Joey Hi-Fi: Book cover chameleon

“Despite what some may think, you literally can judge a book by its cover. Which is just as well – or I’d be out of job,” says Joey Hi-Fi, the better-known alter ego of award-winning South African illustrator and designer Dale Halvorsen.

Hi-Fi is in the business of first impressions, designing the all-important wrapping for dark, twisting tales of fantasy and adventure – judging by his covers, at least. 

Sometimes clean, sometimes layered, but always intricate, the book covers he designs are at once gripping trailers and accurate visual summaries of the stories that lie beneath them.

Hi-Fi is excellent at what he does and the givers of awards agree. The latest addition to his list of achievements is a nomination for Best Artist at the British Fantasy Awards, whose results will be announced in September this year at FantasyCon 2014. At this year’s British Science Fiction Association Awards he won Best Artwork for Tony Ballantyne’s Dream London

Interpreting a writer’s ideas is a role Hi-Fi takes seriously. Before attempting any design, he first reads the book, making extensive notes. While enjoying the perk of an exclusive read before a book is published, he is aware of the great responsibility placed on him by the writer. 

“Writers can spend a year – or years – crafting their creative labours of love. At the very least their novel deserves a half-decent cover, something to give it an edge in the no-holds-barred Thunderdome that is the publishing industry,” says Hi-Fi.

“I think as a book cover designer it is important to fully understand the source material. It also helps me to determine the tone of the book.”

For his cover design of the South African edition of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, which included the limited edition hardcover, Hi-Fi had access to a treasure trove of photographs Beukes took during her substantial research for the novel in Chicago. 

Hi-Fi has enjoyed a long-time collaboration with Beukes, also designing the covers for her science-fiction novel Zoo City and before that the cyberpunk dystopian Moxyland.

Most recently he designed the cover for her newest offering, Broken Monsters – a dark and creepy tale set amid the urban decay of Detroit. Hi-Fi says: “Having designed the SA cover for The Shining Girls, I wanted the cover to subtly tie into that one aesthetically. I combined research images, which Lauren shot on her trip to Detroit, with the cover illustration and design. It lends an authenticity to the cover and I think it captures the tone and mood of the book well.”

Often taking the form of an illustrated collage, the designer finds it difficult to explain his style, describing it as a “Frankenstein Monster of sorts”. This freedom allows him to work in a range of styles, picking techniques as he pleases, or as the brief from a publisher determines.

On his early influences, he says: “I grew up on a steady diet of comic books. Most notable is 2000AD with its generally stark black-and-white, brush/pen-and-ink style … which I tried to replicate growing up. I think that is why even now I’m more comfortable with limited colour palettes for most of my work.”

Currently Hi-Fi is working on a cover for the South African edition of Kill Baxter by Charlie Human and the cover for Imraan Coovadia’s new book Tales of the Metric System.

This article is adapted from an interview with the artist that appeared on the creative showcase site Between 10 and 5.


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