May 2, 2014

Illustrating the dystopian trippiness of Akira


(The cover by Samantha Holmlund that won the BFI Film Classics competition for "Akira.")

The cover by artist Samantha Holmlund that won the BFI Film Classics competition for “Akira.”

BFI Film Classics is a series of criticism published by the British Film Institute and Palgrave Macmillan to “introduce, interpret, and celebrate landmark films of world cinema.” Nine new books are due out in October to coincide with BFI’s science fiction season celebrating space invasion, intergalactic wars, and aliens.

Together with its magazine, Sight & Sound, BFI put out a call for illustrators to interpret a cover for the book on Akira (1988), Katsuhiro Otomo‘s mindfuck of a cyberpunk manga about Tetsuo and his newly formed psychic powers in post–World War III Tokyo. The cover had to include the title of the film as well as the book’s authors, Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc.

The winning design—featuring the silhouettes of Tetsuo and his long shadow inside a deep interlocking of red, white, and black, with simple, sharp angles only hinting at the apocalyptic chaos in the story—is by the UK illustrator Samantha HolmlundTwo runners-up by Isobel Mackenzie and Tom Williams also play on Tetsuo’s lonely silhouette.

Holmlund has posted two other book covers on her website: Veronica Roth‘s Divergent and Ernest Hemingway‘s The Old Man and the Sea. Both echo her cover for Akira and showcase the influence of Japanese woodblock prints: muted colors, a focus on horizon, clean lines masking not-so-clean stories. While Mackenzie’s and Williams’s renditions, as well as an awesomely squishy one by Josh J. Ford, are dynamic and unexpected, Holmlund’s cover is especially thrilling for its spareness and texture. (Confession: I’m a sucker for spareness, texture, and the color red.)

The nine books will be published as special editions. In addition to Akira, the other films are (yes!) AlienBrazilDr. StrangeloveEternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindQuatermass and the PitSilent RunningSolaris, and The War of the Worlds.


Wah-Ming Chang was the managing editor of Melville House.