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GEN CON EXCLUSIVE: Scott Westerfeld Talks About the Illustrations in Leviathan

GEN CON EXCLUSIVE: Scott Westerfeld Talks About the Illustrations in Leviathan

We got to sit in on Scott Westerfeld’s talk at Gen Con about why he decided to make Leviathan, his awesome steampunky alt history trilogy, an illustrated novel, and this is what we found out!

How did he first get the idea of doing an illustrated novel? When the Uglies book was first translated into Japanese, it got pictures, and they looked pretty cool. When Westerfeld posted this pictures on the great big internet, he got feedback, largely of the “Why don’t WE get pictures???” variety. And that made him think.

Why don’t novels today have pictures? It wasn’t long ago that novels routinely had illustrations. Just look at the original editions of Persuasion, Sherlock Holmes, and The War of the Worlds. Illustrations offered a wonderful complement to the written word, so much so that sometimes the illustrator was valued as much or more highly than the writer.

So, you know how when you graduate from picture books to pure prose? Your parents might have told you that grown-up books only had text so that people could learn to use their imagination. But according to Scott, people didn’t suddenly gain imaginations around 1812. They just invented cameras!

Westerfeld wanted to make a return to the tradition of illustrated novels, and since he was pretty successful by then, he was able to hire an illustrator he wanted to work with by the name of Keith Thompson. Their collaboration process was pretty amazeballs, because it wasn’t as simple as Scott going “Keith, you draw this! Draw it good!” Their creative processes actually informed each other. At first, Scott would be a few chapters ahead of Keith and would send him a chapter asking for ideas on what to illustrate in that chapter. If they disagreed on what to illustrate, Keith would draw sketches for Scott to compare. But then Scott would see a drawing that Keith made of an airship, and there would be a cable hanging down the side, making Scott say “SOMEONE’S GONNA SLIDE DOWN THAT CABLE.” Or Keith would draw a diagram of the airship, and they would realize that they had an extra room that had no apparent purpose, so Scott would decide that that would be the room where all the talking lizard parrots would live, and so on and so forth.

Doing Leviathan as an illustrated novel also made Scott more appreciative of fan art. He liked to think that fan art means that novels are still illustrated, just in a more collaborative way. Aww. That’s a such sweet thought!

Have you read Leviathan? Did you like the illustrations? Do think more books should be illustrated? Do you draw fan art? Will you illustrate ALL THE BOOKS?

Tags: scott westerfeld, art, leviathan, books-and-comics, gen con, gen con 2014

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About the Author
Abbey Clarke

Abbey Clarke is a writer and editorial assistant living in Jersey City. She's a player on a D&D podcast called Knife Errant, wrote her senior thesis on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is working on a novel about a semi-reformed demon who runs a library. You can follow her on Twitter at @abbeybookaholic.

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