Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad and Matt Kish

The long wait is over. My editor at Tin House Books, Tony Perez, was kind enough to rush me an advance copy of my new book, the illustrated Heart of Darkness. Diane Chonette and Jakob Vala took my illustrations and designed an utterly gorgeous book. As with my Moby-Dick in Pictures, this is truly a beautiful object and it just feels good in the hand. After nearly weeping with joy, jumping up and down a few times, high-fiving my wife, and then celebrating with a nice dinner, we took some photos of the book to give you an idea of how it looks. Special thanks to my wife for holding the book for me while I took these.

The front cover. I love how this is just an illustration on boards, with no dust jacket. It feels so much more direct this way. Perfect, given the nature of the novel.

One of the many brilliant design choices made by Diane and Jakob is the way that the front cover illustration wraps so perfectly around the spine and the back cover.

A view of the spine. Tin House has chosen a nice, thick, creamy paper stock that really soaks up the ink and makes the colors in the illustrations deep and rich. Some of that can be seen here, in the thickness of the book itself.

I was honored to have a say in some of the book design process and thrilled when Tony and Diane agreed that hand-drawn endpapers could be included. It's the little touches like this that make the book such a wonderful object. Interestingly, I had these endpapers in mind from the very beginning - a wall of vegetation, with a small image of Marlow in the lower corner.

The book closes with a reversed image of the endpapers. The placement of Marlow was deliberate on my part, signifying in a visual way that the tale begins and ends with him.

A close-up of the endpapers. And Marlow.

The title page. Almost terrifying to see my name next to Conrad's there. Good God.

Again, a brilliant touch from Diane and Jakob. I was asked to write a brief introduction to the book, and this introduction of mine is separated from Conrad's tale by this beautiful detail of the endpapers, enlarged and filtered. The reader is truly penetrating the wall of the jungle and entering the heart of darkness.

Some samples of the interior spreads. I am extremely pleased with the reproduction of my art. Everything is suffused with bright and acidic greens and yellow, and the images seem to almost radiate the heat and the sickness and the savagery of the African jungle. Additionally, in some of these images, you can see that the binding of this book is sewn rather than glued. Another nice touch.

The image which Diane used as the basis for her elegantly and amazingly designed cover.

I don't believe I've posted the piece below yet, so this may be the first time it's been seen online.

One final bit of fantastic detail is that the book includes what is essentially an index, listing the page number of each illustration, the quote from Conrad's text that functions as each title, and the media. Completely unnecessary, but again, so perfect in keeping with my vision of the book and the concept of this as a truly visual narrative. 

The release date still stands as November 12, although that seems to be approaching with terrifying quickness now. I am really pleased with how this turned out. For so many months, this book existed as nothing but a stack of illustrations in my studio and a concept in my head. Diane, Jakob, and my editor Tony were so receptive to my thoughts, and so full of brilliant ideas of their own. This book is everything I hoped it could be. I am proud.


  1. Congrats Matt. This looks fantastic. Great job. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

  2. Thanks Sean! I worry sometimes about sounding like I am full of breathless hype online, but the book really is gorgeous and perfect. Just perfect. I am so incredibly thrilled with how it turned out, and finally seeing the art paired with Conrad's words like this really helps give the entire project a shape that I needed to see.

  3. Congratulations, Matt! Can't wait to see it for myself.

  4. Thank you RF. Do not pre-order, or even order, the book. I will have a copy for you and since I anticipate being in your part of the world at some point this November, I will give it to you then. As long as you don't mind me drawing something in it.

  5. Congratulations! I can't wait to explore it.

  6. ACK! So wonderful!!! Congratulations--can't wait to see it.

  7. Congratulations, Matt! The book looks great! LIttle touches like the index of illustrations really make a difference.

    Heart of Darkness loomed large in my senior year of high school. For one thing, the book itself is mind-blowing. For another, I won a gold medal for an essay on the book that I wrote as part of my school's Academic Decathlon team. The only gold our entire team won that year! Kinda wish they returned our essays to us after the event.

  8. Thank you Patty and Hannah. Remaining humble about my work is important to me, but I do truly think you will be pleased with this book. I am proud of what I was able to create.

  9. Imran, it is funny you mentioned that. My wife was, and still is, and extraordinarily gifted writer and, like you, really excelled at that practice in high school and college. She herself still remembers nearly every essay and paper, but sadly most of them remain in the hands of teachers and professors or have probably been discarded. To her, they are like my drawings are to me...essential parts of my being. It's depressing that these are gone, also because I would be fascinated to read yours!


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