Victo Ngai on the pressures of well-known book covers illustration


Victo Ngai is a Hong Kong illustrator based in Los Angeles and has created editorial illustrations for titles such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, while also working on storyboards and animated designs for NBC and Dreamworks. .

I was an only child born to working immigrant parents. We moved around a lot when I was little, so I didn’t have a lot of friends and started drawing to pass the time, ”Ngai says of her entry into illustration. “These designs tend to have an element of whimsy, whether it’s having imaginary friends, traveling to otherworldly places, or turning the bullied into a hero. When I started drawing, the walls around ceased to exist and my reality became infinitely larger and richer – anything was possible, which gave me purpose and a confidence that I didn’t know I had.

Above: Illustration for the launch of Mixc World. Above: Artwork for the Mixc Spring Festival. All images: Victo Ngai

There is a fantastic element in Ngai’s work and she has become known for creating captivating worlds full of mystery and intriguing characters. “I draw the way I do because I don’t know how to do otherwise. I think good art is honest art, and style is nothing more than a habit of drawing, an extension of the artist’s life experience, tastes and personality, ”explains- she does. “For example, I naturally gravitate towards complex images and find navigating the visual chaos quite intuitive, it probably has something to do with growing up in Hong Kong, which is always bustling and bustling, teeming with textures and colors. ‘information. ”

Ngai was recently commissioned by HarperCollins to create a series of covers for the tenth anniversary edition of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. Commemorative versions of Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, as well as an accompanying novel Four: A Divergent Collection, are due out next month, all with a cover redesigned by Ngai.

Cover of the 10th anniversary edition of Divergent, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books

“This was my first time creating panoramic covers, and the idea was to show a panoramic view of dystopian Chicago while highlighting key moments from each of the four books,” says Ngai.

“It was a fun challenge to come up with a composition and color palette that work as a whole and as individual segments. I took a page from one of my favorite Lord of the Rings covers by the brilliant Barbara Remington. Gradients are used in the sky to move the key colors of the covers seamlessly from one to another. These key colors are further enhanced by the recessed design of designer Erin Fitzsimmons. ”

Cover of the 10th anniversary edition of Insurgent, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books

Over 42 million copies of the Divergent book series have been sold, so the pressure was on Ngai to create something that he feels is true to him as an artist, but also honors the books for the fans.

“I certainly didn’t want to disappoint fans and tried to make the art as authentic as possible to the story. I’m really glad the direction of the repackaging is completely different from the original covers so the comparison is less straightforward. “, she says.

Cover of the 10th anniversary edition of Allegiannt, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Cover for Four: A Divergent Collection 10th Anniversary Edition, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books

“It also really helps to have had Veronica’s blessing from the start, she loved the IMAX Divergent poster I made in 2014 and recommended me for this project. I also had an amazing team at HarperCollins who trusted my visions and gave me more creative freedom than I thought possible for such huge intellectual property as Divergent.

When working on a commission, Ngai usually begins by breaking the mission down into keywords to better understand the central message that she needs to communicate. “Then I brainstorm to find stories and metaphors inspired by those keywords, it’s really a free association process,” she explains. “After that, I start making vignettes to crystallize the concepts, the ideas often change and evolve as they go. The final art is analog and digital techniques.

Cover for Shanghai Flowers, Restored Edition 4K Criterion Collection
In the Mood for Love silkscreen

The Divergent series is not the first series of book covers that Ngai has worked on and previous projects have seen her create covers for Norse mythology by Neil Gaiman, Vicious by VE Schwab, and A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen. “I love the range of topics that I am offered to cover, from SFF to coming of age, romance to thriller and many more,” she says. “The process of translating abstract words and concepts into visuals is a lot like a puzzle game, and I really enjoy it.”

The exclusive 10th anniversary editions of the Divergent series will be published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, and available from June 1st;


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