The 20th Anniversary Covers: Brian Selznick's Take on Harry Potter

Seira Wilson on June 26, 2018
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HarryPotterBk1_Selznick200.jpgFor author and illustrator Brian Selznick, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's 20th anniversary took on personal significance when he was tapped to create new covers for all seven books and a new box set.  No small feat with no small amount of pressure. But Selznick is a magnificent illustrator, devoted to detail and a perfectionist through and through. So when I saw the mural that's created when all seven book covers are side by side, I was awed but not surprised--Selznick's vision is the artistic soulmate of the world J.K. Rowling created. The 20th anniversary covers are unique, special, and stunning.

I can't even imagine what being asked to join Harry Potter history would feel like, and I was dying to ask Selznick, as I've enjoyed getting to know him a bit more with each new book.  So I emailed him a few of my burning questions:

Seira Wilson:  What was your first thought when you were asked to design the new covers for the Harry Potter series?

Brian Selznick: My first thought was "No!" I mean, it was such a huge honor to be asked. This is the most beloved series of books ever written and there were already beautiful, classic covers by Mary GrandPre and a wonderful paperback set by Kazu Kibuishi, not to even mention the movies and the theme parks. What could I add to this world that hadn't already been there? Luckily, I realized that every fan has their own version of Harry Potter in their hearts, and I was a fan who would get to share my version with the world.

The complete set makes a gorgeous mural, was there a particular book in the series that took you longer to design or did you have a pretty clear vision for each from the beginning?

On the phone call when Scholastic asked me to do the covers, I had one idea come right into my head, and it was to do all seven covers as a single image. I started sketching out the drawing and drew some swirling lines as a way to show the connection across all seven covers. I quickly realized that the swirling lines looked like a snake. One of the things I wanted to show was the overall battle between good and evil that runs through the series, and having the snake symbolizing that made sense to me. I then spent a few months sketching out and clarifying all the details because the covers had to look good individually and they all had to work together to make the single image. I knew the snake's head would appear on the seventh book and Harry would somehow be controlling it, but the final image for the seventh cover took the longest to finalize. Originally I had the sword of Gryffindor in Harry's hand, but eventually I moved it so that the sword was held by someone else's hand, and if you haven't read the books before you will find out who is holding it when you get to the seventh book!

Knowing you’d be responsible for creating their new covers, did you read the Harry Potter books differently this time around?  Was there anything in particular you were looking for in each story to guide the art?

I had read the books for the first time only two years earlier, so they were pretty fresh in my mind. I first put together a list of all the characters and scenes I thought would work on each of the covers and then when I finally started the finished drawing I listened to audio recordings of all seven books. I actually drew at the same pace as the books unfolded, so by the time I got to the drawing of Voldemort and Harry on the seventh cover I was actually listening to that section in the last book!

Gotta ask – did you meet JK Rowling??  And if so, where did you meet and what was it like?

I haven't met JK Rowling but I know she approves of everything so I'm so thrilled to know that she approved of what I was doing. 

Of course it’s a huge honor to be asked to become part of Harry Potter history, and no small amount of pressure I would assume.  Did you push that (the pressure of it) aside or use it somehow?

While I was working on the sketches I was invited to the Harry Potter Celebration at Harry Potter World in Florida. I had to speak to thousands of fans and sign posters of one of my sketches. Everyone was wonderful and expressed excitement for what I was doing, but in the days right after I got home I had my biggest moments of panic because the scale of this undertaking really hit me. But finally I put that aside and just focused on my love of the books.

You’ve always made magic with black and white illustration but we’ve seen color from you here and there—were you at all tempted to include color in any of the Harry Potter covers?

I knew right away I wanted the covers to be in black and white and I knew I'd be able to draw what I wanted best with just my pencil. I was so happy when I got approval to do them in black and white. Of course I wanted the titles to be in color, and the box for the box set is in full color, including a surprise inside the box once you take the books out!

Do you have a Harry Potter snow globe? (I learned during a previous conversation that Selznick has a vast collection of snow globes)

Yes! I collect snow globes from all the places I travel and I did buy a Harry Potter snow globe at Harry Potter World in Florida. It's a very small one with Hedwig in it, but the globe actually broke, so now I guess it's just a tiny sculpture of a white owl!

Below - a couple of photos from the Book Expo party slideshow where the mural was revealed and we got a closer look at Selznick's work

HP_Mural_WithPen_350W.jpg

HP_Mural_MagnifiedBit.jpg

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