Victo Ngai on the stress of illustrating well-known ebook covers

Victo Ngai is an LA-based illustrator from Hong Kong. She has created editorial illustrations for titles such as the New York Times and New Yorker, while also working on storyboards and animation art for NBC and Dreamworks.

"I was an only child born to working parents with a migrant background. We moved a lot when I was little, so I didn't have a lot of friends and I started drawing to pass the time, ”says Ngai, explaining how she got into illustration. “These drawings usually have an element of fantasy, whether it's imaginary friends, traveling to otherworldly places or transforming the bullied into a hero. When I started drawing, the walls ceased to exist and mine Reality became infinitely bigger and richer – anything was possible that gave me meaning and confidence that I didn't know I had. "

Above: Graphic for the start of Mixc World. Above: Graphics for the Mixc Spring Festival. All pictures: Victo Ngai

Ngai's work has a fantasy element to it and she has become known for creating fascinating worlds full of mysteries and fascinating characters. “I draw the way I do because I don't know how to do it any other way. I think good art is honest art, and style is just a drawing habit, an extension of life experience, taste and the Personality of the artist, "she explains." For example, I naturally tend towards complex images and find navigating through the visual chaos quite intuitive. This probably has something to do with growing up in Hong Kong, which is always busy and full of textures and information. "

Ngai was recently hired by HarperCollins to create a series of covers for Veronica Roth's 10th anniversary edition of the Divergent series. Commemorative versions of Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, plus a companion novel Four: A Divergent Collection, will be released next month, all with re-interpreted covers by Ngai.

Cover for Divergent's 10th Anniversary Edition, published by HarperCollins Children's Books

“It was my first time doing panoramic covers. The idea was to take a comprehensive look at dystopian Chicago, highlighting the most important moments from each of the four books, ”explains Ngai.

“It was a fun challenge to come up with a palette of compositions and colors that would work as a whole and as individual segments. I took a page from one of my favorite Lord of The Rings covers by the brilliant Barbara Remington. Gradients are used in the sky to seamlessly shift the key colors of the covers from one to the next. These key colors are further enhanced by the step-back design by designer Erin Fitzsimmons. "

Cover for the 10th anniversary edition of Insurgent, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books

More than 42 million copies of the Divergent book series have sold, so Ngai was under pressure to create something that felt true to her as an artist, but also honored the books for the fans.

“I definitely didn't want to disappoint the fans and tried to make the art as authentic as possible to the story. I'm really glad that the direction of repackaging is completely different from the original covers, so the comparison is less straightforward, ”she says.

Cover for the 10th anniversary edition of Allegiannt, published by HarperCollins Children’s BooksCover for Four: A 10th anniversary edition of the Divergent Collection, published by HarperCollins Children's Books

“It is also very helpful to have had Veronica's blessing from the start. She liked the IMAX Divergent poster I made in 2014 and recommended me for this project. I also had a great team at HarperCollins that trusted my visions and gave me more creative freedom than I thought possible for an IP as big as Divergent. "

When working on a commission, Ngai usually starts by breaking the mapping down into keywords to better define the core message she needs to communicate. “Then I brainstorm to find stories and metaphors that are inspired by these keywords. This is a very free association process, ”she explains. “Then I start nailing my thumb to crystallize the concepts. The ideas are often transformed and develop further in the process. The final arts are analog and digital techniques. "

Cover picture for the Flowers of Shanghai, restored 4K Criterion Collection EditionIn Mood for Love screen printing

The Divergent series isn't the first book cover series that Ngai has worked on. In previous projects, she has done covers for Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, V.E Schwabs Vicious, and Lauren Shippens A Neon Darkness. "I love the range of topics I have to deal with, from SFF to growing up, romance to thriller and a lot more," she says. "The process of translating words and abstract concepts into visual elements is like a puzzle and I enjoy it immensely."

The exclusive 10-year anniversary editions of the Divergent series are published in the HarperCollins children's books available from June 1st;;