Next week’s cover for the New Yorker will be Frank Viva’s fifth. This ongoing commission and “career highlight” is part of a larger body of highly communicative design work that Viva and his studio (Viva & Co.) produce. We spoke to Frank about the upcoming cover – a striking and playful piece featuring a golfer with a misguided confidence in his own swinging abilities – and the singular nature of cover illustration…
How did it your first cover with the New Yorker come about and how scared/confident were you?!
When Françoise Mouly – the cover art editor at The New Yorker – first called me, I was so shocked I jumped up and hit my head (rather badly) on my desk lamp. I survived. Was I scared? Yes, but once I put on some music and began working, I forgot about everything else and just got on with it. Since then, we have worked on five New Yorker covers and a children’s picture book called A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse. This title is for TOON Books – a line of cartoon-based children’s books she created – now an imprint of Candlewick Press. It comes out this fall.
What can you tell us about this latest cover and the insight into its making?
Although the current New Yorker cover has a golf theme, apart from lugging my grandfather’s clubs around when I was kid, I know nothing about the game. The protagonist is a proud professional-looking guy that takes a big swing with all of his skill and power – and he misses.
The frame is frozen at the exact moment that he (along with the dog and the crow) is expecting to see the ball fly through the air. Before they notice, the viewer sees that he tipped the ball, sending it no more than a foot off the tee. I had trouble getting the stance right and went through five rounds to nail it. All the while, Françoise was very happy with the first iteration and – in the end – pulled it back to something close to the first (which was the best of the lot). Sometimes I get lost.
How does your approach to a cover commission differ from other editorial spot illustrations?
While there might be a request for a theme, the cover artists come up with the ideas. Spot illustrations for most magazines provide visual support to a written piece (which isn’t to say there’s no room for ideas, but it is a different process). To put it another way, because many covers for The New Yorker have a kind of narrative, the role of the artist is similar to that of a writer with Françoise filling the role of an editor, helping to shape the piece.