Covering BLÆK

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When Rackham’s Danish comics anthology from last year, BLÆK, was recently selected amongst the books of the year by the Association of Danish Bookbinders, it turned out to be in the ‘cover’ category. Besides acknowledging the fine work done by our designer, Frederik Storm, this is, of course, first and foremost a recognition of cover artist Jan Solheim. To mark the occasion, I asked to him to talk a little about his ideas for, and work on, the cover, and he also coughed up some of his preliminary sketches. read on…

When I was asked to do the cover for the BLÆK I wierdly enough immediately had an idea of what I wanted to do… What ended up on the cover is actually very close to the image and the idea I had in my mind upon first hearing about the project. The point of the book was to show the state of the art of Danish comics. What are the possibilities of storytelling with pictures? New trends, new tunes. A new way of using images to tell stories.

A new birth?

Comics revitalized. Images of india ink-mutates came to me… comics creatures, striving to get up and out… with new, clear eyes… I thought of these creatures as a image of comics as the maligned bastard child of graphic storytelling, a pesky survivor, eager to make new discoveries – the image was there and had to be that way. This may sound pretentious, but it was actually what I was thinking. It was exceptionally vivid.

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I started sketching foetuses and anatomy in my sketchbook. Following that, I built the composition from my preliminary studies. This is very representative of how I work. I always prepare intensively, and always have in one way or the other. I do lots of sketches… it’s like a kind of double guard, probably. Uncertainty certainly plays a big role in it; it’s mostly a way of searching for, and getting a grip on, the core of the material… to convince myself. I don’t use a lot of photo-reference and suchlike, but when I do it’s to get some detail right, something I can’t make up on my own. In this case: how is the hipbone connected to the thighbone, for example. After that I ran it through the computer. That the colors of the cover are not in perfect register was a fully intentional; a comment on comics as mass-produced art.

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Did you take any inspiration from [Danish painter] Michael Kvium?; there was a big retrospective of his work being shown at the time, and there are certain similarities…

I was looking at Kvium a good deal back in my early twenties and was also influenced by it back then. I can tell from looking at my sketches from the period. And I understand why the association comes up in connection with the BLÆK cover, but I haven’t really followed or even thought about his work for many years. I certainly don’t want to rule out a lingering influence from back then. Perhaps there’s a visual confluence of interest, but I don’t go there for inspiration anymore.

Above is the full cover design from Solheim, as well as a number of his preparatory sketches (one more here). Visit his website here, an old archive of his work here, and check out his contribution to our recent Hergé-tribute here.

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