Chris Riddell is known for illustrating Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book, as well as his own books Ottoline and Goth Girl, and political cartoons for the Observer. He has won awards such as the Nestlé Gold Award and the rare honour of two Kate Greenaway Medals. Chris lives in Brighton.
How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it end up happening?
I became an illustrator because my twin passions were reading and drawing. The books I read provided the inspiration for my drawings. I decided when I was quite young that I wanted to illustrate books. My heroes were Sir John Tenniel and William Heath Robinson (shown below, respectively).
How did you get involved with these covers and illustrations? Did Bloomsbury / Neil Gaiman contact you directly, or did they already know your work?
Sarah Odedina at Bloomsbury contacted me and sent a message to Neil, who e-mailed me the first draft of The Graveyard Book. I loved it and readily agreed to illustrate it.
How was the process of developing the covers? Was there a clear goal in mind?
The process with the covers of The Graveyard Book and Coraline were similar. The designer gave me a loose cover brief and I drew a rough and suggested hand lettering. Neil and the designer approved my rough with no alterations and I went to finished artwork.
How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Neil Gaiman, any ideas or suggestions?
Neil is remarkable in that he doesn’t give directions for how I should interpret the characters. As long as I respect the text, he gives me freedom to envisage the characters as I see fit. The only comment was Neil asking me to change Silas’ hair from white to black.
From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator have free reign?
Bloomsbury have been very good at allowing me free rein to draw the covers and illustrations in my own way.
Was there anything particularly different or interesting about these illustrations, interesting facts you’d like to share?
Neil creates a visual space for his illustrators to occupy, giving us texture, description and leading details to fire our imaginations. He is a perfect writer to work with in this respect.
Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?
I love Shaun Tan’s work, David Roberts, and Alexis Deacon. My favourite cover is “The Adventures of Uncle Lubin” by William Heath Robinson (shown above).
Thank you Chris, for your time!
If you want to see more of Chris’ work, including his other books and illustrations, you can check out his website! I hope you liked this interview.