The Magic Misfits
is a wonderful story created by Neil Patrick Harris and published by Little, Brown.
Yes, you read that right, Neil Patrick Harris!
I couldn't believe it myself either, but it is true!
Art directed by Mr. Harris himself, this book proved to be one of the most challenging and certainly the biggest learning experience of my (young) career!
Research & Early Samples
When I got the very first brief of Magic Misfits back in 2015 the story and characters were completely different.
At that time, the three main characters were called Theo, a magician and violin prodigy who was small for his age (8 y/old), and Oliver and Isabel, 12 year old comical twins that wore the most outrageous costumes.
Before getting the job, I needed to submit a sample to Mr. Harris and his team for review along many other illustrators. The brief called for explorations on the characters as well as the interior view of Vernon's Magic Shop.
Having the story set in the United States during the 1940~50s was definitely challenging. Coming from Dominican Republic, admittedly,
I was quite unfamiliar with this time period.
Therefore, before I got to work on any kind of illustrations the first thing I did was gather as much reference material as possible: From location pictures to illustrations and products that would inform shape language and illustration style and perhaps spark some ideas on environment and story.
After being lucky enough to have gotten the project, one of the challenges of working on the first installment of Magic Misfits was the fact that the story was evolving at the same time the art was being produced, meaning characters and story points organically changed between feedback rounds and so did the art.
CHARACTER AND STORY CHANGES
After a number of revision rounds, the story evolved and characters increased in numbers. Carter was introduced as main character. The concept of Theo remained the same except he is now portrayed as a refined African American child prodigy. Oliver and Isabel were now performers called Izzy and Olly. And, finally the character Leila, an escape artist, and Ridley, an inventor, were introduced.
This is definitely my favorite part of the process. During these rounds I immersed myself in the 1930s~50s by watching a number of movies from the era.
I also researched books and magazines that talked about actors and fashion style from this period. This informed my mood-boards and reference materials for each character moving forward.
Usually, before working on any interior illustrations for a book, one tackles the cover before anything else.
This helps the publisher as having the cover ready months in advance is certainly an asset when promoting the upcoming book to the public.
This was no different for this Magic Misfits. The concept of Magic for this story is more "show business" than "wizardly" and so the first concepts of the book played on the Magician concept with iconic items such as top hats and playing cards.
Sketch Clean Up
Thankfully, the paying card concept proved to be the winner across the board.
With the prospect of three other titles coming down the pipeline, the general idea of the card concept idea was that it could also play as a recurring concept for all titles.
As there are 4 total suits in a card deck each book would represent diamond, spades, club and heart with one of the main characters always at the center of the story
of every book.
After cleaning up the original sketch and fixing up the position of the characters and overall composition of the image I went ahead to do color studies before moving on to finals.
Inspired by the "vintage" feel of the previous mood boards my color studies looked very different from the current version of the cover. Regardless, it was a very fun exercise.
The Final Work
One important thing that changed from the sketches, besides the color palette, was the increase of age on the characters. Originally, the kids were younger but in order to fit an older target audience everyone got a second style pass on the cover and, eventually, all interior illustrations moving forward.
After completing the book cover, the wrap jacket was next on the list. This was actually completed after all interiors were finalized months later. Under the fantastic art direction and design input from
Karina Granda at Little, Brown and Mr. Harris, the book cover
and wrap jacket was successfully completed.