5:00 pm EDT, May 30, 2013

New ‘Harry Potter’ cover artist talks ‘Chamber of Secrets,’ J.K. Rowling’s response, and paying tribute to Mary GrandPre

The new cover for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets‘ paperback version debuted at Book Expo America this morning, and at the event Hypable spoke with illustrator Kazu Kibuishi about his design and much more.

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New 'Chamber of Secrets' cover by Kazu KibuishiThe new Chamber of Secrets cover depicts Harry and Ron flying in Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia as they approach The Burrow, but the scene wasn’t always the one Kibuishi was planning to use. His first idea for the second book in J.K. Rowling’s series centered around the basilisk.

Kibuishi ran into a couple problems with fleshing the design of the snake out. “There were so many technical elements to what happens in the story that made it very difficult to make a very dramatic image.” Things like, not being able to look at the Basilisk or “the eyes have to be gouged out and that’s gross” made them hesitant to use the snake, he told us with a laugh. “The options weren’t that good. But the scene would’ve been great. We couldn’t make it work because of the technicalities.”

He moved on to other options in the book. “I decided, what do I really think of this second book? When I think about all of the books in the series, I have one basic thought about each one. And in the second one [my basic thought is] a cup a tea. This is the book that tells me this world is a nice place to revisit, and I would like to keep coming back here for a very long time, like a nice little tea party.”

He continued with his cup of tea analogy, “This is a set up book. And during that time we’re basically relaxing and hanging out, it’s a mystery adventure novel. Because of that I decided – me and my assistant were thinking what would best embody that spirit or feeling – and we ended up on The Burrow.”

Designing all of the covers

To design each new Harry Potter cover, Kibuishi would think of a single moment like he did with Chamber of Secrets that stood out most. “There was a moment, always a moment. Remember when Harry went through that? THAT is the moment, that was really important.”

With Chamber of Secrets, he didn’t have that feeling for any one moment, and for that reason it was the hardest cover to design. “It was hard – it does so much. It’s like a swiss army knife book because it sets up the mythology and it continues to entertain. And after the second book I don’t think you can expect what comes next. It was an extension of the first book, that’s how I felt.”

‘Prisoner of Azkaban’s’ cover

Though Chamber of Secrets was the most difficult cover, Prisoner of Azkaban was the easiest. “That one was instant. I knew exactly what I had to do. And I showed it to [Scholastic], and I did a sketch. I knew exactly what I had to draw for that one and I did it in five minutes. When I did all the other ones, it took me some time, hours. Just to come up with a good composition.”

The Prisoner of Azkaban one stood out so much that it ended up leading the overall design for the remaining six covers. “I had just done the Prisoner of Azkaban one – it was nothing like the rest. And then I got the notes back from Scholastic, and they said, ‘We love THAT one. That’s the one. Can you make the rest like that?’ And I was like, ‘Yes I can.’ So everything that you see now is derived from what happened on the third cover. Scholastic loved three and four.”

J.K. Rowling’s approval

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s work is precious to fans across the globe. Kibuishi felt that pressure when he awaited her response to his art. “She had to see everything, and I think she had approval. She was so gracious and she really just – it sounded like from the feedback that I heard, she was just really appreciative that there’s new art. She liked it, and that’s all I needed to hear.”

He continued, “That was the only time I got nervous – when they were presenting to J.K. Rowling. Everything else is cake. When you’re working one on one with a writer of her caliber and a story with this much impact, I felt – it’s a rare thing to see me flustered or nervous, but that’s one of the few times my wife said, ‘Yeah, you were nervous when we were getting feedback from J.K. Rowling.'”

Paying tribute to Mary GrandPre

'Deathly Hallows' U.S. cover art by Mary GrandPre

One special aspect of Mary GrandPre’s designs are their distinctive color schemes which became more prominent from Order of the Phoenix onward. Kibuishi was sure to follow a similar method. “I did think of the books as a set, so they each have a very distinct color pallet. There’s a graphic design element to that, and that almost had nothing to do with the story.”

Despite Scholastic keeping him tight lipped on future covers, he let Hypable in on a secret: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ new cover pays tribute to GrandPre’s. “It’s kind of a spoiler, but I did use a similar pallet. It was my way of saying, ‘Here’s my last nod to her work.’ It’s actually the one cover I would say is most similar to hers. That one and Prisoner of Azkaban look most like her work.

Scholastic will be rolling out each of the new Harry Potter covers throughout the summer, and all of the books will go on sale in paperback format in late August.

Interview conducted by Michal Schick / Additional reporting by Andrew Sims

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