PROJECT DIARY: UBIK
Illustrating Philip K Dick’s sci-fi novel
THE CONCEPT By Tom Walker and Raquel Leis Allion
Ubik is one of Philip K Dick’s great novels. It’s overspilling with ideas and exceptionally strong visual language, so it felt like the perfect book to illustrate. His central premise of time slipping at variable rates is illogical, unthinkable and undefinable, yet he walks an incredibly clever narrative tightrope, which keeps sheer absurdity at bay. His obsession with antitheses – of realty and unreality, of real and fake – defines much of his work and Ubik is no exception. It’s a brilliant, exciting and very relevant book.
We wanted to work with La Boca because of the way it uses strong concepts and graphic imagery. A lot of the studio’s work has a futuristic feel about it and somehow it’s able to illustrate psychological moods – the perfect combination for Ubik.
Our briefs are pretty open and we tend to choose artists who can take projects further than any prescribed brief. We asked La Boca to read Ubik and send over scene selections that it would like to illustrate for eight images
inside, and we explained how we work with cloths and foils for the binding and cover, and the need for something interesting for the book’s special slipcase.
La Boca responded with some roughs, which weren’t very rough at all. They were pared-back versions of the studio’s final pieces. These preliminary artworks were fully coloured up and that made it easier for us to visualise how the finished book would look.
THE ILLUSTRATION APPROACH By Scot Bendall
Ubik shifts between past and the future, even though the future when it was penned in 1969 was the 1990s. I had a sense that a sort of retrofuturist style would be appropriate, with an intense colour palette to capture the dreamlike quality of the book and wanted the images to feel a bit unreal, a little fantastical and not overtly descriptive.
I worked on the illustrations for Ubik with Richard Carey, one of the four artists at La Boca. Our process usually begins with defining what we want to achieve with each image. Here, we separated the book into sections and looked for ideas, characters and plot elements to base the images on. For example, the anonymous man in the first illustration is Melipone, who is being tracked by the Telepaths. The bird in the web is a prophetic scene imagined in the book.
With all eight ideas marked out, we generally started with rough thumbnails and exchanged them between us, building up the concepts. These are usually rubbish and not something to share with the client but they’re useful to get the discussion going. Then we moved on to initial rough illustrations, sometimes starting with a sketch but other times going straight to digital – primarily using Wacom tablets and a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop.
A loose palette of pinks, purples, oranges and blues was used through most of the illustrations.
It helps to unify them, but wasn’t designed to be a dominant feature. The palette works as a gradient, so we thought of it almost like a brand palette for Ubik.
During the development of the inside illustrations, Raquel Leis Allion had the idea to extend the glitch pattern in the first illustration and use it as the end papers so that they lead directly into the opening image. I thought this was a nice idea, but my heart sank a little. It was inspired by glitch patterns but wasn’t computergenerated so, perhaps ironically, became the most labour-intensive image to create.
The feedback on the illustrations was always constructive, and usually only about refinements. The only image that drastically changed through the process was the page for Archer’s Drugs, but this was primarily because my original idea for it wasn’t working out. I had wanted to make this image abstract, but once put in context with the rest of the illustrations, it became clear that the style of it wasn’t going to work with the rest of the book. After a few unsuccessful attempts at it, we decided to abandon the image completely and approach the same idea from a different direction.
THE VERDICT By Tom Walker and Raquel Leis Allion
La Boca were great to work with. It was confident suggesting ideas and responsive to making the changes. Talking to Bendall and Carey about the endpaper designs we thought that the mind scramble within the image for the frontispiece could make a great pattern. Now, when readers look closely at it they may see something they didn’t at first realise was there.
This edition of Ubik has had universally positive feedback. We have published Philip K Dick before, so Ubik felt like the next natural step. I know fans of his work have been enthused by our commissioning of the great Kim Stanley Robinson to write the introduction, and La Boca’s illustrations are so inventive and thrilling.
La Boca have helped us create a modern version of one of Philip K Dick’s great classics, which will ensure that his work continues to reach its deserved audience.
“The palette works as a gradient, so we thought of it almost like a brand palette for Ubik”
01 The mysterious Melipone artwork appears on the frontispiece for Ubik, with fragments from the TV test pattern motif continuing right through to the book’s endpapers. 01
02 02-04 La Boca took an active role in the book’s design. These images test the modular geometric lettering that Scot Bendall and the studio team wanted to use for the book’s title and, importantly, the slipcase die-cut.
03 05 Consumerism is a reoccurring theme in the book. This image was developed as a possible illustration, but the spray can was considered to be too literal and so the Fractured Fairy was created by La Boca instead. 04
06 A work-inprogress image which developed into the book’s seventh plate. 06
07 This early image tests the intensity of the colours used for the Light Beam Beings illustration. 07
10 La Boca set up a colour palette for consistency. 10
08-09 A WIP and final image of the illustration representing the drugstore visited in the book. 08