This month’s cover is by illustrator Neil Webb, whose dark, noirish work has the perfect look for our ‘underground’ theme. “A lot of my stuff has that flavour because I’m really into early 20th century design,” he says.
“I’m also interested in the print processes of that time. Lithography is one that I’m really drawn to: that’s actually quite a complicated process, but it’s still fairly limited in its application of what you can produce. And screen printing. The processes were much more primitive and had a sort of forced economy about them, so the images had to be simpler. Artists like Eric Ravilious used those processes, and even though my work doesn’t look much like his, the way he composes an image, the way he puts the shapes together, that’s what I find really beautiful about his work.
“As a subject it’s fairly rare to have someone come along and ask you to do a ‘noir’ illustration. The majority of my work is editorial stuff for magazines, often quite dry financial publications and trade magazines, but trying – as is an illustrator’s fate – to take mundane subjects and try and make them exciting.” Last year, however, Neil received a commission that was just about as noir as you can get.
“I was contacted by a designer called Jim Sutherland [from Studio Sutherl&] who asked if I wanted to design a set of official Post Office stamps to mark one hundred years since Agatha Christie wrote her first novel. And I said ‘yeah, I’d love to!’” There are six stamps in the set, each representing a different one of her books. “We jointly came up with the ideas, trying to identify a turning point in each novel where the plot twists, and capturing that. I’d seen all the films when I was a kid so I was familiar with the iconography, the way people dressed.” Some of the stamps even have an added twist: “One of the designs is animated, so if you download an app and you look at the stamp through your phone it turns into a theatre space and the characters move. Some of the others are printed with heat-sensitive inks; on one image the killer is behind the curtain, and if you put your thumb on it he appears!” See these and more of Neil’s work at neilwebb.net.