Andrew McKiernan is an Australian speculative fiction writer and illustrator. His writing and illustrations has appeared in various magazines and books including Aurealis, Orb, Midnight Echoes and Black: Australian Dark Culture magazine. He is a founding editor of HorrorScope: The Australian Dark Fiction Web Log, and the current Art Director for Aurealis magazine. In 2009, he received Ditmar Award nominations for Best Artwork and Best Fan Artist. His website is: http://www.andrewmckiernan.com/
1. You illustrated Shane Jiraiya Cummings flash fiction collection ‘Shards: Short Sharp Tales’, producing an illustration for every story – 39 in all. How big an undertaking was it to produce so much artwork? Did you and Shane collaborate during the project, in terms of picking the subject matter and/or style of each piece?
“Shards” was a huge undertaking for me, and for Shane too I think. It took over two years to put all the illustrations together – partly due to real-life intrusions, partly to a table of contents that was forever being honed and refined, but mainly because it’s really hard to produce illustrations for flash fiction without giving too much of the story away in the image. It was also tough finding a consistent style for all the illustrations, especially as my style developed a lot over those two years. Shane pretty much gave me the freedom to interpret his stories however I liked. My brief was just to produce one full page illustration for each story. How I went about doing that, and what from the story I chose to illustrate was let very much up to me. Not many illustrators get that sort of freedom on a project. It also meant that, afterwards, Shane and I were able to discuss where our interpretations of the stories differed. Sometimes, what I’d seen in a story was totally different to how Shane had seen things when he wrote it. Despite these differences in interpretation I don’t think there was a single illustration that Shane asked me to modify more to his point of view. He was very happy to leave those incongruities there for the reader to further interpret for themselves – different impressions all reflected from the same story shard.
2. You’re a writer as well as an illustrator – do you prefer one to the other? Which came first?
I think I find writing easier. It is much simpler most times for me to conjure an image with words than it is to put a that image down into tangible form as an illustration. Illustration work for me can be a quite slow and laborious process of trial and error in getting the form and composition right, and I have to be sitting at a desk or at my PC to do it. I write in my head before putting the words down on paper, so writing is something I do everywhere I go. I can write while I’m walking, or driving, or in the shower and have a lot of a story preformed before I have to manifest it as a manuscript. I can’t do that when I illustrate so it is more constraining and not quite as liberating as writing. As to which one came first? I have no idea; I think they’ve both always been something I’ve enjoyed, although I’m sure I was doodling images with crayon before I could actually string letters into words.
3. One of the most interesting projects you’re involved in at the moment is cover design for series of six books that Chimaera Publications will be launching at Aussiecon 4, reprinting forgotten classics of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy. Has designing a series of books presented different problems to those you face when designing for a standalone volume? How have you tried to link the books as a series, but still let each volume retain its individuality?
I has some pretty good discussions with the publisher on what sort of style they were looking for before I started. We all had some pretty definite ideas about the period and style we wanted to evoke with the covers, which made things much easier. We really wanted to play off the idea of classic, and some of the most classic sf book covers I can think off are the mass-market paperbacks of the 1970s. The best ones were often very stylised and geometric, so I used that idea as a jump-off point. Using a fairly monochromatic palette, and strong colour to differentiate each title seemed to work in making each one stand out on its own but they’ll still all look great together on a shelf.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
I haven’t done anywhere near enough reading this past year as I usually would, but I think Paul Haines’ ‘Wives’ certainly has to be there in the novella category. Richard Harland for ‘Worldshaker’ – which was a great YA-steampunk novel – and Kaaron Warren for her very disturbing ‘Slights’. I think Shaun Tan and Greg Bridges should be in there as two amazing Australian illustrators and I’ll be surprised if they’re not both on the final Professional Artist ballot.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Yes, I’ll definitely be there. I’m already pencilled in for a couple of AHWA panels: “Why Australia is More Horrifying Than Anywhere Else” and “The Artist’s Paradox”. The Classic Australian SF series will be launching there, as will some of my short stories in a couple of anthologies. What else I get up to while I’m there remains to be seen. I’ve never been to a WorldCon before, but I’m assuming it is going to be a much more intense experience than a Conflux or Continuum.