Behind the Scenes of Nineteen Eighty-Four – La Boca's Exclusive Interview!

Have you got your eye on our newest edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four? Well, we don't blame you ... it's pretty spectacular! And while we'd love to take all the credit, we couldn't possibly. With La Boca by our side, we've transformed this classic dystopian novel into its most epic form yet, and you can read all about it below in this exclusive interview!

So, if you're still on the fence about it, we're sure once you dive into the fascinating details below, you'll be convinced. But don't wait too long — over a third has already sold, and we wouldn't want you to miss out! 


Can you tell us a little about La Boca and how it came to be?


La Boca is a design studio specialising in Illustration and image making. As well as books, we work on a wide range of print projects such as film posters, record covers, and advertising. Our work often has a vintage feel but with a modern touch. We like to make tactile imagery, so print, and books in particular are perfect for that, I like to imagine people holding our work, not just looking at it on screen. But we're graphic designers who illustrate really, I also enjoy the typography/design side of the projects as much as the image-making.


How did you first connect with the Folio Society?


We first worked with Folio in 2019, when art director Raquel commissioned us to work on Ubik by Philip K Dick. I'd often admired Folios books, so it really was an honour when they got in touch. As a lover of books, Folio is one of the ultimate publishers as they put so much love into each edition. Since then we've also worked together on 2 collections of Philip K Dick Selected Short Stories.


When were you commissioned for 1984/why did Folio reach out for this novel?


We started work on Nineteen Eighty-Four in early 2023. It was one of those projects that I just instantly said yes to. Some years ago after we had finished working on Ubik, Folio had asked me if there were any authors I'd love to work with, and I flippantly said George Orwell, not realising that there would ever be an opportunity to actually work on one of his books. I used to walk past his house on Portobello Road every day going to our studio and often thought about how great it'd be to design his books. Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of those books that straddles time, it's published in 1949, but set in a future Nineteen Eighty-Four. I think maybe Folio thought it'd be interesting for us to work on this specific edition given that we like to play with different time periods.




What is a high-level version of the behind-the-scenes process for illustrating this 1984 edition (timing, drafting, communication with Folio, etc.)?


Folio commissions usually have a generous amount of time. We're used to having some briefs that require work to be done next week, so it's quite refreshing with Folio as there are often months to complete the work. It gives a good opportunity to research and get deep into the subject matter.

We always work closely with Folio art director Raquel, and we’ve grown to trust her opinion over several projects now. It helps when you know the people you're working with all have the same intention of just making the best work possible without egos or politics. Creatively, Folio usually gives us a lot of freedom. It feels like they genuinely want your interpretation of the book.

The first step is always to read the book. I go through making notes on every page of anything that might be visually interesting or important to the narrative. The illustrations then get evenly spread throughout the book. So you need to make sure the elements you choose to represent roughly align with the point of the book where the illustration will be printed. It doesn't have to be on the exact page, but within a few pages either side is best. This focuses you a little as you know you have 7 illustrations to make, but you're limited to certain areas of the book that you can draw from so they are evenly spread out. It's typically the case that we will have several ideas for images in one section, so we have to choose carefully.

Once we have ideas for imagery, I propose them in written form to Raquel. Usually, there are a few different ideas for each section so it's good to share them with Folio as you can discuss which ones might work best. Once we have an outline of 7 images we set to work making rough sketches and mock-ups. These will normally go to Folio for feedback, and then once approved we start work on final illustrations. The time these take can vary depending on how complex they are.

The added complication with Nineteen Eighty Four is that there was also the cover and box to design, so we are working on that alongside the images inside the book. For this book, I rather stupidly suggested that it would be nice to make some propaganda elements that get included in the box. I kind of thought the answer would be no because of budgets, but amazingly they agreed, so there are a few little bonus goodies hidden away in the packaging. This of course added a lot of work on our side, but I think the final results are worth it.




What kinds of materials and art style did you select for this novel and why?


We mainly work digitally, so everything is usually constructed in Photoshop. In Nineteen Eighty Four there are a few photographic elements that we took to combine with the illustrations. The Frontis image is an inscription on a wall, so I went out looking for suitable old buildings in London. I ended up taking a picture of my local tube station, St James Park, as the building is a beautiful Art Deco structure with just the right feel for this book.

The imagery is quite varied in the book but is often inspired by propaganda posters from WW2 that would have been seen by Orwell as he was formulating the book. During research we found a few that were quite close to some of the descriptions in the book, so we thought they must have been in the back of his mind as he was writing. We tried to imagine how Nineteen Eighty Four might have looked to someone in 1949.




How do you think the illustrations enhance the novel for readers?


A lot of the images are not depicting scenes from the book as such. We like to make images that add to the experience of reading, like they accompany the book rather than describing it too closely. We often look for little details that can be expanded into something bigger and unexpected. We don't like to visualise too many of the main characters so the reader still has somewhere to go with their own imagination.


What was your favorite part about working on 1984 in particular?


As a Londoner, I've always been fascinated by the dystopian version of the city described in the book. It's kind of familiar but also quite frightening. And the subject matter has always interested me. Could we really end up like Nineteen Eighty-Four? The worrying thing is that it's never felt closer. It's pretty amazing how the themes in the book have become so ingrained in popular culture that it's possible to forget where things like Big Brother and Room 101 originate from. All in all, it was a juicy project to get into as there is so much to explore.


Do you think the themes in 1984 are relevant to our world today?


Yes, I think Nineteen Eighty-Four has never been more relevant actually. We are seeing the world moving towards these dystopian scenarios right in front of us. The book often feels like it's a prophecy of what is happening now. There are potential shifts of power happening this year, and I think Nineteen Eighty-Four is a good example of the phrase 'Be careful what you wish for'.

The surveillance culture we live in now is scarily similar to the book. We are being watched constantly, online and in real life. In London, it's estimated that there are around a million CCTV cameras in use and that a citizen is captured on camera around 70 times a day.




How did you go about separating your interpretation of the text from other popular adaptations (Folio’s past 1984 version, film adaptations, etc.)


There have already been so many interpretations of it, both in books and on film. Many people have probably seen something connected to Nineteen Eighty Four before. All we can do is be aware of what has been done before, but try not to be inspired by it. There will inevitably be cross-overs as the themes are inspired by the same book. There was also a lovely previous Folio edition designed by Jonathan Burton (also one of my favourite illustrators so it was also a bit daunting to follow him!).


Was there any research you had to do to prepare for commissioning this novel? What has your process been in the past for creating artwork in connection to Folio’s novels?


Reading the book always comes first. We try to formulate a world around how we imagine the book to be set. So we try to imagine how that looks stylistically and then start researching relevant areas. I also like to read study guides of the books, as it helps to make sure I've understood the text and the author's intentions.


Do you have a favorite image you designed in the novel?


I think my favourite is the last image in the book. Inspired by the phrase used to describe pain in the book, 'Like a Boot stamping on a human face forever'.

We decided to take that text and imagine what it would look like as a Propaganda poster. As with all propaganda it's designed to look like it's promoting something good or patriotic, but gets a bit more menacing when accompanied by the text.