In the Sapiens graphic novel, Daniel Casanave illustrates Yuval Noah Harari’s bestselling history of humanity

The French illustrator shares insights into the “thrilling” project for Vintage Books and his inspirations, from Georges Beuville to Quentin Blake.

12 November 2020


Yuval Noah Harari’s million-copy bestselling book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind told the story of how humans came to be, breaking down the evolutionary timeline in a way that was as page-turning as a work of fiction. Now it has been adapted as a graphic novel, Sapiens, A Graphic History, illustrated by Daniel Casanave working with cartoonist and writer David Vandermeulen, bringing that fascinating story of our collective history to life in an entirely new way.

Taking on the style and storytelling qualities of a graphic novel, the text is reinterpreted as action-packed sequences and conversations between characters, with comedic commentary, satirical interludes and brilliantly funny details to explore. Casanave, an established illustrator and comic book artist, has a history in adapting literary masterpieces and often works with Vandermeulen on so-called “graphical adventures,” hence the epic nature of the content doesn’t seem to have phased him. “It has been a thrilling project from beginning to end!” he tells It’s Nice That, saying that author Harari was also involved in the entire creative process and is “a brilliant thinker”.

Casanave describes his charming and energetic style as purely Franco-Belgian, and influenced by a myriad of authors, “some of which have rocked me to sleep since childhood,” including André Fraquin and “all the greats from the Belgian graphic novel scene”. He also says French illustrator Georges Beuville “will forever remain my teacher” and that he owes an immense debt to English design, “from Hoggart to Steadman, from Searle and David Gentleman to Quentin Blake. All of whom are far from graphic novelists, but who propose a ‘free’ style of drawing, the type of drawing that I love”.

In Sapiens, A Graphic History, he remembers chapter two, The Masters of Fiction, being a particular challenge with the appearance of superheroes and of Dr. Fiction. “You will easily see that it is not quite my culture,” says Casanave, but “fortunately Armand Peugeot saved the day”. Meanwhile, his favourite page also lies in that same chapter, where he depicts a crowded Piccadilly Circus across a double-page spread. “These drawings are extremely fun to make,” he explains. “I place people on a theatre stage. I invent a life for each one of them – well those in the foreground, at least – What are they doing? What are they saying? Where are they going? It’s one of the illustrator's little pleasures.”

Sapiens, A Graphic History by Yuval Noah Harari, Daniel Casanave and David Vandermeulen is out today published by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Vintage Books.

GalleryYuval Noah Harari, Daniel Casanave and David Vandermeulen: Sapiens, A Graphic History (Copyright © Vintage Books, 2020)

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Yuval Noah Harari, Daniel Casanave and David Vandermeulen: Sapiens, A Graphic History (Copyright © Vintage Books, 2020)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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