Monday, 16 November 2009

Attaching a Huge Engine to the Creative Process: an Interview with Tomer Hanuka

Israel-born and New York-based Tomer Hanuka is one of the most exciting young illustrators and designers working in the field today. He has been nominated for numerous awards in the comics (the Ignatz, Eisner and Harvey awards), design/illustration (Society of Illustrators gold and silver medals, Society of Publication Designers silver medal) and cinema fields (Tomer was part of the team which created Oscar-nominated animated movie Waltz with Bashir).

A collection of Tomer's comic short stories, book design by Kobi Franco

Most significantly for my purposes, Tomer has designed a wide selection of great book covers, as well as designing his own comics and graphic novels (much of which he creates with his twin brother, Asaf Hanuka).

An issue of the Hanuka brothers' comic, Bipolar

Tomer was kind enough to agree to be interviewed about how he goes about his book design work. Click any image for a larger version.

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CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: You work in design, illustration, comics, movies... Do you have a favourite field, or is the broad mix itself the best part of your work? Were comics your first love?

TOMER HANUKA: Yes, comics were absolutely my first love, and in many ways my gateway drug. It’s the place were imagination got fused with two-dimensional interpretations on printed matter. These days when I take a project on it's because I'm excited about it, so it's really the actual project I'm after, rather than the medium. Book covers have a high percentage of ending up being positive experiences. I love the process of distilling a certain quality in the narrative into a single image and the books I get to do usually have powerful narratives—it’s like attaching a huge engine to the creative process.

CCC: What media do you use to create your illustrations? Is it pencil, ink and digital colour? Or do you work completely digitally for the final artwork?

TOMER HANUKA: I draw with pencil and ink/brush, then scan. And colour digitally. The final image is a file.


CCC: Most book covers use stock photos without clear images of faces, whereas your book covers feature detailed illustrations of the protagonists. How much time do you usually get to read and absorb the books before going to work on them?

TOMER HANUKA: Usually about three weeks. I make a point of reading the books; it makes a huge difference for me in terms of getting into a certain frame of mind beyond the facts and plot points. There is a texture and rhythm to writing that you can't get from the Amazon blurb. Listening closely to that unique voice can lead to interesting visual directions.


Above: The heroine of these novels is a Turkish drag queen with an Audrey Hepburn fixation.
Below: The process behind the cover for The Gigolo Murder


CCC: Your beautiful de Sade cover for the Penguin Graphic Classics series is one of my favourites from that range—how did you come to work on that book?

TOMER HANUKA: Paul Buckley, the fantastic art director of this series, was kind enough to commission me.

CCC: What are you working on now?

TOMER HANUKA: Beyond commissioned projects I am slowly putting together a graphic novel with my brother Asaf, and writer Boaz Lavie.

CCC: If you could design, inside and out, without budget limitations, any book from the history of literature, what would it be?

TOMER HANUKA: I want to say the Old Testament, but the Kafka library would be just as satisfying. You know what? Give me the Nabokov library and we're good.

CCC: Is there any neglected book you'd love to draw to people's attention as something they should seek out?

TOMER HANUKA: Journey by Moonlight, written by Antal Szerb

CCC: Thank you, Mr Hanuka!

TOMER HANUKA: Thank you, James.

Tomer's artwork come alive in Waltz with Bashir

Dodie Smith: sketches by Asaf, inks and colours by Tomer

The film stills, Dodie Smith artwork and all background sketches are taken from the Haukas' wonderful blog, Tropical Toxic. And he's right--Antal Szerb is wonderful.


Bob Fingerman said...

The Hanuka brothers are both very talented. I always enjoy seeing Tomer's work. Lovely, elegant stuff.

Brian Busby said...

Is it wrong that I think the Sade cover is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen?

JRSM said...

It's gorgeous, isn't it? Lush, decadent, sexy, creepy, and yet not over the top...

Matthew Adams said...

Brian, it's very wrong and you need to be spanked (just not by me, it's not quite that wrong).

I have never read Sade but I would be tempted to based on that cover alone.

Jacob Covey said...

Nice to see someone talking with Tomer about his vivid book cover work.

Hope to see more of your interviews, thanks for doing it.

JRSM said...

Thanks, Jacob--I've just been going over your own site with awe. Looking at the books you have designed, I WANT THEM ALL!