Harry Potter is getting a new look — or at least new book covers.
On Wednesday, J.K. Rowling's American publisher, Scholastic, unveiled a new cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first of seven new covers that will appear on paperback editions of the series in September.
The new covers, each focusing on a scene from that novel, are designed by Kazu Kibuishi, author and illustrator of the graphic novel series Amulet. Their release will mark the 15th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Sorcerer's Stone, which started the series that went on to sell 450 million copies worldwide.
In an interview, Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade Publishing, says the new covers aren't meant to replace the original ones by Mary GrandPré, which still will be used on hardcovers and less expensive mass-market paperback editions.
But, she says, "we thought it was time for a fresh approach" for the trade paperbacks "as of a way of attracting the interest of a new generation of 8- and 9-year-olds who may know Harry mostly through the movies."
Scholastic doesn't provide yearly sale figures for the series, which remains popular but far from the top of the best-seller lists it once dominated.
Last Christmas, Sorcerer's Stone hit No. 182 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list; the box set of all seven books was No. 281. All seven titles have been No. 1, including the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 2007.
In a statement released by Scholastic, Kibuish, who was born in Tokyo and immigrated to the USA as a child, says that GrandPré's covers "are so fantastic and iconic" that "when I was asked to submit samples, I initially hesitated because I didn't want to see them reinterpreted. However, I felt that if I were to handle the project, I could bring something to it that many other designers and illustrators probably couldn't, and that was that I was also a writer of my own series of middle-grade fiction.
"As an author myself, I tried to answer the question, 'If I were the author of the books — and they were like my own children — how would I want them to be seen years from now?' When illustrating the covers, I tried to think of classic perennial paperback editions of famous novels and how those illustrations tend to feel. In a way, the project became a tribute to both Harry Potter and the literary classics."
Scholastic also announced that in November, it will release the first box set of the complete Hogwarts Library, including Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Sales of the Hogwarts Library will support two charities: Lumos, which was founded by Rowling and works to end the institutionalization of children, and Comic Relief, which is aimed at creating a world free from poverty.
An interview with the artist, Kazu Kibuishi
Did you feel a lot of pressure creating new cover art for one of the most beloved children’s series of all time?
I already worked with the publisher with my own book so I was working among friends. There was a tremendous amount of pressure, but not fear. As I was working on it, I realized the weight of the project and the work started to feel a little heavier. It hasn’t been too difficult. When I step away, I’m always in awe that I’m getting to do this. …I am enjoying every minute.
What was your inspiration for the new cover for ‘Sorcerer's Stone’?
That one was the clearest cover for me to do. It probably best signifies the idea of Harry becoming a new perennial classic. I feel like over time [Harry Potter] is going to be looked at like we look at a Dickens novel or a Wells novel. I wanted to give the covers that classic look. It was like I was doing almost a kind of fan art of Harry Potter, but done in the style of classic literature. The initial cover was very Dickens. I was thinking of “Great Expectations” or “A Christmas Carol.” I have a film background and I’m a big fan of movie poster. It’s probably reflective of some of my favorite movie posters as well.
How did you approach the project?
I’m approaching it from the perspective more as an art historian. I’m also an author and I don’t normally take on projects like this because I’m so focused on writing and drawing my own books. I felt like in this case, I speak for the kids and the librarians out there. I thought I could bring that sense of empathy to the work that is unique. So if somebody were trying to introduce these books to the new generation of readers, why not have it be an author who produces work for a new generation of readers?
Did you use artist Mary GrandPre’s work as a jumping off point?
Her work stands alone in its own way. They are like icons….As I said, I came at it as more as an art historian. Taking a look at how we have sort of accepted Harry into our culture and trying to invent it for a new generation of readers. I tried to sever as many ties as I could and try to think about it from a completely fresh perspective while paying respect to the work that came before.
I made stylistic tributes to Mary’s work. There are little elements and flourishes that I probably wouldn’t have done myself, but they’re so subtle, in the technique that I’m not sure someone would notice.
What interaction did you have with J.K. Rowling or Mary GrandPre on the project?
I have never met Mary GrandPre or [J.K.] Rowling. I did help with a gallery show that showed Mary GrandPre’s work. That was my only small connection that I had to the Harry Potter universe besides from being published by the same publisher as Joanne and being a fan.
What type of guidance were you given?
David Saylor [Vice President, Creative Director, Trade Book Publishing] is the best art director I ever worked for and good art directors know to trust their talent. …. He put a lot in my court and when that happens the artist really tries to step up. It’s been the single greatest client job that I’ve had.
Are you nervous to see what fans’ reactions are?
I was more nervous to hear what Joanne Rowling would think. When I heard that she enjoyed it, I was happy. Now that I heard she’s happy, I’m going to sail my way to the end of this thing.
Which was the hardest cover of the seven to illustrate?
They’ve all been incredibly challenging in their own way. I’m near completion on almost all of them, but the first one is the only one that’s complete. The first one was very difficult. What you see is a very late draft in the process, but it came together pretty quickly.
How quickly is quickly?
Two-and-half to three days to paint it. Most of the process is pulling the information, doing the research, taking the look at what I’m going to do. Then doing the illustration and rendering. I tend to feel like if I spend too much time, I’m over baked it.
What’s in store for “The Chamber of Secrets” and “Prisoner of Azkaban” covers?
It’s still in a state of flux. There’s a lot I’m redoing or revising. Nothing in the history books yet.
Anything else about your process as you went about it that artists should know?
I tried to work on a single layer in Photoshop. I used very few effects. All of the illustrations for the most part I didn’t separate elements. I try to keep it pure as if I was working on a canvas. I forced myself into a limitation despite having all of these tools at my disposal.
I'm probably going to buy these