didn’t really know who Tom was, what kind of character he was, and what was awaiting for him in the future issues. Once I know the main character, it gets easier, but it was at first like walking in the dark. Pornsak was like the guide holding my hand and walking me through this darkness till I start seeing some light.
I honestly don’t remember how many sketches I made. Maybe like 15? First set of sketches were done, and I made the cover, but I was not happy. It had too many ideas in one, and too busy. It got killed, and I was rather relieved by it.
The second sets didn’t work either, but we were starting to see the directions.
And in the third set, which was done really quickly and loosely, there was a rough idea of the final cover.
What fascinated me was that Karen and Pornsak saw the final image in their head (which I wasn’t even seeing) from my rough sketch, and encouraged me to go to the final. Mike and Peter helped me out by sending me the keywords and sentences that should be drawn in. I don’t think anyone tried to read what was written in those crazy swirls of words, but they are actual keywords related to the story.
Because I am not used to drawing type, that took me quite a long time (A friend drove a bike over and sat with me and chat while I was drawing one letter at a time. That was really nice), but it was actually a lot of fun.
YS: I love graphic design, and I often fantasize about being a graphic designer. I know, it’s kind of funny, but I have real appreciation for design. So, it is my attempt to fake being one! (lol)
When you're focused on a project such as a cover, do you work through the night until it's done or do you stop and constantly revise?
YS: I always needed a lot of sleep. I try and sleep at least 7 to 8 hours a night to get a productive work day. So, I never work through the night. Productivity drops when I am tired or half asleep. I’d rather stop, go home and get some sleep, come back to my studio refreshed.
How long did it take you to complete the cover once the sketch was approved?
YS: I don’t remember exactly, as it is close to a year ago. It was probably the whole weekend. Drawing the figure in swirl was probably half a day with a full day of drawing out the type. The last step is to put them together and add color in Photoshop, and tweak some type, fix typos, etc. that was probably another half a day.
What type of materials did you use?
YS: The drawing of Tom is done with black India ink (Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Matte) on watercolor paper. Type was all drawn with special ink for film on Mylar. The finish part is done on Adobe Photoshop CS3 on my MacBook Pro connected to a 23” screen using a Wacom tablet.
Was this the first comic book cover you've ever done?
YS: Actually, the first time I worked on DC Vertigo cover was when I helped my friend Paul Pope by coloring the cover of his 100% graphic novel wrap around. Maybe around 2004 or 2005? I think it was something like Jose Villarrubia, who is his regular colorist and also a good friend of mine, was not available and it was a rush job... Something like that. It was fun but a lot of responsibility to color someone else’s work. Good learning experience.
The first for DC Vertigo I did the full cover for was for SANDMAN: Dream Hunters series that came out about a year ago. That was really fun.
And actually, the very first comic book cover was for a book called “Prophecy Anthology” which got published around 2003 or 2004. It is out of print now, but it was a nice large format full color book. I only did the cover.
The cover to Volume 1 has and will be seen in a lot of media outlets, how does that feel? What kind of reaction have you been getting from fans of the comic book and folks who are just fans your artwork in general?
YS: It is VERY exciting. What is the most exciting is that I am creating covers for the series that I really enjoy the story of. Story gets better every issue. My editors are great, and I love Mike and Peter.
As an illustrator, something that is challenging and new is always a great thing. Creating comic book covers is a lot different from drawing for a business magazine. Not that which is better, but it is about making my art brain flexible to have them both. Both are fun in a lot of different ways. Besides, it is wonderful to have a whole new group of people looking at my work. I think I gain a lot more respect now from my students at School of Visual Arts! (lol!)
Recently I received an e-mail from someone in his 20s who said he stopped reading comics when he was 13, but his friend took him to a comic book store recently and he saw The Unwritten first issue cover, loved it, bought it, and since then he is buying every issue and enjoying the story more and more. Now he is back to reading comics again. That was really really nice.
Some people know this already, but James Jean (yes, that famous creator of FABLES covers) was my roommate right when James graduated from college and I started graduate school.
I remember picking up a phone call from DC that they were interested in working with him on this new series called Fables. Then I kept seeing him working on cover after cover every month till he moved out of our loft to move to California. It definitely gave me a strong impression that comic book covers must be fun to make. So I had been thinking that I would love to create some DC Vertigo covers eventually.
Now I am doing it, each month is different from the previous, and it is, in fact, a lot more fun that I imagined!