The song of Ice and Fire artist talks thrones and art fetishes

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Marc Simonetti re­ceived a very de­tailed com­mis­sion from an au­thor. It de­scribed a throne – now per­haps the most fa­mous throne not just in fan­tasy but in fic­tion. In the past, many artists at­tempted to il­lus­trate this throne – in­clud­ing Marc – but no­body had yet got it quite right. This time, the French il­lus­tra­tor drew more than 50 ver­sions. Still none of them worked. They some­how didn’t quite match the im­age in the au­thor’s head.

The Iron Throne is a grotesque thing, de­scribed as be­ing built us­ing a thou­sand twisted steel blades. It’s big, too. So big that the king must climb steps to sit on it. Up to now, Marc had drawn the throne in sil­hou­ette. Then he came up with a new idea: he’d set the ugly throne against a beau­ti­ful back­ground. The au­thor, Ge­orge RR Martin, liked what he saw.

“The Iron Throne worked once I did the back­ground,” says the French il­lus­tra­tor. “Be­cause pic­tur­ing that big throne in a strong, beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment bal­ances out its ug­li­ness. I just had to cor­rect a few things and clean the piece. Ge­orge said: ‘ This is this one!’”

The Game of Thrones au­thor was so im­pressed with the 2014 il­lus­tra­tion – even­tu­ally pub­lished in com­pan­ion book The World of Ice & Fire – that he sug­gested any­one who draws the throne in fu­ture should first con­sult Marc’s draw­ing. Ge­orge said the French artist got it “ab­so­lutely right”.

“With some com­mis­sions,” Marc says, “I read the whole book and then sub­mit an idea. On others, I at­tempt to an­swer a brief. But I al­ways try to have at least one small thing that makes the il­lus­tra­tion pop. I can see when an il­lus­tra­tion is be­gin­ning to ac­quire a special kind of vis­ual in­ter­est, be­cause it starts to vi­brate.”

Marc is best known for his work on Ge­orge RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fan­tasy nov­els. He’s also il­lus­trated Terry Pratch­ett’s Dis­c­world, Terry Good­kind’s Sword of Truth and the Farseer tril­ogy by Robin Hobb. Be­yond his book il­lus­tra­tions, the French­man has cre­ated con­cept art for

I’m just a geek, a fan of comics, fan­tasy and science fic­tion. My goal is to vis­ually trans­late the feel­ing I have

EA, Ubisoft and Ac­tivi­sion. More re­cently, he moved into fea­ture films.

“Some­times I think I’m just a ran­dom geek,” he says, “a fan of comics, fan­tasy and science fic­tion. My il­lus­tra­tions have some­thing that uses that generic lan­guage. Most of my ideas come from books, from my vis­ual li­brary. When I make an il­lus­tra­tion, my only goal is to vis­ually trans­late the feel­ing I have.”

da Vinci was an en­gi­neer

Marc stud­ied at two art schools at two very dif­fer­ent times in his life. He at­tended the first – in French Alpine town An­necy – be­tween eight and 14 years old. But art was just a hobby back then. Re­ally, he wanted to be an en­gi­neer. “Engi­neer­ing looked kind of in­ter­est­ing, from a child’s point of view. But, for me, Leonardo da Vinci was an en­gi­neer.”

He found his ca­reer as an en­gi­neer a bit dif­fer­ent to da Vinci’s. So Marc signed up to the Emile Cohl School in Lyon.

I’m fine with peo­ple ex­press­ing them­selves. Not ev­ery­one has to like my stuff

“I at­tended for one year, to change my pro­fes­sional life. I was 25 years old then. I didn’t like my work as an en­gi­neer, so there was a lot at stake. I learnt as much as I could in that year, but my per­sonal work was even more in­tense than the work done for the school.”

The French­man joined a video games com­pany straight out of art school, but it took over five years be­fore he made a de­cent liv­ing from his art.

Marc al­ways strives to make his paint­ings closely re­sem­ble the text he’s il­lus­trat­ing for, as with Ge­orge’s Iron Throne. But there are a cou­ple of char­ac­ter­is­tics that tie Marc’s work to­gether. “Fetishes,” he calls them. He loves per­spec­tive, es­pe­cially per­spec­tives that look a bit wrong, a lit­tle twisted. One of the prob­lems Ge­orge had with past il­lus­tra­tions of the Iron Throne was the scale. They sim­ply weren’t big enough. No one does big quite like Marc.

start­ing over

His en­vi­ron­ments go off into the dis­tance and straight over the hori­zon for thou­sands of miles. His peo­ple are of­ten dwarfed by the places in which he draws them. He loves colours, us­ing them to cre­ate depth and mood. Some il­lus­tra­tions he gets right first time. Others, he has to start over again and again.

“At the end of the day, only my name will be at the bot­tom of the il­lus­tra­tion, so I have to give my best each time. If I have to change a part of the pic­ture that kills the com­po­si­tion or the colour scheme, I ad­just the rest to make it work again. Most of the time it’s for the best. A good

Hall of Kings Marc Simonetti’s suit­ably epic cover for Terry Brooks’ 1977 fan­tasy novel Sword of Shan­nara.

The Hunt In this piece for Le Pré aux Clercs pub­lish­ing com­pany’s 2014 cal­en­dar, Marc con­trasts the dark­ness of vi­o­lence with the light­ness of na­ture.

Shadow of Em pire Marc shows off his love of per­spec­tive on the cover for Jay Al­lan’s novel Shadow of Em­pire. Age of Myth Marc’s peo­ple are dwarfed by the place in which he draws them on the cover for Age of Myth by Michael J Sul­li­van. Tur­tle Re­call This is cover art for Tur­tle Re­call by Stephen Briggs and the late Terry Pratch­ett.

Nôo Don’t look down: Marc’s cover art for Nôo by Ste­fan Wul takes plung­ing per­spec­tive to a whole new level.

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