New, Final FABLES Cover Artist Hopes to Add To & Respect Legacy

Fables #139 cover by Nimit Malavia
Credit: Vertigo

Following in the rather impressive footsteps of acclaimed Fables cover artists like James Jean and Joao Ruas, illustrator Nimit Malavia will be the new regular cover artist for the series beginning in March.

Fables #139 cover by Nimit Malavia
Fables #139 cover by Nimit Malavia
Credit: Vertigo

Since the monthly Fables comic started in 2002, it's been a showcase for beautifully designed covers by award-winning artists. More recently, the series has featured an impressive list of revolving cover artists.

But Vertigo has announced that Malavia will become the new permanent fixture for the series beginning with Fables #139, which starts the new story arc, "The Boys in the Band." The artist will likely finish out the series' run, as Fables enters its last year of publication, with an ending planned for early 2015 with issue #150.

Malavia is already an award-winning illustrator and artist, with cover work featured on books for other publishers like Marvel and IDW. And he took part in the Fairest in All the Land original Fables graphic novel.

To find out more about his technique and his reaction to becoming the cover artist for Fables, Newsarama talked to the artist.

Newsarama: What's your background? How did you get interested in being an artist, and how did that turn into comics illustration particularly?

Nimit Malavia: I was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, in 1987. My background being Indian-Canadian,

Since I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with the visual arts, well beyond any of my other interests. It served as a constant outlet and way to communicate for me. Thinking back, my initial exposure to the arts, and possibly the most memorable, was through comic books and animation. I remember worshipping the drawings in those pages, and spent all my time trying to copy and learn from them.

I received my formal training from Sheridan Tech in Oakville, where I earned a BAA in Illustration.

I feel like my work has always retained some sensibilities that lend them selves to comic illustration, but it wasn’t until a little bit after graduating when I did a series of covers for Marvel that it really made the turn towards that type of work.

Sample art by Nimit Malavia titled "The Reluctant Bride"
Sample art by Nimit Malavia titled "The Reluctant Bride"
Credit: Nimit Malavia

Nrama: Are you still living in Toronto?

Malavia: I am indeed living in Toronto. I’ve been back in the city for a little over a year now.

Nrama: It seems like there are a lot of artists who are living in that area.

Malavia: It’s so true! When I travel and meet people from outside the city or country, it’s one of the aspects that I try to press as a big selling point. The city has a rich community of creatives, of all fields, I find — namely within the illustration, comics, photography and design communities. I feel very fortunate to have met a few people early on who were amazingly gracious, and took the time to introduce and involve me in the community, especially with the comic industry (both indie and mainstream).

Nrama: Why do you think artists are attracted to Toronto? Why the city is a good place for artists to live?

Malavia: It’s hard to pin it down to why in particular — could be for a few reasons. The city has become host to a number of great festivals like TCAF, Canzine. Also, it’s growing with cons, the biggest one being FanExpo in the summer.

In part, I find, it has to do with the city itself, which is still growing, but already has an intense amount to offer culturally, in terms of things to be seen and experienced. For me it always comes down to the actual people in the city though. In this case the artists — most of whom are just sooo welcoming and humble, despite being some of the most talented and accomplished veterans of the industry. It makes for a great mélange (mix, for non-francophone readers).

Nrama: Before you were given this job on Fables, were you aware of the comic, and the cover illustrations the series has featured in the past?

Art by Nimit Malavia titled "As Long As I Can"
Art by Nimit Malavia titled "As Long As I Can"
Credit: Nimit Malavia

Malavia: I was very aware, I think first coming across the series when I was in college. Initially, as an illustration student, the cover art was what drew me to the book. The series felt like this great fantasy for aspiring artists, the type of project where it seemed like the perfect marriage of artful freedom, and compelling and nuanced subject matter.

This fantasy, of course, is only possible because of the stunning legacy of images produced by James Jean and Joao Ruas; it was the kind of thing that you would hope to create throughout your career as an image-maker. It wasn’t until a little after my initial exposure though, that I realized the gorgeous packaging was simply a reflection of the treasure that is Bill’s Fables narrative.

Nrama: How would you describe the style you find yourself using when you draw Fables covers, or even when you sketch out ideas in your head? Is there a certain approach you're taking to the covers for this series?

Malavia: I try to remain open in terms of style, composition, and aesthetic with the covers. The series is quite long-running, and in that time it’s developed a rich history of covers and sort of a reputation for that, so it’s hard not to be affected by it a bit. But a nice mantra of sorts that [Vertigo editor] Shelly [Bond] and Bill have offered is that every cover should feel different from the last…and a lot of the time, the more dramatic the departure the better, So I’ve been trying to approach each cover fresh, and experimenting as much as I can. If a "style" is seen as recognizable, it’s mostly through my exorcising of personal interests in the piece.

Art by Nimit Malavia titled "Memories"
Art by Nimit Malavia titled "Memories"
Credit: Nimit Malavia

Nrama: What's your creative process when you are given a cover to draw? How do you start? And how do you develop the idea both mentally and physically?

Malavia: First, I like to sit with the concept, or script details, and try to understand and pull as much as I can from them, with regards to images, scenes, or themes. When it comes to mentally developing the pieces, I try to begin with an emotional anchor rather than visual cues, it gives me slightly firmer footing with the images, when and if we start heading in different directions with them. Once I’ve developed a few concepts or dreamy thoughts, I’ll scribble around a haze of shapes and lines in graphite and ink, hoping the mess of marks will coalesce into a compelling map for the roughs.

Nrama: I've been checking out some of your artwork online. What do you think are the biggest influences on your work and the style you've formed over the years?

Malavia: I feel like I’m most readily drawn to the drama, and emotion of images. I find I hunt for certain sentiments in particular, in whatever form they come in, animation, paint, drawing, or the pages of a comic book.

Some of the notable influences on me have been Japanese Mangas along the lines of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, painters like Goya, Norman Rockwell, Kandinsky and Klimt. Many of my contemporaries and peers have had a strong influence on my outlook as well — namely Tessar Lo, Kagan McLeod and Marco Cibola. I would also be remiss to not mention my predecessors James and Joao amongst some of the people who have notably informed my sensibilities along the years.

Nrama: Do you listen to music when you draw? And is there a certain artist or type of music that comes to mind when you're drawing a Fables cover?

Malavia: I find I’m almost never without. A constant soundtrack has almost become a necessity for me when making an environment that’s conducive to work. I’m usually at the whims of my mood, so the type really depends on that. Lately, my mind is chaos, so I’ve been playing a lot of pieces from Chopin and Listz. But just as easily, I can hop over to something more lyrical like Frank Ocean, or aggressively involved as Nine Inch Nails. The music of OUICI and Yoann Lemoine’s musical project WOODKID are two artists in particular that have really helped me approach the grandeur that I’ve been trying for with the Fables covers.

Art by Nimit Malavia titled "If You Look Closely (Shiner)"
Art by Nimit Malavia titled "If You Look Closely (Shiner)"
Credit: Nimit Malavia

Nrama: Is there anything else you're working on besides the Fables covers that you want to tell fans about?

Malavia: I’ve been working on an experimental animation that’s being developed with some tremendous collaborators, spearheaded by Sovereign State, here in Toronto. Along with traditional illustration and book client work, some apparel designs, and two larger gallery shows in the U.S. that will be sending some paintings and drawings down for in the coming year.

Nrama: Do you have a mission as an artist? Or even a mission statement as a person who expresses himself creatively?

Malavia: Nothing so grand as a mission statement, I think. I mostly try to develop my work as a reflection of my thoughts and experiences as a creative person. Often that can head down some fanciful avenues, but in the end they should serve as a documentation of my impressions of the world around me. There’s an old saying from Thailand that I find expresses it pretty simply, "We walk here and there in this world, in search of strange objects."

Nrama: I should probably stop the interview with that quote, but just to give you the chance to add any other thoughts, is there anything else you want to tell fans about your work on Fables?

Malavia: It’s a great privilege to be involved with such a beloved story as Fables, and to be given the responsibility of helping conclude it is something I am approaching with earnestness and sincerity. I hope that I’m able to offer the readers a new yet familiar voice for the covers.

For more insight into Malavia's work, you can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Or check out his illustrations at NimitMalavia.com.

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