Stu­dio Pro­file

Or­bit Books staff talk cov­ers, col­lab­o­ra­tion and keep­ing ahead of cur­rent art trends.

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Or­bit Books US han­dles the core of Ha­chette’s sci-fi and fan­tasy ti­tles. The team works on around 50 books a year, from es­tab­lished and de­but au­thors, tak­ing in ev­ery­thing from photo-based il­lus­tra­tion to epic fan­tasy land­scapes.

“I love the fact we work with lots of fe­male au­thors,” says cre­ative direc­tor Lau­ren Panepinto. “We’ve got lots of meaty, epic fan­tasies writ­ten by women.” It’s a dream role for Lau­ren, who worked at comic book stores in high school and stud­ied graphic de­sign at Man­hat­tan's School of Vis­ual Arts.

Keith Hayes, art direc­tor at Ha­chette’s Lit­tle Brown Book Group, rec­om­mended her for the role in 2008. Al­ready es­tab­lished in the UK, Or­bit was just be­gin­ning its ex­pan­sion into the US. Lau­ren, then an art direc­tor at Dou­ble­day, was fac­ing re­dun­dancy af­ter Black Tues­day dec­i­mated the pub­lish­ing world. “It’s a real kis­met story,” she says. “I didn’t even have my port­fo­lio to­gether. I just threw a bunch of books in a box and went to the in­ter­view.”

Art direc­tor Kirk Ben­shoff moved over from Lit­tle Brown and to­gether they built the Or­bit US art depart­ment from the ground up. “We had a great amount of time to get to know each other and fig­ure out how we both work,” says Kirk. “We han­dle a large work­load for a small group of peo­ple, so we need to com­mu­ni­cate re­ally well.”

Both di­rec­tors divide their time be­tween Or­bit and Yen Press, Ha­chette’s manga and graphic novel imprint. Newly based in

the Rock­e­feller Cen­ter, Or­bit US has just one in-house designer. The com­pany work with a wide range of free­lancers from all cor­ners of the globe and share most cov­ers with Or­bit UK.

The new of­fice space is open plan, which suits the Or­bit dy­namic. “We’re su­per col­lab­o­ra­tive,” says Lau­ren. “This is the first pub­lish­ing house I’ve worked in where ev­ery­one sits to­gether – I used to share a cu­bi­cle wall with our mar­ket­ing guy.” It’s the same with Or­bit’s cover meet­ings. “Those meet­ings are of­ten very for­mal af­fairs but ours are a free-for-all. The sense of col­lab­o­ra­tion and free­dom can freak other de­sign­ers out be­cause I show work much ear­lier and more in devel­op­ment than peo­ple ever usu­ally do.”

Fan­tasy battle

Kirk also rel­ishes this dy­namic. “I love the ab­sur­dity of the dis­cus­sions we have in cover meet­ings. It’s like our own fan­tasy battle,” he says. For him, the most en­joy­able chal­lenge is the need to please fandom. “We’re designing for a cul­ture and that’s re­ally chal­leng­ing. I love get­ting into the minds of the au­di­ence. They’re pas­sion­ate and they know what they want.”

It’s also im­por­tant to nail an au­thor’s vi­sion, as Lau­ren ex­plains. She likes to speak to au­thors in-depth and dis­cover as much as she pos­si­bly can about their ideas and vi­sion. “Cov­ers are of­ten done be­fore a manuscript is com­pletely fin­ished, so de­tails from the cover some­times make it into the book.” She’s also con­scious of the need to stay ahead of cover trends. “We’re al­ways try­ing to pro­duce some­thing cool and awe­some that’s at­trac­tive to genre fans, while also at­tract­ing a main­stream au­di­ence.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Lau­ren val­ues good com­mu­ni­ca­tion from free­lancers. It also helps if artists un­der­stand the role she plays. “Free­lancers of­ten think they’re pleas­ing the art direc­tor and we’re the hur­dle, but we’re the coach in the cor­ner who’s fight­ing for you,” she ex­plains. “I’m not the de­ci­sion-maker – I just con­trol the choices. I some­times feel like a har­ried trans­la­tor at the UN.”

Al­ways hun­gry for new tal­ent, Lau­ren tries to an­swer ev­ery per­son­alised email she re­ceives. “So much of what I do is out­reach and devel­op­ment,” she says. “We re­ally like to nur­ture young tal­ent and use peo­ple who haven’t done cov­ers be­fore.”

So, what’s the best way to get no­ticed by Or­bit? “Don’t just email. Upload cool stuff to your Face­book page. Go to con­ven­tions and net­work. I’m al­ways go­ing to con­ven­tions and see­ing new art.

“Some peo­ple say, ‘ There are so many artists ahead of me in the chain. Why would you hire me?’ But I still get books ar­riv­ing on my desk where I don’t know who would be good for them. There can never be too many artists.”

The sense of col­lab­o­ra­tion and free­dom here can freak other de­sign­ers out

Daniel Do­ciu’s art for the cover of James A Corey’s Nemesis Games, from the book

se­ries The Ex­panse. Lau­ren Panepinto says it was John Har­ris’ idea to split his art across Ann Leckie’s sci-fi tril­ogy.

Lo­ca­tion: New York, US

projects: An­cil­lary Mercy

Other projects: The Spirit

War, Leviathan Wakes

Web: www.or­bit­

Pho­to­shoots pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a va­ri­ety of char­ac­ter poses and moods for the even­tual cover art. Gene Mol­lica com­bines photography and dig­i­tal art to cre­ate his book cov­ers. Or­bit US only has one in-house designer, so it makes regular use of free­lancers world­wide.

“We chose Daniel Do­ciu [for this cover of James A Core’s Leviathan Wakes]

be­cause he brings that cin­e­matic look we needed,”

says Kirk Ben­shoff.

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