Douglas Coupland & James Joyce: A collaboration in words and pictures
For some years now, Canadian writer Douglas Coupland has been writing a column for FT Magazine. For the last few of those years James Joyce has been providing illustrations for the pieces.
Probably best known for his novel Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture, which originated terms and concepts like ‘Generation X’ and ‘McJobs’, Coupland is not just an author (though he has written twelve other novels since Generation X). He studied art and design and has had a number of public sculptures commissioned, including ‘Infinite Tire’ in Vancouver and ‘Monument to the War of 1812’ in Toronto. He’s also exhibited in galleries and had a major retrospective of his art at Vancouver Art Gallery in 2014. He even ventured into fashion in 2010, with his designs sold in boutique retailer Colette in Paris.
So, how exactly does a columnist like Douglas Coupland become hooked up with a regular illustrator like James Joyce? We decided to find out by asking FT Magazine Art Director Brian Saffer and James.
Could you take us through your average day as Art Director for FT Magazine?
An average day might involve some layout design, some commissioning of illustration, a meeting or two with editors and the design/pictures team to discuss current and upcoming work.
Is it the kind of job that’s unpredictable with a need for flexibility?
Absolutely, expect the unexpected.
Had you done anything like it before?
Yes, I’ve been in magazines since the mid-90s, although FT Magazine is different in content to my previous roles which were often subject specific – food, fashion, interiors.
How much say do you have on the content of the magazine?
I don’t commission editorial, but all opinions are valued, and we do occasionally offer opinions on certain content. Of course, when it comes to illustration, the art team have a much greater say.
How are illustrators selected for the magazine?
It’s really on a job-by-job basis, whomever we feel is best suited to the writing, but we need to also be mindful of other content within the same publication.
Is it usual for an illustrator to work regularly on a column?
Why did you think James would be a good fit for Douglas Coupland?
We do have five regular columns, and each is illustrated by the same illustrator every week. Doug writes only occasionally but his very earliest commissions were illustrated by James, and they both have an irreverence and directness which fits so well.
Did Douglas have any say in the matter?
Oh yes, I believe he was very taken with James work from the start.
How does the collaboration work? Do you give James a brief on the subject of the column, or does he just read it and pick what to illustrate?
James has free reign. But if he needs a steer, we’ll offer one. And, of course, every so often we might ask for a second round of roughs.
Do you have a particular favourite among James’ illustrations?
Honestly, James is a pleasure to commission and I always look forward to seeing his work. I can’t pick a favourite.
Were you familiar with Douglas Coupland’s work before you started illustrating his columns?
Yes, I knew Douglas’s work, in particular Generation X and his art projects, so I knew it would be an interesting project to be involved in.
How did you come by the gig?
FT Magazine asked me if I’d be interested in illustrating Douglas’s column on a regular basis. It sounded a good opportunity so I agreed.
Would you say you share a similar worldview to Douglas?
Douglas and I haven’t met, but being aware of his creative output I could see that his worldview was something that would fit with my visual language and I could interpret well visually.
Do the two of you ever communicate directly?
It might sound strange for two people working on a project, but we’ve had no communication at all. I think that’s probably a good thing, as it means I can interpret the words in my own way.
What’s the usual routine for creating one of your FT Magazine illustrations?
I usually get sent a Word document of Douglas’s first draft a few days before it goes to print. I get asked to do three images per feature – one for the main full page image that leads the article, plus a couple of smaller images to be used on the following pages. I read through the article a few times picking out key points that I think I can work with visually, then start to sketch some rough ideas. Depending on the subject matter, sometimes ideas can come quickly, other times it’s harder get something to work. From those pencil sketches I choose the strongest ones and send them over to Brian the art director at the magazine. Most times there’s a clear winner that Brian and I agree on and then I get to work on the final imagery in time for the deadline.
A few of James’ favourites are shown here.