5 moody graphic novels that influenced the Harry Potter illustrator’s work

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A page from "The Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," illustrated by Jim Kay.

An image from “The Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” out in stores this month. Illustrated by Jim Kay.

Harry Potter, Hogwarts, Hagrid and Dumbledore have captivated the minds of readers around the world since J.K. Rowling first introduced them in 1997. Adapted to film, made into an amusement park, digitized into the Pottermore website, expanded into the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” play, and since 2015, illustrated for a new generation of fans.

This month, artist Jim Kay’s third illustrated installment, the “Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” hit shelves.

Kay, an artist who has worked on production and design sets for projects including the film “A Monster Calls” and the BBC’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” is slated to illustrate all seven of Rowling’s novels.

“In a sense you’re making a play — you start with the scenery,” Kay told the NewsHour. “I started with the landscape and then building Hogwarts… Then I started to populate it, to cast the characters.”

In part, Kay’s illustrated characters were cast from the people around him. Hermione and Harry were based on acquaintances, while Hagrid and Dumbledore were “spliced together” from multiple people. “It’s hard to find someone who has had a nose broken twice and a long beard,” Kay joked. And the danger in illustration, he said, is “potentially supplanting the reader’s view of the characters.”

“Ultimately, you do have to say ‘these are my interpretations of the characters,’ plant a stamp on your interpretation. But the text is key and you have to go back to that time and time again – go back to the author’s words.”

Kay goes back to the Harry Potter text — he reread all seven books before illustrating — and he also takes inspiration from graphic novels, a story medium he grew a passion for in childhood.

“Everyone is like a magpie, we steal shiny bits from everywhere,” Kay said. “Everyone in visuals is picking up bits and pieces from other artists and molding them and showing them in their own way.”

Kay said he is influenced most by graphic novels that are dark, mysterious or mystical, moods he said help shape his own artistry. He is excited to implement this drearier mindset in the future illustrated Harry Potter books.

“I’m looking forward to the late ones because the children are older and they are much darker,” Kay said. “There’s always the desire to go darker, but I’m holding back for the later books.”

Here are the five moody graphic novels that inspired Kay, in his words:

"Classics Illustrated: Moby Dick." Credit: Berkeley Publishing Group

“Classics Illustrated: Moby Dick.” Credit: Berkeley Publishing Group

1. “Classics Illustrated: Moby Dick” by Bill Sienkiewicz

Way back in 1992 one of my lecturers first suggested that I might want to think about a career as an illustrator (I was studying art at the time), and he handed me a copy of Bill Sienkiewicz’s illustrated version of “Moby Dick” (1990). I instantly fell for the atmospheric blend of texture and exquisite character studies, a graphic novel that has the indelible mark of an accomplished artist’s hand. Dark at times, as it should be, and full of drama. This nudged me in the right direction as an illustrator, and I’ve had it in mind ever since.

"Through the Woods." Credit: Margaret K. McElderry Books

“Through the Woods.” Credit: Margaret K. McElderry Books

2. “Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

I first came across Emily Carroll’s “Through the Woods” while judging book covers in a competition a few years ago. It’s a creepy collection of five short stories, all of which are frightening, dark and deeply enjoyable. The illustrations are knock-out beautiful, and the whole volume vibrates with sensuous colour, a perfect choice for Halloween!

"Geis." Credit: Nobrow Press

“Geis.” Credit: Nobrow Press

3. The “Geis” Trilogy by Alexis Deacon

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a somewhat obsessive Alexis Deacon fan. An incredibly hard-working author/illustrator, he is currently working on a trilogy of graphic novels called “Geis” (pronounced ‘gesh’). I would give my back teeth to be able to draw with Alexis’s skill. His line and economy of colour are exquisite. Difficult to describe what Geis is, although there are elements of familiar themes and fantasy fables, swords and sorcery. It’s a phenomenal amount of work in each volume, and so beautifully imagined and executed.

"Panther." Credit: Oogachtend

“Panther.” Credit: Oogachtend

4. “Panther” by Brecht Evens

You can spot a Brecht Evens graphic novel from a mile away – literally, they have an almost hallucinogenic appearance, as if the illustrator was raised under neon lights in nightclubs. “Panther” is the latest in a string of weirdly wonderful illustrated stories by this Belgium born artist. He is quite simply not like anybody else out there, his style is so unusual, arresting and yet intimate and full of humor. Some of his artwork has the appearance of a lurid tapestry, some of his small studies appear to move and exist in several directions and several moments in one instance.

"The Story of My Tits." Credit: Top Shelf Productions

“The Story of My Tits.” Credit: Top Shelf Productions

5. “The Story of My Tits” by Jennifer Hayden

Don’t let the title put you off, this is a wonderful intimate journey through a woman’s life and her relationship with her body and the people around her, and the difficulties in dealing with an illness that robs so many women of their confidence, time and sometimes their lives. This is what graphic novels were made for, to discuss difficult subjects through the disarming and engaging medium of words and pictures.

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