Il­lus­trat­ing Philip K Dick’s sci-fi novel

Computer Arts - - CONTENTS -

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.


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


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