Shelf Candy – Interview with JOEY HI-FI, Cover Artist for Blackbirds

September 22, 2012 General, Interviews, Shelf Candy 3


Shelf Candy is a meme hosted by Maria @anightsdreamofbooks.  Click the button above to see what other covers are being featured this week.


This week’s Shelf Candy features the damn cool cover for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds. I honestly can’t think of a cover this year that has been more discussed, more highlighted, more praised than this one.  What I love about it is that you really can’t take the cover all in at one glance.  It forces you to lean in for a closer look.   The layers are almost a scavenger hunt of clues to the story.  We have Cape Town based designer/illustrator/artist Joey Hi-Fi to thank for this awesomeballs cover art.  Please welcome Joey to SWR as he discusses his creative process, his influences, and the significance of the name, Joey Hi Fi. 




She-Wolf Interview

SWR:  When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I started drawing when I was very young – and never stopped!



SWR:  Who are some of the artists who have influenced or inspired you?

Chris WareHieronymus BoschJonathan LethemAlan Fletcher, Charles Burns, Basil WolvertonDaniel Clowes, Chip KiddKatsuhiro Otomo, Edward Gorey…. to name just a few.


SWR:  Who are some of your favorite cover artists?

Chip Kidd and Grey 318.



SWR:  What was your first book cover?

‘MAVERICK, Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past’ by Lauren Beukes (Author of Zoo City).



SWR:  What is your creative process and are there any rituals or routines you have prior to starting a project?

I work in a range of styles and on diverse projects – so each project requires a slightly different approach. For book covers I start with reading the book – followed by information gathering. I try to get as much information from the author and publisher as I can. Any small detail could spark and idea. I then do some conceptualizing and rough sketches, after which I move onto my computer, where I work over them or draw using a Wacom tablet. I often work in multiple layers, so working in Illustrator or Photoshop streamlines the whole process. 



SWR:  How did you get involved with the cover art for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Mockingbird?

I’d worked with Angry Robot before doing an illustration for the Moxyland UK cover (Written by Lauren Beukes). 



But it was my cover for Zoo City (Also by Lauren Beukes) that convinced them I was the right cover artist for Blackbirds and Mockingbird. 




SWR:  Can you briefly walk us through your process for creating the covers?

I compiled a list of elements / scenes from the book I wanted to weave into the portrait of Miriam Black. I then started with rough sketches on paper of Miriam Black. Once i felt i had the pose and tone right – I worked out the interplay between the negative and positive spaces – and how the illustration would work with the title typography. I then moved onto the computer. For the cover, which has a distressed ink, brush & pen style, i drew some elements, then scanned them in and worked over them in photoshop. Other elements for the cover I illustrated completely in Illustrator & photoshop. The entire process was akin to assembling a rather complex and macabre jigsaw puzzle.


SWR:  These covers caused a stir in the blogosphere – everyone loved them, they were featured everywhere for favorite new cover lists.  What did you think of all the buzz they created?

The positive reaction to both covers filled me with both elation… and relief.

Often when you try something a little different for a Book Cover, as I try to do, you’re never quite sure what outcome and response will be. 

I tend to isolate myself when working on a cover. Imagine a mad scientist working manically in his lab wondering whether his race of atomic robot creations will indeed conquer the world –  and you have a pretty accurate image! So when your creation is at last loosed upon the world, and achieves it’s desired goal – it inspires you to further feats of creativity!


SWR:  Did you read the manuscripts prior to creating the artwork, and, if not, what direction did you get from the art director?

I make a point of reading all the books I design/illustrate covers for. Although in the case of Blackbirds and Mockingbird  – Chuck Wendig was still busy writing the book. 

So i was unable to read a manuscript. Thankfully though, he & Angry Robot provided a thorough brief with enough information & inspiration for me to work with. They provided me with an initial concept (A woman merging with a flock of birds), a description of Miriam Black from the book as well some jumping-off points for me to explore. Something I could really sink my fangs into.


SWR:  What was the most important thing you wanted to convey in the cover?

Introducing the character of the main protagonist Miriam Black in an interesting way – while also capturing the macabre tone of book.

I wanted the covers to work on two levels – what you see initially – and then what you see on closer inspection.

I like illustrations with a fair amount of detail that warrants repeat viewings. 

Almost like a macabre Where’s Wally.


SWR:  If you were given the opportunity to create the cover for any one book, past or present, what would that book be and why?

Tough one. There are so many! I always wanted to do a cover for the cult classic ‘House of Leaves’ by Mark Z. Danielewski.

It’s a book I really love. Dark & somber in tone (which i like) and unlike any Mystery / horror story you will ever read.

It’s full on evocative and unsettling imagery.

In addition to that – the page layouts in the book are unusual and innovative. It makes for an immersive reading experience.


SWR:  Favorite book, favorite movie, favorite band?

I’ve never been one who is able to decide on a favourite anything.

But amongst my favourite books lurks A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick.

John Carpenter’s The Thing holds a special place in my heart.

And I’ve spent many an hour drawing to the post-rock majesty of Explosions In The Sky.



SWR:  What side projects, passion projects, or upcoming cover art would you like to share with us?

Currently I’m wrapping up a cover design/illustration for a limited edition re-release of Simon Morden’s Thy Kingdom Come ( a prequel to his award-winning Metrozone series). I’m also working on a graphic novel – which i am writing and illustrating between paying commissions. The effort of which is killing me slowly between the hours of 10pm till midnight. This is the only time I seem to get to work on it! I usually reply with ‘Coming Winter 2040’ when asked when it will be done.



SWR:  Finally, what is the significance of the name Joey Hi-Fi?

My alter-ego was born partly out of necessity  and partly out of my love of comic books (and an episode of the Simpsons). I was working full-time at a design studio, but wanted to work on illustration & book cover commissions after hours. Knowing my boss would not completely approve – i decided to hide my identity and started taking on additional work under the guise of my alter-ego Joey Hi-Fi. A mild mannered designer by day – a half crazed illustrator by night! The name was born while watching an episode of the Simpsons (where homer adopts the power name of ‘Max Power’) with a friend.


And for fun…the Pivot Quiz!
1.  What is your favorite word?
2.  What is your least favorite word?



3.  What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?



4.  What turns you off?

     Design by committee


5.  What is your favorite curse word?

      Any word followed by ….’Balls’ ie: Fuckballs


6.  What sound or noise do you love?

       The sound of someone playing a piano


7.  What sound or noise do you hate?
     The shrill sound of my apartments buzzer
8.  What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?



9.  What profession would you not like to do?



10.  If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

      It would no doubt be a very long and awkward silence


Thanks for stopping by the blog, Joey!




You can find Blackbirds at the following links:



All images are courtesy of Joey Hi-Fi and are not to be copied without permission of the artist.


About the Artist

Joey Hi-Fi at home


 Please visit Joey at his favorite spot:


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